Posts Tagged ‘Costumes’

Jack Kirby is well known to comic book fans as the co-creator of Thor and X-men as well as the man who wrote and drew the Fourth World series for DC Comics. What you may not know is that he also designed costumes for a production of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar put on by University of California at Santa Cruz in 1960s.

Poster, Julius Caesar, 1969  designed by Jack Kirby

This awesome team up came about when the play’s director Sheldon Feldner wrote to Marvel Comics and asked if  one of their artists would want to design costumes for their college’s  play. He was answered by Stan Lee himself, who pointed Feldner in the direction of Kirby, and thus the great project began.

Julius Caesar: Military Dress

Octavius Caesar

Marcus Antonius

Julius Caesar: Civilian Dress

Flavius of Marullus, Tribune of People

I’m not sure why, but Flavius makes me think of Captain America. Maybe it’s because the colors are similar and he has the eagle on his chest.

Roman Garrison Soldier

Roman Field Soldier

Portia, Wife of Brutus

I love Portia’s costume. It reminds me of Aubrey Beardsley‘s work.


Calpurnia, wife of Caesar

This is another one of my favorites. Calpurnia looks a lot like another one of Kirby’s creations – Big Barda.


I really love this one. Artemidorus the Sophist of Cnidos looks like he could be a C-grade superhero from some obscure 70s team up. The Green Question or Sir McMystery.

Roman citizens

If you think that these costumes look familiar, you are not wrong. Kirby used a very similar aethetic and style when he designed his New Gods for DC Comics in 1971.

Calpurnia and maid

Artemidorus – A Sophist

As these color photographs can testify, the costumes turned out amazing.  Made out of military surplus, plastic and vinyl, they give a hint of roman regalia, but also create a sense of a half-mythical, half-alien world. It’s an interesting choice for Julius Caesar, since the play has a very definite historical setting. The costumes do distance the play from its historical origins and give it a contemporary pop and comic book twist, which was probably more appealing to both the young actors and their young audience.

For more great art, check out Jack Kirby Museum.


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Say what you will about the cinematic quality of Julie Taymor’s 2010 adaption of The Tempest, but it’s clear that the costumes created for the film were absolutely fantastic. Designed by the acclaimed Hollywood costumer Sandy Powell (Shakespeare in Love, The Aviator and The Young Victoria) the look can be best described as Elizabethan Punk.

Taymor’s script called for a cape for Prospera (Helen Mirren) that would resemble shards of glass and light. Powell tried creating this effect with fiber optic and glass, but that turned out to be a bit impractical. So she settled on 3,000 pieces of vacuum-formed plastic, painted and sewn together.

“Poor Helen had to stand there with her arms up while she was yelling into the storm.”

The end result was a cape so heavy that it would take two people to lift it. To make it look like the cape flapping in the wind, crew members had to pull strings attached to it. But the end result is absolutely gorgeous – like pieces of polished lava or feathers of a monstrous bird.

The costume palette is dominated by dark, metallic hues; there’s plenty of zippers, studs and leather.

Allons-y, Alonso!

In an interview, Powell said that the budget was so small and resources so limited that when King Alonso (David Strathairn) walked into their workshop and asked if he could help, he was put to work sewing hundreds of metal studs onto his own costume.

Zippers were not just a really cool modern touch, but also a great way to save money. A real Elizabethan costume would have been embroidered with gold thread and lavish decorations.  Zippers were a cheap way to add some shine to the dark costumes.

Sebastian’s (Alan Cumming) Elizabethan collar was made by folding silver-metal zippers to create an accordion pleat. The use of zippers if quite ingenious. From far off those lines on Cumming’s doublet look like metallic embroidery, but up close you can see that they’re all zippers.

So many zippers!

Prince Ferdinand with his boy-band good looks, zipper jacket and biker boots looks more like a rock star than a young nobleman from an Elizabethan court.

A romantic hero must always be brooding

The feeling that he’s a modern heartthrob only increases when he strips down to that black tank top.

These two look like a Levi’s commercial

Miranda (Felicity Jones) looks pure and airy in all her costumes. The fabric is almost sheer, but at the same time well-worn as if the clothes have been in use for many years. The only person who looks less constrained by his costume is Ariel and that’s only because he’s naked throughout the movie.

But the corseted dress with handpainted face is my absolute favorite. Powell said that she had borrowed it from a designer friend and to her it looked like it was made from a painting that got washed up on the shore. It reminds me very much of Vivienne Westwood’s  ‘Boucher’ corset.

Speaking of inspiration, the zipper obsession was in full swing around that time. Balmain had a serious zippers fixation in the fall of 2008. 

The Tempest (2010) Zipper Fix

This film was not as well-received as it could have been. It’s hard to say why, but I think I will talk about my own impressions in another post.

