• Nov 10, 2016

Interview with 'Miss Bennet' Costume Designer Callie Floor

During the English Regency, clothing did not distort the human figure as it would in other periods. Regency men escaped the powdered wigs and bizarrely oversized, floppy cuffs of the 1700s (which you may have seen in portraits of American founding fathers). Regency women wore dresses with long, flowing skirts that followed the natural line of the body, enjoying a brief, comfortable break between the Age of Enlightenment’s rib-squeezing corsets and artificially shaped skirts and the reboot of those styles during the Victorian Age.

The designer who brings all this knowledge (and more!) to the stage for is Callie Floor. Kate Robinson of MTC’s literary department interviews Ms. Floor on her design process for the production.

I wouldn’t call myself a “Janeite,” [but] I’ve read most of her novels and have designed two adaptations— and —for Livermore Shakespeare. I always want to come to any project with a fresh eye, but I do have an enduring love for the nuanced characters Austen created. I love seeing them in this next phase of their lives.

As for any project, I start by reading the play for fun—no analysis or counting characters and costume changes (if I can help it). I then went back and reread . It also felt necessary to me to finish this initial process by watching .

We’re moving from the more formal 18th<th### sup=""> century period, the Age of Reason, to the Romantic era. Everything has an elegance and a softness in contrast to what was worn before and after—a much more approachable silhouette. Austen’s characters seem to me to be drawn with a lot of sensitivity and understanding, even those least likable. And men look fantastic in this period. It’s a simple and, as I mentioned earlier, very elegant look.

I looked at what was fashionable in the period. We knew that we wouldn’t be able to build the entire show [from scratch] with our resources, so we looked for pieces to rent that were pretty much historically correct, so that we would have that to unify everything. Our set is very colorful and pattern-y, which meant that I had to find things that would stand out against that.

It’s a definite silhouette for both men and women—not a lot of variation there. I’m using some fairly subtle patterns and details to distinguish characters. Lydia is our little comedian in this one. I had fun playing with sleeves and necklines on her pieces. Jane is pregnant; I enjoyed the research concerning attitudes about that in the period. It wasn’t until the Victorian era and the medicalization of childbirth that women were literally confined while expecting. So, that meant that the script is not anachronistic in having Jane travel and be out in the world while she’s in her condition. It was a fun design project adapting Regency for maternity wear—and not that difficult really, considering.

Not sure what [piece] I love quite yet—it’s not all finished. I love the fabric we found for Mary—I think it underlines the fact that she’s not a fashionista, while showing her maturing and growing into her adult self. The biggest challenge is marrying the built pieces with those that we’ve rented from several different sources.