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Theater Production: Costumes: Getting Started

About this Research Guide

This guide provides an overview of visual reference titles for costume research.  For information about sewing and textiles see the Textiles and Sewing research guide. For examples of clothing by century see the Historic Costume: North America and Western Europe research guide.

Steps of Visual Research

Visual Research is different from traditional research since the goal is finding images, not scholarly essays or books. 

Analyzing the play, scene, story, etc. to find basic guidelines for your designs. 

Then find books and articles to get an idea what you are looking for. 


1. Divide your topic into categories using where, when, character, tone, etc.   For example:
For example: Costumes for the lovers Hermia and Lysander in Midsummer Night's Dream. (William Shakespeare), recast in 1970s San Francisco

Where: San Francisco, USA
When: Late 1960s to early 1970s
Character: Hermia - Female, early 20s, wealthy influential family, rebelling against her father to marry Lysander, a hippie 
Tone: Hippies, recreational drugs, rebellion, Rock and Roll music, political protests, increased openness about sexual behavior

2. Get background information -- Learn more about the city, and the country during this period.  What were the social and political concerns of the time? How did clothing reflect those concerns?
TIP: Use Grove Art Online or Oxford Reference Online for quick, authoritative background information.

3. Find a few relevant titles in OBIS; use those call numbers to find additional material in the library stacks. 

Finding Books

You can find books on costume and fashion under the following call numbers:
•    GT 500 - GT 2346 – Fashion; social aspects of clothing
•    PN 2067 - PN 2068 &  PN 2085 - PN 2091 – Costumes for performance, stage design & lighting
•    TT 490 - TT 820 – Dressmaking; tailoring; technical considerations, needlework

Useful subject headings (some are linked to OBIS results):
•    Clothing and dress (see esp. the 42 related subjects)
•    Costume
•    Costume design
•    Fashion
•    Fashion -- History
•    Fashion design

Specific items of clothing

•    Hats
•    Hair -- see Hair styles or Hair dressing
•    Stockings -- see Hoisery

Tip: Search for specific clothing items as a subject; if there are no/ few results try again as a keyword

Keep track of frequently occurring call numbers and browse those areas of the library.

​For more help finding books, ask a librarian.

Background sources