{Costume Design Archives: The Music Man}

A few months ago, I wrote this post, “On Costume Design.” In it I talked about why I love designing theatrical costumes, and how I got started doing so. I had a number of photos from my past costuming jobs, and I thought it would be fun to go into a little more detail, show by show.

The Music Man was my very first costuming job, back in 2008. It is insane to think that all these children are long graduated and in their mid-twenties now, approximately the same age I was when I started! Thanks to Snapfish, I was able to go way back and find some pictures of twenty-five year old me working on my first costume for the show.

For my designs, I took inspiration from Titanic and images from the early 1910’s. I also turned to what was at the time my favorite pattern company, Sense & Sensibility as well as the Big 4 pattern companies to find the right designs for each character. I didn’t sketch a lot. For the most part I just found patterns I liked and paired them with fabric I liked for each person. I winged a lot of things, and my skill level was nowhere near it is today, and most of the time I was just going for it, whether I knew how to do it or not! But this was the start of becoming the sewist I am now.

Obviously I paid special attention to Marian Paroo, the librarian who went let anybody into her heart. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I actually designed Marian’s three costumes to mirror her changing personality: her skirts got flower and drapier as her personality loosened up more. She wore purple in all her dresses to distinguish her from the other characters (I tend to do this a lot; when you work with middle schoolers, it helps the audience visually to separate people by colors… it also tends to help the kids easily identify their own costumes).

Below you can see an example of each of her costumes. Her first costume is a stiffer fabric and skirt doesn’t have a lot of movement or give. The second has more movement and the third (which she wears in the “Til There Was You” scene) is a light a flowy layered skirt (and I could not for the life of me find a good picture of her onstage that really showed it off).

For Harold Hill, I found a ready-made jacket among the costumes we already had, and he wore his own pants and shirt. However, for the 76 Trombones scene, I really wanted to emulate the reversible jacket he puts on to wow the crowd. I had never made a single thing remotely like a reversible jacket before. I had never made a regular jacket before, and somehow I managed to tackle a reversible one. I was so insanely proud of this thing, and today I would probably be horrified if a costume came out looking like this! But at the time, it was one of my greatest accomplishments.

I don’t have a video of the jacket onhand, but here are some pictures:

The gold details are all hot glued onto the inside, and are made with some trim we had lying around. The inside of the jacket was red (I could not even begin to tell you what type of fabric it was, though it was probably a broadcloth) and the outside was gray and unassuming (I want to say it was possibly a twill, but I had no textile knowledge when I was doing this beyond “this is see through” and “this isn’t”).

The Ladies of River City were such a blast to costume. I found them an array of 1910’s patterns and just went to town playing with different things for them. We also took their fabric and constructed matching hats for all of their dresses. Among them was also the Mayor’s wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn who wore one of my favorite dresses of all time (which we have since, sadly, lost!). It was made from Sense and Sensibility’s 1910’s Tea Gown pattern, and I used – believe it or not – a jersey fabric and lace.

Eulalie also had a dress to wear for the town’s July Fourth Exercises with the other ladies (you’ll also see Mayor Shinn’s very patriotic outfit in the next group of photos). This was a dress that we had onhand already, and for ease of changing she wore it over her other dress (the dress in the center of the row is worth clicking on to see it full size).

For the other characters, there were variations of the descriptions above. Winthrop was made up of things we already had, some of the younger River City residents had handmade items while others had store-bought. Mayor Shinn received a ridiculous mismatching coral jacket and lime green pants (which, if I recall correctly, was meant to represent his unstable personality). The barbershop quartet wore a combination of things from our costume storage and their own clothing. We used multiple resources to outfit the whole thing.

By the time I finished with the show, I knew that I had found my love: theatrical costume design. I love every minute of the process, from design to creation to seeing the costumes onstage. While this may not have been groundbreaking work or an example my best skills, it was the show that started it all, and it will always have a special place in my heart!


  1. Anything worth doing well (which you do) is worth doing badly–at first. And, your first wasn’t “badly.” I, too, enjoy costuming and look at some of my first efforts with a cringe. But we learn something from each of them. Thank you for sharing your stories.


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