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Costume Design: Meet One Of Penn State’s Smallest Majors

Put simply, Penn State is a big place. After all, the university’s total enrollment in Fall 2014 was 46,068 undergraduate and graduate students. And each one of those students had a major they were earning from one of University Park’s 10 academic colleges. Naturally, some of these majors are more popular than others. You’re far more likely to run into a Supply Chain major than, say, a Classics and Mediterranean Studies major.

So we decided to profile some of Penn State’s smallest majors, because although these programs often have less than a dozen students, they still manage to do amazing things. First up is the Costume Design major out of the College of Arts and Architecture.

First of all, it’s important to note this major is actually a specific emphasis in the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design and Technology from the School of Theatre. In this emphasis, students take classes in everything from wig dressing to tailoring. They also have access to Penn State’s costume shop, which houses some pretty cool resources: including dying facilities, a sewing laboratory, and a craft shop.

There are eight, count ‘em eight, undergraduate students enrolled in the Costume Design emphasis at Penn State. According to the head of the program, Richard St. Clair, half of those students are freshmen and two of them are transfers from other majors at Penn State.

Now, eight students wouldn’t even begin to fill even the smallest classroom in Thomas. But just because the major has a small enrollment, it doesn’t mean these eight students suffer from having such a small program. “The student to teacher ratio makes for each student getting a great deal of hands-on attention from the faculty,” St. Clair said.

Since the students in the Costume Design emphasis get so much attention from the department’s faculty, they get some pretty unique opportunities at Penn State. For example, this year two undergraduates designed costumes for main stage shows for the School of Theatre.

But before they costume their own shows, students in the Costume Design emphasis have to start at the very bottom of the costume totem pole: sewing labels. From there, they learn how to alter costumes, then they graduate to the position of stitcher. After that, most students become assistant drapers. There, the most talented Costume Design students become full-fledged drapers: the people who prepare the patterns, cut out the costumes, and dress the actors. Trusting undergrads with such big responsibilities is part of the program’s intention.

“Many students graduating from Penn State eventually seek further studies in graduate programs,” St. Clair said. “So we make sure that they leave PSU with a large and varied portfolio of work.”

The program does its job, too. Several of Costume Design’s graduates are now working in New York and regional costume shops. “A classmate of mine draped costumes for the original productions of ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ ‘Aspects of Love’ and ‘The Lion King’ on Broadway,” said St. Clair, a graduate of the program.

Here at Penn State, the Costume Design emphasis has big plans for the future. Next year, the School of Theatre is producing two monstrous shows, technically speaking: “Titanic” and “The Importance of Being Earnest.” But the costume department welcomes the challenge.

“We will continue to create professional level costumes in our shops, and to train students in the skills necessary for them to enter the workforce in theatrical costumes,” St. Clair said.

About the Author

Anna Foley

Anna is a senior majoring in Communication Arts & Sciences and Spanish with a minor in Theatre. Yes, she went to Spain. Follow her half-funny thoughts @exfoleyator and send her chain emails at [email protected]


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