Young Man From Atlanta Costume Design: History & Process

by Savannah Baltazar

Stone Soup Office Assistant & Costume Designer

YMA Costume Sketches 1

Whenever I approach a new design, I first have to understand the show and period it is set  in. The Young Man from Atlanta centers around a family experiencing great change in their lives and focuses on how they deal with the cards they’ve been dealt.

Designing a show for the stage is always more than pulling clothes and making sure they fit an actor. At its core, costume design is about understanding the characters in the play better than the actors playing them, at least from a fashion standpoint. You need to understand why he or she chose a color, fabric, or silhouette.

Fittingly, the show is set during 1950, a decade of change defined by the events preceding it. During World War II, there were restrictions limiting everything from food to fabric and its use in clothing. As a result, in 1947 Christian Dior designed The New Look, a radical change for women’s fashion. Once narrow, skirts became full, hems dropped dramatically and men’s pants would now be seen with cuffs.

To every action, there is a reaction and in the post war era, that reaction was drastic. Women returned to homemaking after working for pay and with women’s magazines putting an emphasis on family, the nation experienced a baby boom.

Not surprisingly, this boom attributed to the expansion of the suburbs with families seeking homes outside city life, another  influence on the way people dressed. People sought more casual attire. Nylon, developed during the war to replace silk, wasn’t distributed until after the war; its success led to the development of additional synthetic fabrics including acetate, polyester, acrylic, and spandex. Introductions of these fibers were widely accepted as they often blended with natural fibers and were easier to care for. These fabrics gained popularity because they helped women attain the new full-skirt look, with nylon petticoats beneath for additional fullness.

Fashion became heavily influenced by television, readily available to American households in 1948. Like never before, styles could be directly attributed to television. Men emulated Elvis’s famous pompadour, and when Lucille Ball incorporated her pregnancy intoI Love Lucy, recognition of maternity wear exploded. As black and white cameras made the traditional white business shirt appear dingy, blue shirts, which appeared whiter on screen were used. This led to the unveiling of men’s colored shirts in department stores.  With fashion suddenly more accessible to the middle class, fashion conformity reigned.

In any production, understanding the history surrounding the play is extremely important, since fashion is tremendously influenced by the world of that play and its current events. I sincerely hope you have a chance to come see The Young Man From Atlanta. Perhaps after reading this, you’ll appreciate the costumes (and the process that went into them) a little more!

The Young Man From Atlanta previews February 15. Tickets available for purchase here or by calling the box office 206.633.1883.

YMA Costume Sketches 2
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Savannah Baltazar is the Office Assistant, Volunteer Coordinator and resident Costume Designer for Stone Soup Theatre. Her handiwork has been seen at SST in Durang7, A Child’s Christmas in Wales (2009-11), Fool For Love, The Real Inspector Hound/The Boundary, How I Learned to Drive, The Compleat Works of Willm Shkspr (Abridged) and now The Young Man From Atlanta, as well as SummerStage 2009. She can be contacted at office@stonesouptheatre.org.
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