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The Devil Wears Character Shoes: The World of Fashion in Theatre

By Marisa Fisher

Have you ever wondered why Elle Woods dresses the way she does in the courtroom scene, or why the ensemble of Hamilton dresses the way they do? Fashion is embedded into every aspect of our lives and theatre is not an exception. From costumes to even the styles at the tony awards, fashion is one of the many components that make a character who they are.

When you wake up in the morning, you probably get dressed based on how you feel, some component of your personality, or just a situation you’re facing throughout the day. Costume designers repeat that process, but from the mind of a fictional character. The number of scenes and costume changes in a show will determine how many outfits, if any, the designers are required to find
In Legally Blonde the Musical, Elle Woods can have up to 20 costume changes (depending on the production) which all represent a different point in her journey. For most of the show, Elle wears her iconic bright pink outfits. However, when she begins to doubt herself in competition with Vivienne, she quickly transitions to dark blue or black professional wear. It is not until the very end of the show when she regains her confidence that she wears a beautiful pink dress as she wins the trial. Without the hard work of the costume designers and technicians, these interesting character changes may have even gone unnoticed.

One place where costumes and fashion differ is in practicality. Of course, in your everyday life your casual clothes are comfortable and practical; but what if you were dancing, singing, and acting in a ballgown or a pair of six-inch heels for two hours straight? When a designer is at work, they must not only think about how a costume will look, but also how the actor will be able to perform in it.

In the musical, Hamilton, many characters wear historical costumes from 1770’s to the early 1800’s. While these costumes are slightly updated for practicality and style, the biggest change is in the costumes worn by the ensemble. The ensemble wears plain beige corsets and waistcoats with matching trousers and black boots. These would never be worn out in public during this period, as these were basically undergarments, however the costumes serve their purpose very creatively. As the ensemble is very dance heavy, it would be impractical for them to wear the same intricate costumes as Eliza or King George. The ensemble also transitions through multiple roles throughout the show, making the neutral beige color that they wear a very practical choice to avoid unnecessary changes.

In shows where changes are necessary, costume technicians must then think of how practical an outfit is to be changed in and out of, and how quickly it can happen. One of the plays with some costume changes having merely a few minutes to accomplish was Legally Blonde, which had the astounding 20 or more outfits, as previously stated One quick change even happens on stage, as Elle Woods changes from her normal dress to her engagement dress as her friends surround and dress her within a matter of seconds. Using tear away clothing and pieces that can be incorporated into both outfits are just a few examples of creative ways costume designers can make it happen.

So next time you are watching a play or musical, pay attention to the detail and work that has gone into costuming every single character in this show. It is very important to appreciate not only the actors, but all the people who work behind the scenes to make every show as immersive and as entertaining for the people who view it.

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