I just stopped by Geva’s costume shop, as they are working on the final touches to the Clybourne Park costumes, designed by G.W. (Skip) Mercier. From the first day of rehearsals, when Skip presented the costume designs to the cast and our staff, I’ve been curious about how the shop was going to handle the pregnant characters in the play – both played by the same actress. Now, of course, we know that fashions have changed since the 1950’s, but I hadn’t really thought about how maternity fashion had changed over the years. Skip’s presentation, in which he shared the fact that in 1959 (the play’s first act), maternity clothes were designed to hide the pregnancy as much as possible, and in 2009 (the play’s second act), a lot of maternity clothing is actually designed to feature the pregnancy. (And, if you go back further, when women wore corsets, there was actually a maternity corset – can you imagine??!! And women wore maternity girdles until the 1970’s – yikes!) The internet is full of websites depicting this history- including this one, from the “What to Expect…” folks. Take a look at G.W. Mercier’s costume renderings from both periods – act one on the left, and act two on the right.
In act 1, Betsy’s clothing is right in line with maternity clothing of the era – but the character is only two weeks away from her due date, so it’s not really possible to “hide” the pregnancy, but her shape is certainly masked by the costume. Lindsey, on the other hand, in act 2, is a couple of months away from giving birth, and her clothing accentuates her pregnancy.
But how do you turn a young, fit actress (Jessica Kitchens) who is not pregnant, into a pregnant woman? You build her a pregnancy suit, of course! Or, in this case, two of them… First, draper Braden Lowen creates what is called a “bodice block,” using Jessica’s measurements. The block (pictured below, on the left) is an approximate paper pattern of her body, which allows the shop to create any piece of clothing they need, using her exact measurements. Then, they estimated the size and shape of a pregnant woman’s belly, depending on the stage of her pregnancy. Again, Braden created a pattern for each pregnancy belly, one 8.5 months, one 5 months.
The pregnancy suit is made out of a spandex, dyed by craftsperson Tom White to match Jessica’s skin tone. On the right, firsthand Katherine McCarthy laid out the pattern on the spandex and cuts the pattern, allowing for seams, etc. Stitcher Carol Unrue then sewed the fabric, and the shop then filled it with stuffing, batting, and plastic beads. The beads give the belly the appearance of weight, in the approximate placement of the baby, based on the stage of pregnancy. This is both for the look of the pregnancy, but also to aid the actress, so that she can feel the weight in the right places, which will feel much more realistic. (Notice how many tools, and people, this process takes?)
Finally, the actress puts on the pregnancy suit, and the costume can be fitted, as if she were actually pregnant. To the left, the completed pregancy suits. Below, images of Jessica Kitchens in a costume fitting, for both Betsy (act 1, on the left) and Lindsey (act 2, on the right).