December, 2019 Issue

From the Chair...




Theatre Technical Director/ Designer: Georgia State Univ.


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Membership Meeting Minutes- Sept, 2019
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Todd Reemtsma Joins Gopher Stage Lighting
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Ancillary Download Package for The Magic Garment by R. Cunningham, Third Edition.

by Anastasia Goodwin, MFA

    The Magic Garment by Rebecca Cunningham is a mainstay of any reading list on costume design. The first edition, published in 1989, was a textbook in my own undergraduate costume design class. The book walks students, most of whom are just beginning to discover costume design as a field, through the process from conceptualization through execution in a detailed but easily comprehensible way. The second edition, published in 2009, featured valuable additions, such as established designer interviews and a chapter on costuming for film and television. When I received my perusal copy of the third edition, due out in 2020, I was excited to see what changes and additions were in store this time.     Aside from updated lists of useful online and brick-and-mortar resources (quite a challenge, considering the lightning speed with which a lot of these change these days), the main new feature of this edition is a downloadable collection of basic documents to help a new design student wrap their mind around the process. In my review, I will focus on this ancillary package and give you some of my thoughts and impressions on its usefulness and efficacy, since the text of the book, while updated and re-organized in a few places, in essence differs little from “The Magic Garment” that most of us are familiar with.
    The publisher’s website,, is fairly intuitively laid out, and the download instructions were easy to follow. It didn’t take much time or effort for me to view the ancillary download package in its entirety. Aside from the read-me document, stating that the materials are meant to be instructional rather than free for anyone to use as they please, there are three folders. They are: Figures for Designers, Shop Bible Forms, and Research and Reference. All of these documents are present within the physical format of the book, and any explanation to their specific application is given in corresponding chapters.
    Looking at the package as a whole, my initial thought was that with a bit of online research and some instructor guidance, all the information presented here can be found elsewhere, and perhaps even be more detailed and up to date. What these materials do provide is a very good starting point. After all, a beginner student won’t necessarily be able to distinguish a fashion croquis, which tends to be extremely out of proportion, from one that is meant to be more realistic. And when it comes to shop forms, it is much easier for the instructor to point to an existing layout and suggest a change or two if needed, as opposed to having students generate everything from scratch. This downloadable format puts resources in front of students in a more immediate way, and the ability to zoom in or print things out if necessary is undeniably convenient.
     I was looking forward to opening the folder “Figures for Designers”, since the publisher’s description promised “a selection of basic figure drawings to serve as base layer for digital renderings” (Cunningham, 2020, back cover). The only available format for the files is PSD, so Adobe Photoshop is required to access them. The selection itself is a dozen figures, six male and six female, and eight of them are what I would call Western beauty standard. Bodies that aren’t youthful or slim follow some familiar tropes: the bigger female body is in a pose to suggest a character that critics would likely refer to as “sassy”, the bigger male body is posed with a walking stick and has a demeanor of wealth and some age. For beginning design students, I’m afraid the message remains that thin youthful bodies are standard and everything else - a “character role” deviation. I would love to see this section expanded to be much more inclusive. There is no shortage of croquis for model-perfect bodies; it is learning to render all other types of bodies where students and professionals alike are in dire need of more resources.
     The folder of various designer and shop forms provides aides that are very helpful indeed. Though these are PDF files that are not directly editable, it would be fairly easy to mockup your own spreadsheet or document, using the program of your choice, while relying on these outlines for layout. The measurement form is appropriately extensive and when fully filled out would provide the information needed for a full costume build. Depending on specific curriculum requirements and program sizes, it is quite possible that students won’t end up using all of these forms in their college careers; but I do believe that seeing them all will give any student a good idea of just how complicated the process can get and how necessary it is to stay organized and keep the build on track. If this section were to be expanded, I would like to see a few forms that help designers and costume shops communicate with other departments, specifically stage management and wardrobe: fitting request form, fitting schedule form, wardrobe check-in sheet, and a wardrobe run sheet, to name a few.
     The third and final folder is a collection of research resources, such as museum and library databases, along with various online image banks. These are all tried and true, reputable sources beyond Google images and that horror of horrors, Pinterest. This is the same list as in Appendix III, which is located on pages 419 – 424 of the book. The format here is a PDF document, but though they aren’t underlined or highlighted, the links are directly clickable, as promised. My one comment here is that some of the museum database pages are not inherently intuitive and can be hard to search, so a few words of instruction could be helpful.
     Overall, I think the ancillary download package for the third edition of “The Magic Garment” is a helpful feature with potential for a lot more. In some ways it feels like it may be about five to eight years behind (the most current e-features would be things like mobile compatibility and graphic files that are directly editable with a variety of programs), but I feel that this is par for the course in a field that often relies on hundreds-of-years-old techniques while simultaneously trying to keep up with one of the most innovative industries in the world. I believe I speak for most costume design instructors when I say that my hope is that the electronic resource package can be modified without the ordeal of publishing a new edition of the physical book, and therefore can be updated more frequently as the needs and resources continue to change so rapidly. All that being said, if a student were to approach me and say, “I am thinking about becoming a costume designer”, one of my first suggestions would be to read “The Magic Garment”; and I would definitely recommend downloading and looking through everything that this third edition has to offer.

Source: Cunningham, R. (2020). The Magic Garment: Principles of Costume Design, Third Edition. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.   [ ]

Anastasia Goodwin is the Costume Designer at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.