Clothes Tell a Story: The “J Peterman” Project

Submitted by Christianne Myers, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


This introductory costume design project invites creativity while disrupting the “fear of the figure” sometimes felt by students. Using an article of clothing, students write a story/situation in the style of the J Peterman Catalog and render the garment realistically.

Length of Activity

  • Week Long Project

Area of Technical Theater

  • Costume Design

Activity Objectives


  • Identify how we use clothing to tell a story and define character


  • Professional presentation practices
  • Rendering clothing to match drape, silhouette and color/pattern


  • This exercise is the inverse of designing a play – in a play we start with a character and use clothing to help define it; with this assignment, you will start with clothing to create a character.
  • Each design decision is a building block to telling a story.



  • Select 2 articles of clothing from your own closet.
  • For each article of clothing, write a short description in the style of the J Peterman catalog. The goal is to create the character who, or circumstance when, the garment would be worn. It may be helpful to design for a specific personality who remains nameless in your description. I am asking you, in fact, to do the opposite of what we do in designing for the stage when we start with the character and figure out what they wear. For this assignment, briefly create the story for the clothes; give it a title. Treat each garment separately; they do not need to relate to each other.
  • Render each garment. Look to the samples from the catalog for guidance. No figure is required though the garment should look dimensional. Compose the garment on a dress form, or ask a friend to model it so you can more easily draw the garment from life. Draw & paint the garment, clearly illustrating the color, texture & pattern and accurately showing the style lines.


  • It is up to you depending on the garment- pencil, colored pencils, markers, watercolor, gouache, charcoal pencil, etc…you may combine media but use no more than 2. The rendered garment should be @ 5.” You may create these designs digitally, but they must be drawn, not collaged (nor cut/paste, nor photoshopped). Look at the website for more writing and rendering style guidance.

Time Required

With two garments, this can be a two week project. A suggested structure:

  • Clothing selections & story drafts
  • In Class- Peer Review story drafts; begin rendering garments w/ instructor “shoulder coaching”
  • (10 days in)- Project due, uploaded to Canvas before the beginning of class
  • (14 days in)- Peer Review on Canvas completed before beginning of class

Required Materials

Internet access for viewing J Peterman Catalog. Basic word processing program to complete presentation layout with text block and images. Ability to scan and import non-digital images. Illustration supplies to draw garments (TBD based on student access, lab fee, expectations from teacher, etc… Renderings could be completed digitally or with watercolors, markers, colored pencils, etc…)


Could expand to non-clothing items including hand props.


Additional written comments are specific notes on clarity of stories and accuracy of drawings. Recommended peer feedback- with the catalog presentation style, the presentation should be self-explanatory. Within LMS, the peer review function allows the instructor to assign any number of projects for classmates to comment on.

Example of a Student Project

Project by Nick Carroll