Crucial skills to make it in the costuming department from the experience of Marvel’s top Key Costumer, Javier Arrieta
By Colleen Monroe
Behind every costume designer is a dedicated costuming team carrying out the practical side of costume design. This team is made up of costumers who key, shop, fit, work on the truck, and manage continuity on set.
To understand the costuming world in more depth, 27-year veteran Key Costumer and top military uniform expert, Javier Arrieta, lends his expertise on why costuming matters and the skills required for such a demanding job.
You’re a logistics wizard
Background actors are an important part of building a believable world in a film or TV show and costumers work their magic to turn them into those characters. Complicated background days can be especially challenging to coordinate when scenes like battles or parties require an army of costumers to fit and dress 400+ people. Prior to these massive filming days, Javier, as the Key Costumer, will set up the fitting facilities, review the schedule, and instruct the fitting costumers on the overall look to maintain consistency with the moodboard created by the Designer. Once the completed costumes are prepped, they are transferred to the costumers on the truck who upload notes to the continuity app, SyncOnSet, send costumes out for cleaning after they have “worked,” make notes for repair, set up multiple changes, and pre-set fitting rooms.
You’re a stickler for detail
Javier is an avid user of SyncOnSet to access continuity notes from the palm of his hand, even if he’s deep in the mountains without Wi-Fi. As a costumer’s best friend, SyncOnSet adapts to every type of shooting schedule with features that allow for quick or more extensive continuity note taking, depending on the costuming team’s bandwidth. On a TV show with a fast-paced shooting schedule and little time to track every item, costumers can easily snap photos and associate them with characters to reference at a moment’s notice. For projects with the luxury of longer shooting schedules and larger costume teams, costumers can track the source and barcode of each costume piece. These extended features are helpful in the event of re-shoots or requests from the Marketing department who may want to promote certain clothing pieces for PR purposes.
“Costumers don’t just dress the actors,
they tell stories.”
You’re crafty on the fly
Costumers are often the jack of all trades. It’s one thing to create a beautifully sketched costume that gets 3D printed and turned into a slick superhero suit. It’s another thing to keep that costume on an actor when she’s doing serious stunt work. Pieces break, slip, and snap. As a costumer, you need to be thinking outside the box on how to keep the costume on at all times, using whatever means necessary from your crafty knowledge and kit. Costume Designers may even consult with costumers during the design process for feedback on how the construction will work in action.
You’re a storyteller
As a costumer, you play an important part of breathing life into a scene through the clothing choices you choose from stock to dress the background. Prior to shooting certain scenes, Javier will walk the set and collaborate with the Props department to familiarize himself with the world being created by the Art Department. Javier may spot a bamboo fishing pole against a pier and decide to dress a particular background actor in a large straw hat, suspenders and rolled-up chinos. According to Javier, costumers don’t just dress the actors, they tell stories. Stories through clothes that will ultimately transport audiences into another place and time to suspend disbelief.