Dressing for Stage
(a guide even blokes will understand)
Posted on 03 June 2015
People don’t often understand how to dress for stage. Even actors may lack this skill, because for big shows an art director and a costume designer will determine what is worn. However for small shows without an artistic director, actors may want to take more control of their wardrobe. This idea doesn’t even pass through the heads of most comedians. Performance is about standing in front of a mic isn’t it? Anything else is sometimes seen as extraneous.
The fact of the matter is you don’t have to be about fashion for costume selection to be important. The issue isn’t always about looking “good”. It’s also about being seen, heard, and free to move. That funny little gesture you do with your hand will in no way add to your joke if people can’t see it. That tight corset that gives you an hour glass figure may keep you from projecting and therefore keep you from being heard. Your ability to move around and create a rapport with the audience may be cut short, if you are wearing restrictive clothes.
I will be focusing on the visuals in this article. If you are planning on being in front of people, then you have to learn to let yourself be visible. Hiding will keep your career from achieving lift-off. Here are my easy to understand pointers about this.
Dressing entirely in black. I call black the coward’s colour. Yes, predators, cat burglars, and ninjas wear black. However, they do so in order to not be seen before pouncing. Are you planning on pouncing your audience? You know who else comes in black? Mice. They don’t want to be seen, so they aren’t pounced upon.
Some people will have a wardrobe entirely filled with black, because “it all matches”. Other neutrals do exist like white, tan, brown, etc. On the business end of town all the business people wear black suits, with black shoes, and black brief cases. They all look (to them) comfortingly alike. Standing out by choosing to wear purple for instance, is seen as a “career limiting move”. They are hiding.
Film will use black because the “cool kids” wear it. However, they have to work hard, using all sorts of cinematic tricks, to make characters in black visible. Even then, they may be visible on the big screen, but once you are watching the film on your TV at home, it’s difficult to tell what’s going on. The best example of this is Batman.
Below is a picture of Michael Keaton and Adam West both dressed as Batman. Notice how shiny they have made Keaton’s costume and how they have lit his figure, so that you get white reflections to give him definition. Even so, he is disappearing into the background. Adam West is wearing gray as well as black and so is more readily seen, though his head tends to disappear into shadows.
For live performance if you are going to wear black make sure you have a brightly coloured background and that you are standing in the light. Any interest you can give that black such as coloured stripes or patterns will be of help.
White is generally better. It’s easy enough to wear black or blue jeans and a white t-shirt. Most backgrounds are dark, so it’s usually a good choice. However, upon occasion you do get a white background and this is what happens.
Notice how I have disappeared? Clearly I’m a snow ninja. White can cause problems for photography where the shot is “blown out”. Basically, everything turns to a detail-less white.
White can be very dramatic and eye popping which is why so many singers use it for Eurovision. But it is also a neutral and needs extra detail or colour touches to keep it from getting equally as bland as black.
Colour is good. Colour is very good. It makes you interesting. It defines you as a performer: what sort of colours do you wear and why? Vivid colours will get you noticed. Look who’s upstaging Batman in this Mardi Gras photo.
Just remember that most theatres use red curtains. If you wear red you are in danger of becoming a red ninja in the same way I was a white ninja the other day. Blue and green will help you to stand out from the curtains. A bright yellow will make you pop! Check in advance what colours will be visible behind you and choose one that isn’t being used.
Other issues to do with colour are coordinating colours whenever you have more than one person on stage, and making sure you wear colours that help your skin to look vibrant and healthy. Orange does a great job of making people look healthy. Not everyone likes wearing that colour. Black gives many people sallow skin, but even the wrong shade of red can do that. An art director or a stylist can help with these concerns. But any colour is better than no colour, if you want to stand out.
Now go have fun making yourself more interesting!
Peace and kindness,