In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Costume and Fashion

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Fashion
  • Clothing and Costume
  • Elements of Design
  • Costumes
  • Manuscript Collections

Cinema and Media Studies Costume and Fashion
Nancy E. Friedland
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0020


Costume is an essential element of the overall design of a film. Working within the director’s vision for the film, costume designers try to replicate clothing by investigating the dress and fashion of the time, or historical period, and essentially dress actors to look (or more fully become) their characters. A costume can be tailor made, purchased, or rented. In the earliest days of cinema, actors wore their own clothing, but this would change with the advent of feature-length narrative films. The costume designer soon became an important part of the production design team. During the studio era in Hollywood, the costume designer helped to establish a symbiotic relationship with the fashion world, and helped to galvanize cinema’s influence on fashion trends and interest around the world. Costume design research can be challenging. During the silent era, there were no screen credits. In the United States, by the 1950s, the studios disposed of many of the records related to costume design. Preservation of film and related documents was not much better elsewhere in the world. Beginning in the 1970s, several interesting histories of Hollywood helped to define the work of the costume designer and the importance of costume to the film. Much less has been written on costume design in the international film world. In the last several decades, scholarly discussion of costume and fashion in relation to film has emerged from multiple disciplines, including the study of costume, fashion and dress, gender and feminist theories, cultural studies, and the longer history of the study of clothing and material culture.

General Overviews

Much of the reference literature and works on the history of costume design in Hollywood provide useful overviews on the work of the designer and the importance of costume to film. Two collections of previously published works stand out for overviews of related theoretical topics. Cook and Dodd 1993 discusses the issues related to the representation of women in film. Riello and McNeil 2010 provides an overview of studies in costume, dress, and fashion. For a general overview of working with primary source content and an introduction to costume and design collections, see Friedland 2010. This volume also provides listings of image and costume collections in the United States.

  • Cook, Pam, and Philip Dodd, eds. Women and Film: A Sight and Sound Reader. Culture and the Moving Image. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993.

    Reprinted from Sight and Sound magazine, this collection of more than thirty essays looks at women’s representation in film. The wide-ranging perspectives are primarily linked by ideas on how women’s issues have gained prominence through movies.

  • Friedland, Nancy E., ed. Documenting: Costume Design. Performing Arts Resources 27. New York: Theatre Library Association, 2010.

    This volume focuses on costume design collections in the United States for theatre, dance, and film. Intended for researchers and practitioners, the arrangement includes survey articles that discuss costume and the related art, overviews of significant collections and their holdings, extensive listings of image and costume collections, research methods, and a bibliography.

  • Riello, Giorgio, and Peter McNeil, eds. The Fashion History Reader; Global Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2010.

    This collection of previously published works, written by an international group of scholars and specialists, provides a comprehensive overview of non-Western and Western studies in the fields of costume, dress, and fashion history.

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