Considering colour, condition, cut, fabric and fit

When designing a costume, there are several aspects to consider, including:

  • colour
  • condition
  • cut
  • fabric
  • fit

Colour

Colour is a very important aspect of a costume. It can convey a symbolic idea or reveal something about the character wearing the costume.

Costumes of different colours represent different symbolic meaninigs - black as worry, green as wealth, orange as warmth, white as innocence, red as passion and blue as peace.

Colour can also be used to help the audience see the similarities or differences between characters. For example, where two families are feuding, the performers may be dressed in different colours to help the audience differentiate. It is important to remember that colours change under stage lighting, eg a white dress will appear blue under a blue light.

Condition

The condition of the costume can convey information about a character's circumstances. For example, a Victorian street beggar leading a hard life may wear dirty rags with holes to show wear and tear, and may also have make-up to appear dirty with missing teeth, cuts and bruises.

A street boy smiles in the foreground, his period costume torn and dirty and juxtaposed to the business men behind him who wear pristine suites.
The contrasting conditions of characters’ costumes represent their different circumstances, as in Bleak House

Cut

The way a costume is cut refers to the shape of fabric pieces used to construct it. For example, a suit can be cut in different ways to help change the performer’s physical appearance, making them appear either smaller or larger. Cut can also provide information about the historical setting of the play, eg flares are a style of trousers that become wider below the knee and are largely associated with the 1970s.

Fabric

The most appropriate fabrics to suit the character, setting and style of the production should be considered. For example, in the present day performers can wear costumes that use modern synthetic materials, such as nylon. Fabric can also provide information about a character’s social status, eg a wealthy character may wear a silk dress.

The Queen sits at her thrown in luxurious silks and furs and a glistening crown on her head, surrounded by men
Silks and furs are often used to show wealth and status, as in Elizabeth

Fit

The fit of a costume refers to how the clothing fits the performer, eg tight, oversized or fitted perfectly. It can reveal a character’s personality or the context of the play. A woman in a period drama may wear a very tightly fitted corset to help reflect the historical context of a play, as it was fashionable to accentuate a woman’s physical form.