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October 17, 2011

Costume Design Center Creates History by Hand

Colonial Williamsburg’s Costume Design Center hosts its third annual open house from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21 at 250 First St., Williamsburg.

Guests get a behind-the-scenes look at the Costume Design Center. Through a tour of the facility, guests see examples of the latest projects and view demonstrations of techniques used to re-create period attire.

The Costume Design Center, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2009, dresses interpretive staff for Historic Area programming, Electronic Field Trips, Historic Area stores and products staff, tavern character interpreters and entertainers, and employees at the Raleigh Tavern Bakery.

The 18th-century clothing the Costume Design Center creates for Colonial Williamsburg’s staff are used as interpretive tools. Costumes add to the colonial authenticity and serve to delineate class and occupation of the period. They also help connect guests to the greater story of Colonial Williamsburg.

There are about 144 types of clothing from undergarments to outerwear for men and women. For women, the design center produces gowns, petticoats, stays, shifts, jackets and bed gowns, caps, hats, kerchiefs, aprons, pockets, hoops, jewelry, mitts, gloves, cloaks and riding habits. For men, the design center makes shirts, stocks, cravats, breeches, trousers, waistcoat, sleeved and sleeveless jackets, coats, great coats, cloaks, kerchiefs, caps, spats and hats.

The dedication of Duke of Gloucester Street on Oct. 20, 1934, ushered in the tradition of costume design to Colonial Williamsburg. The ceremony brought President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Historic Area, where he was greeted by hostesses dressed in colonial costumes for the first time.

From the six initial costumes and one seamstress in 1934, the staff today includes tailors, cutter-fitters, craftspeople, costume maintenance technicians, inventory control clerks and a designer. In 2008, the center designed and produced 2,454 items of clothing and accessories for Colonial Williamsburg interpreters.

For a timeline to see how Colonial Williamsburg’s costumes have evolved due to ongoing research, resources for the reproduction of historic costumes and more, go to:

The Costume Design Center open house is free with any Historic Area admission pass or Good Neighbor pass. Reservations are required and can be made at any Colonial Williamsburg ticket outlet or by calling (757) 229-2141 or 1-800-HISTORY.

Generous support has been received from the Mars Foundation of McLean, Va., for “Cry Witch” costumes; Mr. and Mrs. Porter Baldridge of Tacoma, Wash., for costuming for Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Mrs. Randolph and Mrs. Wythe, as well as period-accurate glasses and jewelry; Mrs. Paula J. McCann for period-correct eye-wear; Mr. and Mrs. Charles T. Freeman of Hilton Head Island, S.C., for Royal Governor Lord Dunmore’s court suit; Mrs. Elizabeth J. Wade of Carmel, Calif., for reproduction buttons bearing the Dunmore crest for the Dunmore livery; Dr. and Mrs. Alan Cline of Austin, Texas, for 50th anniversary costumes for the Fifes and Drums; and Mrs. Hugh Morrison of Santa Ana, Calif., for interpreter accessories.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural organization dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and presentation of the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia. This town-sized living history museum tells the inspirational stories of our journey to become Americans through programs in the Historic Area and through the award-winning Revolutionary City program. Explore The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg and discover the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum featuring the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670 – 1830 and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, comprising more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Colonial Williamsburg is committed to expanding its thought-provoking programming through education outreach on-site and online. Purchase of Colonial Williamsburg products and services supports the preservation, research and educational programs of the Foundation. Philanthropic support by individuals, corporations, and foundations benefits the educational mission of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at

Media Contact:
Penna Rogers
(757) 220-7121