ArtsAlive.ca – The Secret Life of Costumes

Effective Costuming

What’s your costume?

image:La Reine Élisabeth from Richard III (1990), designed by François Barbeau
La Reine Élisabeth from Richard III (1990)
© François Barbeau

What do your clothes say about you? How you want to be perceived? What makes your clothing different from your best friend’s, your mother’s or father’s? What’s your style? We all make choices about how we present ourselves to the world. Through our clothing we say things about who we are, and who we would like to be.

The Job of a Costume

A costume conveys the same information about a character that your clothes convey about you. Friends and family can sometimes determine how you are feeling, or where you are going based on what you wear. Similarly, a truly effective costume provides character information even before the character speaks. It has already completed its first job if at the start of a show you as audience member ask, “What makes this guy such a rebel?” or, “How did this obviously very poor woman land in this very wealthy house?” Your attention has been grabbed and you’re participating in the story!

Designing an Effective Costume: Making Good Choices

A large number of decisions are made by the production’s creative team to ensure that a wonderful play or opera communicates with its audience. An effective costume helps audiences connect with characters and the story. Good choices are key in establishing these connections… and good questions lead to good choices.