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Costume Design

A guide intended to aid students conduct library research related to costume design.

Welcome Costume Designers! The University Libraries house many materials and resources for theatre, directing, criticism, costume design, and more.  This Guide is a tool to help you navigate through the many resources available to you for researching costume design.  We hope it will help you become comfortable doing research in the library or online, as well as help you discover what resources are out there!  Familiarizing yourself with the library materials and how to find them can put you one step ahead on your projects. 

Happy researching and happy designing! 

You know you want to do some research before you start to design, but you might not be sure how to get started. It's okay. Researching for design is both different than, but also similar to, researching for a paper. Here are some general tips to get you started.

  1. Think about what you want to find before you start to search. It's so easy to want to dive right in and start searching for information, but do you really know what you want? Are you hoping to find images? Facts like historical or cultural information? Different types of information will be found in different types of resources. Knowing what you hope to find will help you narrow down the possible places to search and be more efficient.
  2. Familiarize yourself with core resources. Knowing what sort of information can be easily found in common resources will make your life easier. You should start to know that the databases ARTstor and Oxford Art Online give you images, and you should also know how they differ from one another.
  3. Vary your searches by using synonyms. Once it's finally time to start finding your information, make sure you use plenty of different words to actually search. You might be using the technically correct word to describe something (e.g., throne), but maybe it's mentioned by a more generic word (e.g., chair, seat, royal pontification station, etc.). The results you get are limited by the search terms you use. Change them up and you might be amazed at what you find.
  4. Use a wide variety of resources. It might be more convenient to access all of your information from a laptop in the studio, but not all information is online. The vast majority of books published prior to 2000 are only available in a physical format. Don't just settle for something, trace all your leads no matter where they lead you. That might mean that you find yourself picking up a dusty book for the first time in 40 years from the triple oversize section of the basement--and that's pretty cool too.
  5. Look places you never thought to look for information. It's great to know the "standard" places to find information (see earlier Tip 2), but you also need to think outside of the box. I've found information in places that I never originally thought to look in, like novels (maybe they reflect current society), history books (sometimes they have pictures too), etc.
  6. Keep track of your information. If you're making a copy of pages from a book, make sure to copy the title page too. If you're printing out materials from an online resource, make sure to mark where you found it. Not only might this help you quickly find this information again the future, but it will also help you be a more ethical researcher if anyone wants to know how your design ended up so fabulous.

If you're starting a costume research project and need ideas or inspiration, you may find it helpful to refer to this article:

The whole of volume 27 is entitled "Documenting: Costume Design", and can be a "go to" resource for costume design researchers.

You may also be interested in the bibliography of monograph titles included in the volume (pg. 265-270). 

USD patrons can access the  Performing Arts Resources journal online via the Performing Arts Periodicals Database (Proquest).  1974 (Vol. 1) - 2016 (Vol. 32).

In the library we arrange the print materials by subject.  If you're wanting to simply browse the shelves, this is where you'll need to be: 

Library of Congress: 

GT507 and GT510 (for fashion)

PN2067 (for costume design and history)

TT (for sewing, knitting etc. as a handicraft)

If you're feeling lost, you're in luck because the library is a place to get help!  The University Libraries provides research assistance at the Reference Desk.  Please do not hesitate to ask questions.  Library staff can help with: 

  • Pointing you in the right direction
  • Finding specific materials
  • Exploring online journals and articles
  • Navigating the library
  • Research tips


Subject Headings

One of the ways you can limit your search results to a particular topic is to do a "subject" search.  Here are some subject headings to help you retrieve the most helpful resources from the catalog.  Note: since Costume is an older term in use, more entries for historical titles will appear under this heading than for Clothing and dress. A comprehensive search should make use of both main headings. 

  • Clothing and dress
  • Clothing and dress--social aspects 
  • Costume  
  • Costume--pictorial works
  • Costume designers 
  • Costume design--history
  • Costume design--20th century
  • Costume jewelry 
  • Design                 
  • Fashion         
  • Hats                  
  • Pattern books
  • Sewing   
  • Tailoring--Pattern design   
  • Textiles
  • Women fashion designers

 There are many, many more!  Check out "Researching Costume Design" in Performing Arts Resources for a full list of subject headings for costume.

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