Costuming Spring Awakening

Cast and crew of Spring Awakening @ Connecticut Theatre Company, spring 2023

So since I teased this a few days ago, I figured I should finally get around to writing that costuming post. Yes, the show I costumed closed the first week of April, don’t ask questions lol.  I’m really getting into the meat of doing the costumes for Drowsy now, so I figured it would be a good time to reflect on the last show I costumed to give myself a boost to finish this one strong. This will be a bit of a ramble and probably picture heavy, but if there’s anything you want to know about, leave a comment and I’ll be sure to answer and also include in my next post about Drowsy costumes.

Another quick caveat before we get into this, in case people find this blog post who aren’t usually here.  This is community theatre and I’m just a random person.  While I had a costume budget and got reimbursed for what I bought, I am otherwise doing this for free.  I don’t have a degree in fashion design, and I do this part time in addition to a full time job in insurance.  I’ve really only been sewing for a few years and would not call myself a fashion expert.  I still have a ton to learn!  So while I’d love feedback, please keep in mind those restrictions.  There were definitely things I’d love to have been able to do, but was limited by what I had.

Ok, with all that out of the way, let’s get into it. In terms of the planning process, Spring Awakening is an interesting show to try and costume.  The original play was written and takes place in 1890s Germany, but sort of the point of the musical (at least in my opinion) is that these stories and events take place throughout time.  The original Broadway production did this by utilizing hand mics and really shifting to a rock concert vibe when the songs started.  There were a couple of ways I thought we could go with this, either fully 1890s and leave the modern elements to other production techniques, fully modern and ignore the original time frame of the story, or sort of a modern and vintage blend.  After collaborating with the co-directors and choreographer, we ended up going with that blend.  We were doing a lot of contemporary dance choreography in the songs rather than sort of the rock concert vibe, and so we felt like the costumes should help connect the story between the past and the present.  This was also what I was pushing for from a logistics perspective, given my budget was $1000 and about half the cast of 15 needed at least two costumes, doing fully 1890’s would have been very difficult.

I did some research on what 1890s Germany actually would have looked like, especially for teenagers, because I still wanted it to feel inspired by that.  You can see my Pinterest board here.  It was a bit difficult to find items for this, I started at a few museum collections and went out from there.  I didn’t put quite as much time into this as I could have since we decided pretty early on that we wanted to go with the modern inspired vibe.  In terms of specifics, Spring Awakening leaves costuming pretty much up to interpretation.  The only costume specifics mentioned in the script are:

  • “near transparent school girl dress” for Wendla in the first scene
  • Apron for Frau Bergman
  • Nightshirt for Hanschen
  • Bustier for Fraulien Grossenbustenhalter
  • A few lines reference jackets, pockets, skirts, or sleeves

Generally, the boys need to be at school, but also several of them act as secondary characters in a reformatory.  The biggest challenge is that in the musical, you have one actor playing “Adult Men” and one actress playing “Adult Women”, with each person being at least 5 different people at various points of the show.  You need some way to be able to differentiate each of those characters, even though the scenes do make it pretty clear who they are at each moment in time, the costume can help.  We also decided we didn’t want anyone in purple except Ilse, while I would have loved to have purple accents throughout (inspired by the finale song “The Song of Purple Summer”), the directors wanted to use purple as a color of inspiration and didn’t want it included except by Ilse as she is set apart from the rest of the cast.

I had a strong vision early on that for the school boys, I wanted them to feel cohesive but not actually matching, which a lot of productions end up doing.  Honestly, this was mostly for budget saving purposes as whenever you have to have things match, that usually means you’re buying or making new, which increases the price.  I also knew I could make matching ties/ accents that would allow them to feel “uniform” without needing to actually be the same.  This was definitely an area where I think the directors were a little wary but thankfully they trusted me. For the girls, I wanted dresses that had some Victorian feeling vibes and accents, but also a more modern silhouette.  Both boys and girls would wear more modern shoes.  For adult man and adult woman, I wanted basic black costumes which could be supplemented with jackets, hats, robes, etc. to clearly differentiate characters while making it easy on the actors to change in and out.

Once I had these ideas together, it was time to source items!  The theater I did this at has a pretty big basement of costumes, and I was able to find several key items there.  I also did a lot of thrift shopping, most of the girls and boys dresses and blue pieces came from Savers.  I also found some things on Amazon, actually my biggest purchase of the show were the matching reformatory jumpsuits.  Because there were modern elements in the show, I also leaned on the cast for several items, including shoes and white dress shirts.    Overall, there were 85 unique costume pieces in this show, that includes shoes, tights, etc.  Of those 85, 22 were in costume storage, 28 were purchased, 9 were sewn, and 26 were provided by actors or me.  This meant I spent a total of $756.46, coming in pretty significantly under budget.

In terms of work and alterations, we did a lot for this show. In addition to the standard alteration you need to have items fit actors, I also added lace to several dresses to give them a more vintage feel. Three of the 6 boys were in shorts, and I actually made those from pants! I also dyed two dresses so that they fit the color scheme better and were different from each other. I added hand holes for the nightgown for Hanschen (if you know, you know), and did some mending of Melchoir’s pants and a lot of fussing with the pocket of Moritz’s pants. The pocket had to hold a gun, and it was getting destroyed through the course of tech week and the first weekend because it was too small and frail. This made it really hard for the actor to use. So I ended up sewing a whole new pocket. That was something I had never done before but I was glad I was able to make it work! I also hand made the apron (which I kept for myself), all the school ties and bowties, and some extra ties and bowties for the pit. I’m very good at sewing ties now.

Sewing ties for the pit!

Overall,  I’m incredibly proud of how it came out!  I was very nervous until tech week, but after seeing the production pictures I was so happy and couldn’t believe how good it looked.  Things felt cohesive and it looked like a show!   I’m especially fond of all the school costumes, I think they look so good together, and each say a little something about their character.  I do wish I would have given Moritz a jacket because it would have been easier with the gun, but I also love how childish the vest makes him look so I don’t know.  I also wish I could have distressed the reformatory clothes a little more, but I ran out of time and it was such a small scene that it wasn’t really worth the effort.  If you want to see more specifics, I have the list of costume pieces here and a by actor costume plot here.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my costuming process!  I’m so glad I got to do it, and I will definitely costume again (I mean more than the one I’m doing currently lol).  It’s a ton of work but I find it really fun!  I also could not have done this without my friends Brendon, Leah, and Kat, who took time to go shopping with me and help with mending and tie production.  Like everything in the theater, it takes a village and I have the best darn village out there.


  1. Kath, once again, I am inspired by your dedication and commitment. And the costumes looked amazing onstage!

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