The Chaos of Costuming and the Student in Control


Article by Ren Topping, Editor-in-chief

Reading Time: 4 minutes

For Elle Woods, fashion is a way of life. Her iconic pink outfits, sparkling dress pieces, and colorful 2000s chic are cornerstones of both her personality and the 2001 film Legally Blonde in which she is the central character. And although not quite as fabulously dressed as Elle, the rest of the cast also wears an array of stylish outfits. In the high school’s production of Legally Blonde The Musical, costumes play a no less important role in bringing the show to life. For senior Coco Colwell, the head of the costume crew for the spring musical, costuming was her way of life for the last eight weeks of rehearsal.?

From a young age, Coco has been interested in fashion. Her mother and grandmother taught her how to sew and she’s maintained a keen interest in the arts. Eager to take part in the theater program, Coco joined the costume crew in her sophomore year for the musical Pippin. Because of COVID restrictions, Coco was one of the few student members of the costume crew that year, but she was able to develop a close working relationship with Naomi Hoff. Ms. Hoff is the lead costume designer for the musical and is hired by the theater department each spring for her expertise.?

Two years on from Pippin, the costume crew has returned to full-fledged operations. During production of Legally Blonde The Musical, Ms. Hoff, a troupe of parent volunteers, Coco, and nine other student crew members worked to create an ensemble of vibrant outfits. Some costumes could be reused and adjusted from 九色社区’s 2014 production of Legally Blonde, others were ordered or assembled from actors’ own wardrobes, and still, others had to be made from scratch. On busy days, Ms. Hoff and “The Moms,” as Coco referred to the group of parent volunteers, toiled from the beginning of the school day to the end of after-school rehearsal sewing costumes.

While the adult members of the crew do a majority of the fabricating and Ms. Hoff makes the final call on costuming decisions (along with the musical’s director Kyoko Takano), Coco is often asked for her opinion on designs or potential adjustments. For the costumes of actors playing Harvard Law students, she was entrusted to select their entire outfits.?

Artistically, Coco has especially relished being a costume crew member for this year’s musical. “My favorite part of the costumes this year was just the ability to use so much color,” she said. “I don’t often get to play with a lot of colors when it comes to costumes for plays or musicals, but because this is Legally Blonde there is so much focus on color and color composition.”??

Coco explained that she would line up all the actors in costume to make sure that the color balance was correct and that Elle’s costume stood out in the sea of varying hues.?

Coco’s most important responsibility, though, was not to trim bolts of fabric or stitch seams, but to implement the costumes that have been produced. Constantly communicating with Ms. Takano, Ms. Hoff, and the student actors, Coco was the bridge between the costumes department and the rest of the production. She oversaw fittings and kept track of when script alterations required new or modified costumes to align with the new scene.

“Logistics is one of the most difficult parts of costumes,” Coco said.?

During a dress rehearsal in the week leading up to opening night, Coco rushed between the black box and the two backstage stage dressing rooms, delivering costumes to their necessary spots and exchanging whispers with lead actress Ella Rolls.?

“I’m in charge of all of [Ella’s] quick-changes and that’s my biggest and main role during showtime,” Coco explained. “Her quick-changes are the most complex part of the whole show.”?

A quick-change is a costume change that has to occur hastily in between scenes off the side of the stage instead of in the Black Box where the costumes are normally stored.

As rehearsal bustled along, Coco compiled the details of each quick-change into a list to be posted in the dressing areas. For a live performance of the show, she and other members of the costume crew are stationed on either side of the stage to assist with the changes and do a final check before the actors walk out under the lights.

Throughout the night, there was never a moment not spent communicating, taking notes, or setting up costume racks. Although her job can be hectic and stressful, Coco says it’s “exhilarating.”

“It’s incredibly enjoyable to be a part of such a close-knit community,” Coco said, “and although at times it’s frustrating, it’s really satisfying to be able to see the whole show come together and to know that you were an important part of that.”

In her own way, Coco puts on a performance: faceless to the audience, but one that is self-evident when the curtains rise.?