Ruth E Carter: From Hampton to Hollywood

If you liked the beautiful, afro-futuristic clothing of Black Panther then you’ll love the costume designer Ruth E. Carter. As an accomplished costume designer for 30 years, she has probably designed the costumes of some of your favorite movies. But, before she was designing captivating costumes for blockbuster movies, Ruth E. Carter was just a speech and drama student here at Hampton University.

Before coming to Hampton, Mrs. Carter lived in Springfield, Massachusetts, where she was very involved with drama in high school and participated in African-Awareness programs. Her family was the main reason why Carter came to Hampton. Her mother was originally from the area and a number of her family members were still in the area. Mrs. Carter considers Hampton a “family school” because her cousins attended, her aunt graduated from Hampton, and her uncle worked as the director of auxiliary services. Coming from a family filled with teachers, Mrs. Carter decided to major in special education for her first two years at Hampton, however, she stayed very active in the drama department and was a member of a social club that promoted the arts.

When Mrs. Carter first entered the drama department at Hampton, she wanted to be an actress but was instead asked to be a costume designer. This sparked the beginning of her career in costume designing. From then on, if an organization on campus needed costumes for a performance, Mrs. Carter was on it. She did the costumes for all the plays on campus, the Terpsichorean Dance Company, senior recitals and other performers that needed costumes. She was also the president of the Hampton Players and even designed the homecoming parade float for the players. One memorable moment was when she designed costumes for an Alpha Phi Alpha tribute to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Mrs.Carter switched her major to Speech and Drama after two years of studying special education. Although Hampton didn’t have any courses in costume design, Mrs. Carter was still able to explore the vast world of costume design. “They never locked the door (of the costume room). Because I had the key, I was able to specialize in a profession they didn’t have at the school.” Carter said.

Carter graduated class of 1982 with a Bachelor’s of Arts. Four years later, she met director Spike Lee who hired her as the costume designer for his second film, School Daze. She has since designed costumes for movies like Selma, and T.V. shows like BET’s Being Mary Jane. For current Hampton students, Mrs.Carter has this piece of advice: “You are now in charge of your future. Take charge.This time now will change your life.” With a meticulous work ethic and a resume filled with unforgettable costumes, Ruth E. Carter is definitely the epitome of the Hampton Woman.

Photo Courtesy of Ruth E. Carter via Twitter