As customers search department store aisles for the right manufactured Halloween costume, Savannah Baltazar fastens the buttons of her old Hollywood ballgown in her dorm room. With careful application of makeup, appropriate accessories and an extravagant hairdo, Baltazar transforms into Vivien Leigh. She helps Jessica Perreault, her suite-mate, step into her Princess Leia attire and adds more bobby pins to secure the girl’s hair into side buns.
Halloween costumes come easy to Baltazar — just don’t mention the words “store bought” in her presence.
Baltazar, a freshman at Stephens College, has been constructing costumes since high school. Although this knack comes in handy each October, Baltazar’s main focus is designing costumes for theatrical productions. Her dream job would be designing for a major theater company, preferably musicals.
“Broadway would be awesome,” Baltazar said, “But I want to build up a reputation and experience in the field first.”
The Tucson, Ariz., native is making history as one of the first costume design majors at Stephens College. Costume design debuted as a degree program at Stephens this fall.
It was not until the end of her high school career that Baltazar decided to pursue her passion professionally.
“I was surprised it took me so long to decide on it because I had been doing it for so long, and I loved it,” Baltazar said.
At Marana High School in Tucson, a public school known for its strong theater department, Baltazar served as the costume designer for a few shows and costume mistress her senior year. She said she owes a lot to her high school drama teachers, a husband and wife teaching duo.
“They inspired me and pushed me to do it,” Baltazar said, “and they are the reason that I am here.”
Kent Forensen, the drama teacher at Baltazar’s Tucson school, said his student became interested in designing costumes from a high school fashion class. The class offered credit for helping with the costumes for the theater productions.
Baltazar was drawn toward fashion early in high school. After taking a number of drama classes and participating in school musicals, however, she found theater more appealing.
“Fashion is all about looking to the future,” she said. “Costumes look to the past and take what was best about that era and make it your own.”
When she began to show interest in helping with costumes, Forensen’s wife, the drama department’s costume designer, took Baltazar under her wing.
“She has so many of her own ideas,” Forensen said. “She is constantly coming up with her own ideas, and for the director, that’s great.”
When Baltazar was looking at colleges and contemplating majors, Forenson told Baltazar to not rule out costume design. He thought she had the talent, work ethic and ability to succeed in professional theater.
Baltazar followed her teacher’s advice and ultimately decided on Stephens both for its costume design program and small-college atmospere.
At Stephens, Baltazar’s schedule mainly revolves around classes and homework. She divides her time among a three-hour clothing construction class, makeup and costuming, drawing, choir and an honors literature course.
Patti Doyle, resident costume design instructor at Stephens, said the costume design program is unique because it combines both fashion and theater.
Early in the program, the students receive instruction on sewing, patterning and draping from the fashion department. In addition, they learn to draw in art courses and study plays in theater courses.
Doyle said costume designers are “forever drawing.” Costume constructors implement basic sewing and tailoring to transform sketches into reality.
Baltazar looks forward to working on period pieces in the future. When constructing costumes to replicate the past, historical accuracy is very important. The time period of the play dictates the entire costume — even down to an actor’s undergarments.
“Being able to put people in clothes they wouldn’t normally wear is what’s fun,” Baltazar said.
The 18-year-old’s passion for dress translates into life outside of class. Baltazar likes exploring styles and colors in her wardrobe. She often uses her friends as guinea pigs for the newest trends.
“Because I know how to sew and I’m good at design, I get a lot of questions from people for help on outfits, and I find myself always trying to dress with fun color combinations,” she said. “Also, I get a lot of requests to help make things for people.”
Baltazar said she doesn’t mind lending a hand, even for Princess Leia costumes.