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Since I’m a theater geek (please refer to the blog title), I do quite a bit of theater. I love directing, acting, even the occasional play-writing, but one of my ruling passions is costuming.

My theater group, Thespians Anonymous, is putting on Chemical Imbalance: A Jekyll and Hyde Play (two weeks ’til showtime) and yours truly was in charge of costumes. They were a delight. I’m not a huge fan of modern costumes, they look too much like everyday clothes; but historical costumes are always fun and a nice challenge. Especially when the setting is a semi-fictional Victorian England. You can go pretty mental with the concept. The whole scene is pretty macabre with dark shades and ruffles, lace and pearls.

The cast of Chemical Imbalance, Thespians Anonymous. Image by Stuart D. McQuade

The men are proper Victorian gentlemen, albeit late-Victorian pushing on Edwardian. Thank God, men’s fashion has been chnaging so very little over the decades. The older ladies are flirting with the Belle Époque, while the younger ones are ready to embrace the Gibson Girl look.

Matrons Euphronia Jekyll & Lady Throckmortonshire. Image byby Stuart D. McQuade

You can read my full post about the costumes and see more fabulous pictures HERE.

Photographs by Stuart D. McQuade.
Please do not copy or reproduce without permission. 

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A few days ago, I wrote a post about Shakespearean Halloween costumes and that got me thinking, what about other plays that provide us with interesting, colorful characters that would be a great addition to any fancy dress party.

To pull this off, you need to go with famous characters who are easy to identify by their dress or accessories. Most characters form Commedia dell’arte with their distinctive masks would be perfect. But I would avoid obscure plays or generic-looking characters.

Columbine / Harliquina 

Columbine (lit. ‘little dove’) also know as Colombine, Arlecchina or Harliquina. Coy, clever and cunning, Columbina is one of the zanni, the servants, from Commedia dell’arte.  She is usually a maidservant and a confidante of the  innamorata as well as Harliquin’s mistress. She tends to wear a ragged and patched-up dress as befits a servant. Sometimes she wears a variation of Harlequin’s motley.

A dress with a diamond pattern is not always easy to come by (though you might want to try your luck at few second hand shops), but it is possible to improvise with the help of a store-bought ‘sexy’ costume or by modifying a Harlequin costume. You can also get some fun ideas from the guys over at Etsy – here, here and here.


Mephistopheles is a demon in Goethe’s two-part tragedy, Faust. Over time, his name became a generic term for ‘devil’, even though, originally, he was just one of the demons who served the Lord of Darkness.

This costume is just a variation on the popular Halloween devil costume. But why come to a party as a boring, generic devil, when you an be this very fun character? Kudos, if you decide to wear the headdress with the feathers and the ear-holes, but I would go for a ‘Medieval/Renaissance’ costume with a shirt or doublet, tights, a cape, horns attached to the forehead and some devilish makeup.








Tartuffe, from Molière’s Tartuffe, or the Impostor, is an evil and conniving hypocrite who uses religion to dupe those around him and mask his true nature. This was a  very controversial play when it came out mostly because of its subject matter – religion and hypocrisy, though today it is considered one of the greatest works of Molière and western dramaturgy in general.

This can be done with a  store-bought priest costume or  a simple black robe with an addition of a giant cross. Remember, everything about this character is over the top. To make it clear that this is not just a generic priest, give him a wig and a white ruffled cravat.



Medea is a barbarian protagonist of an ancient Greek tragedy, Medea, by Euripides. She  finds herself in a precarious situation when her husband Jason decides to abandon her and marry a Corinthian princess. Medea takes revenge by killing Jason’s intended bride with poisoned robes and then slaying her and Jason’s two children.

This could be a very easy costume if you style a makeshift  ‘Greek-like’ garment out of  some bed sheets – I would recommend dark, rich colors, since it would be hard to imagine Medea in pastels. But since she is a barbarian queen, add some exotic elements like an unusual headdress, strange jewelry and a light shawls with an interesting pattern. If you’re very hardcore, bring a blood-covered shortsword and and a baby doll, equally bloody.

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The dress worn by Vivien Leigh for the 1958 Apollo Theatre production of Duel of Angels.

Source: Victoria & Albert Museum

Made: 1958

Artist: M Berman Ltd

Materials and Techniques: Wool and mohair with lace trim and silk bands edging lower edge and back,  straw and net

In Duel of Angels, written by Jean Giraudoux and adapted by Christopher Fry, Vivien Leigh plays Paola, the wicked angel. Very befitting a fallen woman, she is decked out in red.

