Ten Periods Costume History/Design Project


Students choose an individual character and provide research for clothing that character would wear in each of ten separate time periods.

Length of Activity

One month

Activity Objectives

Students demonstrate knowledge of costume history in a variety of time periods. Students can glean details about character from a script and translate those details into specific costume choices. Students adapt their knowledge of a personality to fit the constraints of society at different time periods, and also adapt their knowledge of society/history to fit the characteristics of a certain person. Students can find, recognize and use primary and secondary research sources appropriately.

Activity Goals

I created this project to help students recognize that all people, even in history, make everyday choices about what they wear based on who they are and what they are like. I use this project as a part of a course called “History of Stage Costume.” Our fashion department already teaches a comprehensive “History of Dress” course, so I try to teach this course as a half costume history/half design course where students observe how costume history is used to make design choices in the theatre and film. This project is their final project. This course is taught to students of all backgrounds (this semester I have fashion merch majors, psych majors, education majors, etc. Only 1/5 of my class is theatre majors), and as such, many do not have a background in text analysis or even reading plays. This project allows them to apply costume history to character without a heavy emphasis on text analysis, comprehensive design or play production. However all of these elements could be incorporated were the project adapted for a costume design course.

It is important that the students choose differing time periods. My rule is no more than three decades per century may be represented. So they can do 1910, 1940, 1980, but not every decade of the 20th Century. Drawing is not important for this course, but could be included if you were teaching to all design students. Because my class is a costume history class with varied enrollees, we create research boards. I only require 4-6 pieces of research per time period, but they must be carefully selected and include shoes, undergarments and accessories.


This is what I give my students. They usually have 3-4 weeks to complete this assignment out of class.

Ten Periods Final Project

Description: For this project, you will choose a famous fictional character from Theatre History—aka a character from a play—and create collages demonstrating what that character would wear if they had lived, not when they were written, but in ten distinctive time periods. First, begin by choosing a character. If you aren’t very familiar with theatre, I suggest Juliet from Romeo and Juliet or Kate from The Taming of the Shrew, but you are welcome to choose any character you like. Other options might be Sherlock Holmes (there are several plays based on his stories), Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady, Algernon from The Importance of Being Earnest, Faustus from Doctor Faustus or anything you like! Read the play and make note of your character’s strongest or most distinctive PERSONALITY TRAITS. Not what they’re wearing. We don’t care what they’re wearing. Are they shy, kind, spunky, abrupt, cruel? Also note important details such as their wealth, social status, where they live, how old they are, and what time of year it is.

Write a short introductory paragraph including all of this information.

Choose TEN time periods. In this case a “time period” can either be a decade (ten years, 1910s, 1740s, etc.) or a general time period (Greek, Roman, Medieval, etc.) YOU MAY CHOOSE NO MORE THAN THREE TIME PERIODS FROM ANY GIVEN CENTURY. Choose diverse periods with differing modes of dress. What would your character wear, based on their personality, social position, location, age and so on in each of these time periods?

Create ten mini-collages, one for each time period. Only one “outfit” need be depicted, but each collage should include 4-6 images and include shoes, accessories and undergarments. Be sure to take color into consideration. Collages can be on separate pages or combined into a poster or Powerpoint presentation. Write a few sentences per time period explaining why the clothing you chose suits the character you are representing. Add this to your introduction. Include sources for your images that include the painter or artist and date, the museum where the garment is located etc. A website address is not a source. Plan to present this project in class on the dates listed in the syllabus. You will want to describe your character for classmates who may be unfamiliar with your play before you explain what you have chosen for them to wear.

Time Required

This is an assignment my students complete outside of class. I usually give them 3-4 weeks to complete it. I prefer to do it at the end of the semester so they have an understanding of costume history before they begin. Each presentation is around ten minutes, so I usually plan on 5 students presenting per 50 min class.

Required Materials

Access to library, color printer and/or color photocopier or scanner.


This could be adapted for a Costume Design class by adding sketches or renderings. A colleague also suggested it could be made larger by requiring students to do two distinct characters instead of one. They would have to demonstrate how the two character differ in dress within the same time period.

This could also be adapted for more advanced students by choosing less time periods, say 4-6, but doing more in-depth research.

It has also been suggested that this project could be improved/expanded to include non-western cultures. In this case, students might be asked to include regions as well as time periods and include at least three distinctive cultures in their selections.

Another suggestions was to repeat this project on a smaller scale several times within the semester.


I give oral feedback in class following their presentations. I also return a rubric with written notes. Students are graded on content, choices, accuracy, use of primary and secondary research, etc. I require them to explain WHY they made their choices.

-Bethany Marx