Form Following Function: Costumes in The War of the Roses

Costume designer Anna R. Oliver has designed the sumptuous costume pieces for our epic War of the Roses. Our 14 actors play over 30 characters and their costumes and characters span over 65 years!

Anna says,”I wanted form to follow function: we have a very small number of people playing a very large number of roles in a compressed amount of time. So we needed to create a rhythm that we could maintain through the production; we did not want actors saying, ‘excuse me’, then exit…(we wait)… and then return in a new costume. There had to be a fluidity as well as a character defining clarity to the ways the clothes were designed and used, with the fewest number of pieces  generating the largest number of looks.”

“Another function of the design was to bridge a play from the mid- to late 1400s—the end of the middle ages—and our current time. So the form the clothes took needed to function as a visual bridge between these worlds. I looked for silhouettes that could mirror one another and then played with details: the women’s clothes are based in both a medieval silhouette and our current “fit/flare” shape with athletic sleeve details and modern fabrics. The men’s battle garb was the real catalyst for the the search for links between the past and present as we have people fighting with swords in a modern context.”


Anna continues, “In terms of function, the way one arms oneself for combat with a sword is completely different from how we fight now. Tomorrow, a guy can walk into an office in DC wearing his shorts and tennis shoes and take out a village halfway around the world with a drone. The whole technology of warfare has been about the maximizing of distance and lethality. With the safety of that distance, the function of how a person  arms themselves changes. The way one protected one’s body for  hand-to-hand combat with a sword is a very different from the drone operator in D.C. To that end, I found contemporary tactical gear that mirrored the late medieval shoulder silhouette and added the anachronism of breast plates. In our production of The War of the Roses, we are trying to fold this more intimate form of battle into our modern time; we are weaving anachronisms into the fabric of our modern world.”



The War of the Roses begins performances Thursday, August 23. Get tickets here.


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