The Collegian
Saturday, December 03, 2022

Behind the curtain of the campus theater: Costume design

An aspiring actress and singer found a passion in costume design and turned it into her career as a professor of theater and director of costumes at the University of Richmond. 

That professor, Heather Hogg, was once enrolled as an undergraduate in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Arts in pursuit of an acting career. Her father was in a band while she was growing up, and she hoped to follow his lead in artistry, singing and performing.

But she took a required costume-construction and stagecraft class her first semester where she learned how to sew and found a love for the costume design process. This made her reconsider her original aspirations, she said.

“I just loved the engagement and skill set that was required in costuming,” Hogg said. 

After graduating, Hogg worked as an adjunct professor in the VCU theater department for four years. She received her Masters of Fine Arts from VCU in 2003 before coming to UR in 2006.

She wants her classroom to be exciting and unique in comparison to traditional learning environments, she said.

“All I ask from my students is to be logical, to be engaged and to be curious,” Hogg said. “While I do challenge and push them beyond their ability, it’s never to the point where they’re frustrated.”

The attention to detail and accuracy that Hogg’s students show in the costume shop reflects her passion for the art. 

Meghan Miller-Brown, a sophomore assistant in Hogg’s shop, said that the most challenging part of costuming was the sheer amount that must be created for each show.

Edie Sanders, a senior, who has been in the university’s dance company since her first year, found a union between on-stage performances and behind-the-scenes work.

“I realized, as a dancer, that you could tell if the fabric or look of a costume would work for the performance,” Sanders said.

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As a member of both the dance company and the costume shop, Sanders said she gained good perspective on all that goes into the costuming process.

According to Sarah Wang, a senior, the process is often experimental and she has to adjust to the level of quality expected from Hogg. If a skirt does not flow the right way or work for a number, she must rip out the stitches and re-do the piece.

Emilie Erbland, a sophomore, said that there was an element of speed involved when working with Hogg because costume deadlines had always been approaching.

Hogg firmly believes that the overall appearance of a costume has a large impact on the stage. 

Emilie Knudsen, a junior theater major who worked as manager for the university’s fall production of “Top Girls," echoed this thought. 

“The tangible parts of the show, like costumes and props, mixed with the intangible elements, lighting and sound, finish the world of the show and bring it all to life,” Knudsen said.

Hogg’s mission in the costume shop carries over to costume storage as well. After each production, students organize the storage area and put away costumes.

The costume storage area, located in the deep end of the old, abandoned pool in Keller Hall, contains costumes of all varieties, from a dragon suit to a 1950s prom dress, Erbland said. She explained that storing so many costumes allowed directors endless options for what a character could have worn in a certain production.

“When I first walked into the pool, it felt like a museum of sorts seeing the various costumes displayed," sophomore Amelia Tedesco said. “It’s cool to see how a costume brings out a character's traits."

Hogg’s professional experience in costuming extends beyond the University of Richmond. In the last six years, she has worked on the sets of “Killing Lincoln,” “Killing Kennedy” and the AMC series “Turn.” Hogg also led principal costume design on the PBS series “Mercy Street.”

Hogg said that since her experience in design was so transformative, she wanted to provide the same to her students. 

The hours that students spend working and learning reflect the detail and patience that go into each piece. Hogg explained that students’ characters were built through the skills they had learned, while the characters on stage were built through the stories told in each costume.

“I believe that when you’re doing something gratifying each day, that it’s right in the liberal arts charge of our school,” she said.

Contact writer Emma Phelps at

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