Costume Class Project: Visual Historical Research for a Play

Costume Class Project: Historical Research Project

Step 1: Read and review in your mind the characters and setting of one of the following plays: [Note: Your instructor may assign different plays}

Chechov’s decidedly slapstick One Act The Marriage Proposal’: (aka ‘The Proposal‘, or ‘A Proposal of Marriage’) which has a Mel Brooks/Three Stooges feel. This play may be written by one of the founders of serious modern drama, but this is no drama, it is more like a 1900 Russian Saturday Night Live skit without the intellectual content.

‘Patience’: Aristocratic ladies who were engaged to cavalry officers, now spurn their fiancées in order to follow a fashionable (Oscar Wilde-like) poet in a goofy cult-like ardor. The poet, meanwhile, has the hots for a low born milkmaid. The soldiers plot to get the girls back, another sexy poet arrives on the scene, and chaos ensues. An operetta set in the Aesthetic movement in England of the 1880’s.

The Contrast: a 1787 American play that combines comedy and patriotic sentiments. Filled with characters that in transmuted form are still with us. The gossipy ingénues talk like 18th Century Valley Girls.

FOR EXAMPLE: ‘The Marriage Proposal’ most typically is set in rural, turn of the last century (c.1900) Russia, when it was written. In order to costume a play in this location and era it will be necessary to research dress as it was, in reality, in this location and time. Even if you later wish to alter the costumes away from reality in your completed designs, you will need to know what the reality was in order to effectively exaggerate it, veer from it, or simplify it into a non realistic style. This holds true for the other two plays as well. This week you will be looking for research sources which you may use in preparation for designing one of these plays. Below are some ideas of how research effects, but does not necessarily dictate, completed designs for ‘The Marriage Proposal’.

 Peasant Woman of Southern Russia, Primary source material, 1875

Costume Designs for Natalia and Lomov in The Marriage Proposal at The University of Georgia, (1986) by Tara Maginnis.


  Completed Costumes for The Marriage Proposal at The University of Georgia, (1986).
The Marriage Proposal in Four Farces and a Funeral, UAF, (2005).

Step 2:

If you are near a large library where you have access to books for research, this is the first place you should look. Read Library Costume Resources; A Supplement and/or Research Heresy to learn how to find the maximum amount of research materials for this project. Give a written report on the sources you find and turn it in to your teacher or post it to the Class Message Board

Be sure to let the other students know the sections where you found the sources you found so that they can do the same.

Alternate Step 2:

If you are not near a major library, or prefer to do your searching on the Internet, instead you may try searching online for your research information. In all events, after you have exhausted library resources use a search engine to find more. Collect your links and post a report to the Class Message Board telling others what you found and where the best links are. Include URLs of any pages you refer to.