The Costumes of "Streetcar" with Jeni Schaefer

A Streetcar Named Desire is all the inspiration a Costume Designer needs to start the process. I'm not sure how many of our patrons have sat down and read the actual play’s script, but Tennessee Williams fills his plays with beautiful poetic visuals in his stage direction. Most plays have stage direction to guide the creative team but Tennessee gives you colors, fabrics, and emotions these elements are supposed to evoke. He's just a yummy playwright and I've been designing this show in my head since I was in Graduate School, a dream come true for me.

So for my design I wanted to share those descriptions and emotions for our audience.

Here's an example:

Tennessee describes Blanche’s entrance in the beginning of the play:


I took this idea of Blanche as moth-like and delicate throughout her entire costume track by choosing fabrics that were delicate, fragile, fluttery and soft.

I needed to create a world around her that made her feel not only to herself but for the audience that she was out of place.

I placed Blanches silhouette in the late 1940s chose colors in cooler tones i.e.... maroons, blues, purples and pinks and of course fabrics like linen, netting, tulle, chiffon, silk, lace and velvets.

In contrast, I placed the rest of the cast in the 1950s with more sturdy fabric choices like cottons and twills, denims, no fuss no frills and then went more towards the warmer earthy tones like reds, yellows,oranges, greens and browns. As a designer, I am extremely fond of finding real vintage pieces out there in the world just waiting for another chance to be seen and loved. It's weird, I know, but clothes speak to me. The history within them somehow, to me, gives the actor wearing the garment a connection to the past they are recreating. So a great many of these costumes are not merely recreations but truly vintage.

I have a magical story to share with you. In the show, Blanche appears in an old tattered ball gown from days gone by in a moment of self pity and drunkenness. I designed a beautiful pink tulle and lace gown that we would need to build and then distress, which is a costume word for destroy or make look old, dirty, and worn. Before our build began, I was going through our vintage boxes of donated items to pull garments to go in a prop trunk. These items would never be worn, so I thought this was a perfect opportunity to give these beautiful vintage pieces, that are to fragile to ever be worn again, another chance at being seen.

Flashback to fifteen years ago, during my first few months with VSC, I was asked to pick up a donation from a former patron that had passed away. She had boxes of gorgeous clothing, purses, jewelry etc from the 1929s to the 1960s that she had told her family she wanted given to us. There were so many amazing pieces! I have used many things from her gift over the years, but a few things just couldn't be worn or used because they were to delicate.

Well it's those items I mentioned going through before. At the bottom of one of the boxes was an almost exact replica of the pink ball gown I designed, minus the lace. It was already torn, distressed and the exact measurements of our leading lady. How magical is that!!!! We were able to give this dress another day and I hope the wonderful lady that gave us this magical gift 15 years ago will be watching.

I told you clothes speak to me.