Behind the Scenes: Wives and Daughters Costume Shop

We got an insider look into the Frederic Wood Theatre costume shop with Liz Gao, the lead costume designer for the upcoming Wives and Daughters production by UBC Theatre and Film, opening on November 9. The play is based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1860’s serial novel and adapted by UBC Theatre and Film Professor, Jacqueline Firkins. The story tackles the meaning of love in all its forms and the limitations society places on women as they pursue their desires.


Sewing machines whirred away and radio music softly played as we stepped into the costume shop below the Frederic Wood Theatre. Liz Gao graciously took time out of her busy schedule preparing costumes for the play to show us around the shop. She introduced us to everyone working there that afternoon. We met full-time staff, theatre production students, WorkLearn students, graduate students, and the main actress as she was getting fitted for her ballgown.

As we sat down for a chat, Liz pulled out her original sketches of the costume designs. Each character had a detailed set of drawings. I asked her where she got her inspiration for all the costume designs for the characters in Wives and Daughters.

“I read the play and I started to know who the characters were, so I tried to design the pieces to reflect the nature of the characters and the changes that they go through during the story,” Liz explained.


Intricate handmade bonnets

Charlotte, a graduate student, ironing a piece for a vest









What did Liz like about working on this period piece?

“Having to do research on the fashion and lifestyle in the late 1830s,” she replied. “I learned that there were a lot of etiquette rules on how and when women used gloves and bonnets, so I made sure to incorporate those details into the designs.” She turned around to grab a bonnet sitting on the next table to show me how it was put together – from picking out the fabric to the sewing of each individual flower blossom onto the hat itself. It was clear that Liz had an eye for detail and was  passionate about the work she does.

If there’s one thing Liz wants you to notice while watching the play, it would be the number of times the actors complete quick changes during the play.

“The longest transition is only 47 seconds”, she told us. It involves a lot of coordination with the hair and makeup teams as well, but they practice almost every day leading up the play to master the art of the fast transitions.

If the costumes are any indication of the dedication and hard work that goes into the whole play, then we’re in for an amazing run of Wives and Daughters.


Liz Gao, the talented costume designer behind Wives and Daughters

Sabrina, playing the main character Molly, being fitted in a ballgown by Nicolette and Liz

Liz adjusting a day dress on the mannequin in the fitting room

Melicia, a WorkLearn student, sewing a piece for a bonnet

Liz looking through a rack of costumes in the shop storage

Snooter Grace, the friendly shop dog

An overview of the costume shop

Wives and Daughters will be on at the Frederic Wood Theatre from November 9 – 25. Get your tickets.

Written by Tiffany Zhong
Photography by Farhan Hussain

Copyedited by Mormei Zanke