Where Theatre is the science of humanity, (see “Hidden Lessons of Theatre“), Costume Design is the neuroscience of it. Scientifically speaking, it is the study of the physiological response of the brain to a stimulus in a controlled environment of experimentation. In layman’s terms that relate specifically to the Costume Designer, it is playing with color, perspective, lines, and other elements of design under the boundaries of a script, the rules of the time period, and the emotional assumptions of stereotypes in order to create a desired response from the audience’s subconscious. A Costume Designer does not work with chemical components or molecular structures of living things, but the emotions and stimuli (color, sound, light, texture, etc.) that trigger those physiological responses. A Costume Designer is a neuroscientist of humanity before neuroscience even got an official label. All the way back to the time of Plato. It’s an ancient form of science.
That’s the reason if you take your training as a Costume Designer and apply it to another occupational field, you’re going to do well once you learn the names of the processes. In fact, you’re going to find a lot of similarities of what you already do in your work as a Costume Designer. And you will have an advantage over others because of the various perspectives you are required to take in this field even if you stumble with the jargon of the occupation. When you design costumes that look like they are what the characters would actually wear (with the sub-storylines – the things not given by the script – built inside them) you become mini-experts of subject matters of the script.
Is it any wonder the more we remove the Theatre Arts from schools the worse prepared for life our students become? Life demands constant adaptation to the ever-changing environment. Life demands thinking like a costume designer, or at minimum a thespian. I think Shakespeare understood this when he said, “All the world is a stage and we are merely players.”