29th July 2021

A Costume Is A Costume


I love costumes. They’re fun to wear, they help to tell the story of the show you’re working on, and they help you to delve deeper into your character. It’s fascinating to me, as a youth theatre director, to see the change in demeanour when a young actor puts on their costume for the first time — there’s a “lightbulb” moment there, where they really start to truly get who they are portraying. It makes everything a bit more real.

That’s why it is so frustrating when I’m watching a production and admiring the beautiful costumes to see… well, a general unkemptness onstage.

Costume teams work incredibly hard to make costumes look amazing, and then the look is disturbed by silly little things either forgotten or missed by the actors.

It’s the little details that can make or break a costume, and take an audience member completely out of the moment.

Next time you are putting on your costume, please be aware of these details — they drive me CRAZY!

  • Visible undergarments, such as brightly coloured undershirts or tank tops. I have no problem with an actor wearing an undershirt for modesty, but make sure it is clean, and an appropriate colour for your costume (white is generally best) and that there are no visible details or logos.
  • Inappropriate bra straps. Certain tops, such as halter or keyhole dresses, do not lend well to regular bras. Ladies, please invest in a strapless or convertible-strap bra.
  • Anachronistic jewelry — ESPECIALLY bracelets. This includes friendship bracelets, silly bandz, rainbow looms, Fitbits (this is coming from a former Fitbit addict — take them off! You do not need to track your steps onstage!), and hair elastics. I know hair elastics go missing all the time but please, please, take them off your wrists onstage!!! And earrings. If they are not part of the costume, remove them.
  • Wearing leggings instead of stockings or pantyhose.
  • Nail polish. Take it off, unless it’s part of the character and the costume designer’s choice.
  • Inappropriately coloured socks. 9 times out of 10, you should be wearing black socks onstage. Buy a ten-pack from the store and be done with it. This will get you through tech and dress rehearsal, as well as the first few shows. Then do laundry.
  • General sloppiness. Untucked shirts, twisted suspenders, pant legs stuck in socks, shirts buttoned up crookedly, missing accessories (such as hats, belts, gloves, and purses), messy hair. If you are having trouble with a quick change or just generally can’t dress yourself (believe me, this happens — even with adult actors), ask for help!
  • While we’re at it, please TIE YOUR HAIR BACK FROM YOUR FACE!!! I hate it when I can’t see an actor’s face. It’s bad enough when they turn to profile and their face is hidden by a curtain of hair, but those side bangs hanging in their eyes and loose wavy/curly tendrils — they drive me nuts. I want to go onstage with scissors and chop them off!

There are tons of great half-up, half-down hairstyles, and YouTube has tons of hair tutorials. Arm yourself with elastics, bobby pins, and hairspray, and get that hair out of your face!

(While you’re at it, please stop pushing your hair behind your ears and smoothing it while you’re onstage. If your hair were tied back properly, you wouldn’t have to do that, and I can tell you’re not thinking about your character when you’re constantly fixing your hair. Leave it alone!)

Please be especially aware of these details during technical and dress rehearsals. Of course, these are vital details during showtime, but many shows have a photographer come in and take production photos during tech and dress, both for publicity purposes and for photo memory DVDs for the cast and crew. Do you want your sloppiness captured in photos forever? I didn’t think so!

As an actor, you are creating an experience for the audience.

Focusing on details like these helps to make the world of the show seem even more real. No matter what it looks like and whether or not you like the costume, it is designed to clearly establish who your character is within the show. Treat it, and yourself, with respect and wear it with pride!


Also by Kerry:

Want To Have A Theatre Career? 6 Tips To Get You Started

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Kerry Hishon is an actor, director, stage combatant, and writer living in London, Ontario, Canada. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Stage & Screen Studies from Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario) in 2006, and has been working in youth theatre since 2008. She has directed shows for the Original Kids Theatre Company since 2010, including Peter and the Starcatcher, Tarzan, The Wedding Singer, Disney's The Little Mermaid Jr., Fiddler on the Roof Jr. and many more. She has taught OKTC's T.A.G. (The Actor Grows) program for five years, teaching the basics of theatre to over 60 new company members each year. She has directed, taught, acted and written for various theatre companies throughout Ontario, and recently enjoyed her first experience as choreographer for Time Warp: 50 Years of the Rock Musical with Musical Theatre Productions. Kerry is a member of Art of Combat and has trained in stage combat in London Ontario (Shrew'd Business) and New York City (AoC) since 2010. Kerry is a Drama Teacher Academy Instructor with her course Theatre Etiquette 101, as well as a featured blogger for Theatrefolk.com, specializing in posts on rehearsal procedures. She also writes at her own blog, kerryhishon.com. In her free time, Kerry enjoys travelling, reading, knitting, and dancing.

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