Christine Milodragovich on designing costumes for All My Sons
By Production Dramaturg, Cohen Ambrose
Back in October, I sat down with the Costume Designer for Montana Rep’s 2016 National Tour of All My Sons, Christine Milodragovich. I wanted to offer the Rep’s audiences some insights into Christine’s process as a designer, how she approaches a period play, and what her reactions were to Arthur Miller’s classic drama.
CA: How did you begin the design process for All My Sons?
CM: I have done other plays in this same period, so I started throwing things into a file for women’s fashion – anything I saw that captured what I needed to know. I put together a similar file for men, based mostly on advertisements from the period. [Director] Jere [Hodgin] and I looked at all of these files together and bounced ideas off of one another before making any firm decisions.
CA: What were your first reactions to the script?
CM: The first time I read the script, I was distressed by how trapped [the characters] were so I tried to convey some of that entrapment through my costuming choices. For example, in my design for Kate [Keller’s] housedress, the neckline is very high. She is trapped in that dress. It’s not a show that a costume designer can ‘play’ with a whole lot. You’re trying to present real people who lead fairly ordinary lives. There are no overly flamboyant characters – they’re ordinary folks in an extraordinary situation.
CA: What is it like to design for a play of this period?
CM: In terms of the evolution of fashion, a huge amount of change occurred between 1945 and 1950. Women’s clothing changed from the very military look of the war years with broad shoulders, skirts that didn’t use much fabric – utility kinds of clothing – but then in 1947, Christian Dior came out with the New Look, which was a very feminine look with a full skirt, and in some cases a corseted bodice – really fitted and curvy compared to the severe look of the war. [All My Sons is] kind of right in between those, but we can begin to see the loosening of silhouettes. I wanted to find that right mix between the severity of the war and a more feminine attitude for the women. “Fashion is evolution, not revolution,” as the old adage goes, except when some major catastrophe like war intervenes, so here we are in 1947 trying to pick up the pieces from almost a decade earlier, which makes this a very exciting, but subtle period to design for.