This dress was a Bermans recreation of the costume made by Christian Dior for the French actress Edwige Feuillère, who played the character of Paola. The dress is clearly influenced by the fashions of 1850s and 1860s, but Dior infused it with a lot of his New Look. The full skirt and the fitted bodice are reminiscent of the mid-19th century, but the pleats are very 1950s.

The shaping of the bodice is particularly interesting. Instead of using a full-length corset or Dior’s “waspie” corset, the jacket itself is corseted. Interlined seaming and light boning create an illusion of a corseted figure, while allowing an actress freedom of movement.

Description from V&A Museum:

Fully fitted front fastening jacket of carmine wool and mohair. The jacket fastens edge to edge at bust level, with false buttonholes and self-covered buttons to either side of the V neck to shoulder height; the deep V neckline is trimmed with ivory lace; to the back is a bold, collar. Full length sleeves trimmed with self covered buttons. The lower edge is boldly curved and from the sides and around the back are bold satin bands in sand and beige silk, horizontally pleated to centre back where they cascade free to floor level. Lined with cotton and boned with petersham waistband fastening at the front.

Source: Victoria & Albert Museum

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I love Halloween! It’s one of the few days of the year when I am not only allowed, but practically required, to wear an insane and awesome costume in public.

If you’re struggling to come up with a theme for your upcoming party, why not go for a Shakespeare themed Halloween? His plays have their fair share of ghosts, murderers, witches and unholy spirits. Here are a few spooky and not-so-spooky costume ideas.


Gustaf Skarsgård as Hamlet

This one is fairly easy. You can, of course, go for a classical look with a decided  Renascence-y feel to it, but you can just wear something black and walk around with a skull. Quoting “to be or not to be” is highly encouraged.

Lady Macbeth 

Brenda Harris as Lady Macbeth. Photo by Tim Fuller

If you don’t own anything Medieval/Renaissance-y/Scottish, don’t worry. Just go for the sleepwalking scene. Think long night gown, messy hair and obsessive rubbing of one’s hands. Don’t forget to keep repeating, “Out damned spot! out, I say!”

Rome and Juliet 

YA novel by Claudia Gabel

If you’re a couple and have a twisted sense of humor, why not go as zombie/ghost/vampire Romeo and Juliet. Make sure that your Romeo looks like he died of poison – some foam around the mouth or an unnatural shade of green, and have your Juliet wear a bloody dagger wound with pride.

Viola/Cesario or Rosalind/Ganymede 

Steampunk Viola/Cesario, Maddox Theater

If you’re a girl, it’s always fun to dress like a boy. If you’re a boy, dressing up as a girl dressed up as a boy is even more fun. Put on some breaches and flirt shamelessly with party-goers of both sexes.

Titania, Oberon or Puck

Oberon, Puck, Titania, Source: Kaoime E. Malloy

Fairies are fun and  easy to do. Glitter, painted faces, a fanciful dress, some gossamer wings and, voilà, your costume is ready.

Ariel and Caliban 

Steampunk Caliban & Ariel, Source: Widgetambolia

Tempest is yet another of Shakespeare’s plays that is perfect source material for a Halloween costume. I would recommend this for a couple. And think outside the box – let the guy dress as Ariel and the girl go as Caliban.

The great bard himself    

A 9-year-old boy as the immortal bard, Source: Boing Boing

If you happen to suffer from megalomania or want to be obnoxiously meta, why not go as the man himself ? A ruffled collar, a doublet and breaches, a bald spot, a quill and some parchment and the character is complete.

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Mary Robinson - Perdita

All who happen to be in London this Autumn are extremely lucky. Tomorrow, a new exhibition opens at the National Portrait Gallery, which I’m very excited about.

The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons will explore the lives and portraits of actresses from Restoration, when women were first allowed on stage, to the early 19th century. There will also be a complementary exhibition, The Actress Now, showcasing contemporary actresses such as Dame Judi Dench and Dame Helen Mirren.


Here’s the description from the NPG website:

The First Actresses presents a vivid spectacle of femininity, fashion and theatricality in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Britain.

Taking centre stage are the intriguing and notorious female performers of the period whose lives outside of the theatre ranged from royal mistresses to admired writers and businesswomen. The exhibition reveals the many ways in which these early celebrities used portraiture to enhance their reputations, deflect scandal and create their professional identities.

Some of the treasures that will appear at this exhibition include the Three Witches from Macbeth painting mentioned here earlier and the recently uncovered – pun very much intended –  portrait of Nell Gwyn in dishabille. There will also be a number of events, guided tours, workshops and a conference which, judging by online descriptions, should be a lot of fun.

Sadly, I won’t be able to make it to London this Autumn and so I will have to live vicariously through bloggers and online reviewers who will be attending the exhibition between 20 October and 8 January and recording the event for posterity.

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