Dressing for Excess: Halloween Hints from Broadway's Top Costume Designs
OCT 27, 2015
What? It’s only days out from Halloween and you still don’t have a costume? Time is running out, along with all the Kim Kardashian masks at your local store. While everyone else you know will be blow-drying their hair into imitations of Donald Trump’s failed pompadour, or squirming their way into one of Lady Gaga’s more revealing outfits, why not look to the current Broadway season for some ideas? The costume designers from today’s hit shows provide you with a range of eras, styles, and conceits to draw on. Consider these possibilities:
Drag Race: If you really want to steal the spotlight, consider Gregg Barnes’s wild, over-the-top creations for the drag queens of Kinky Boots. Half of that musical’s fun comes from the contrast between the drab everyday garb of the Northern England factory workers who turn to manufacturing fetishwear and the absolutely fabulous creatures who buy their products. Barnes came up with closets full of fabulous drag, including a one-shoulder-strap beaded minidress; an all-business suit and (tiny) skirt with matching blue fedora and heels; a chiffon gown modeled on one of Whitney Houston’s awards-show ensembles; and a female Beefeater with (naturally) thigh-high boots. Ladies: You can try these outfits too!
Arabian Nights: For another way of making a statement, try emulating Barnes’ Aladdin costumes, with their bold bursts of color designed to evoke the musical’s roots as an animated film. His flared pants and tiny vests may be a little revealing for late-October weather, but those turbans are perfect for a bad hair day. And if you’re on the tall side, you can certainly make an impression as Aladdin’s statuesque genie — although you’ll have to provide your own conjuring tricks. You don’t have to go to the same lengths Barnes — who had his costumes beaded in India and his shoes made in Italy — did to come up with a convincing look. And, as Aladdin’s opening number, “Arabian Nights,” proves, the costumes are very friendly if you’re planning to dance the night away. Beware, however: Bared torsos and midriffs are the norm. You’ll need at least a few gym visits to get yourself in shape.
The Age of Elizabeth: On the other hand, Barnes’ Elizabethan costumes for Something Rotten! neatly cover up a multitude of bodily shortcomings. Guys can make an impression with one of the show’s laughably enormous codpieces, and can strut their stuff in its distinctly nonkinky boots. (For inspiration, check out the costumes for Christian Borle’s Will Shakespeare, reinvented as a kind of Renaissance-era Mick Jagger.) There’s also the Soothsayer, the rag-covered visionary described by Barnes as “an Elizabethan Oscar the Grouch paired with the ghost of Jacob Marley.” There are also plenty of opportunities for sly humor: As the designer told the website Tyranny of Style, because the Soothsayer predicts the future of musical theater, “he has several pouches on his belt and, on the flap of one of the pouches, Jeff [Fender, the costume builder] painted Ethel Merman’s star chart. Now that’s a detailed approach!
The New Look: An American in Paris takes place directly after the end of World War II, when food, money, and electricity were still in short supply and the fashion industry had been on hold for five years. But if you want to be the chicest person at your party, check out the dresses Bob Crowley created for Jill Paice, as the man-eating American heiress who turns her acquisitive gaze on the show’s hero, Robert Fairchild. With their cinched waists and enormous skirts, often matched by madly elaborate hats, they recall the heyday of Christian Dior’s New Look, which debuted in 1947 and set the fashion world on fire. Let the other ladies dress as Morticia Addams; stun them with your classic good taste!
Victorian Visions: You can’t fail to look good in a Victorian-era evening gown like the one worn by Kelli O’Hara during the Act II diplomatic dinner party in The King and I. Catherine Zuber’s lavender satin creation is a total stunner, the kind of outfit that earns a sigh from the audience when the actress makes her entrance. The dress is really a piece of architecture. As the Daily News noted, “Twenty yards of the satin were used to fashion the off-the-shoulder gown . . . interior rigging keeps the weight of the dress distributed on O’Hara’s hips and center of gravity rather than her waist and shoulders.” There are downsides, however: What with the steel hoop and undergarments, you’d be toting an awful lot of weight. And if you’re looking to make new friends, the enormous bell-shaped skirt will keep everyone at bay. Not for nothing did Rodgers and Hammerstein write an entire number (“Western People Funny”) in which the Siamese ladies of the court make fun of Anna’s overelaborate wardrobe.
’60s Style: Who doesn’t love the ’60s? Why not turn to Alejo Vietti’s costumes for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical? You could go subtle, copying one of the chic suits — especially one with bold colors in a Mondrian pattern — designed for the character of Cynthia Weill. Or you could go flamboyant, pulling together a beaded, sequin chiffon number like those worn by The Shirelles; as a bonus, you could stop the party with your rendition of “One Fine Day.” Vietti was also an associate designer on Jersey Boys, which covers much of the same time frame as Beautiful, so you could bring a date, or four, to back you up as The Four Seasons.
Radical Chic: We have to mention Hamilton — everyone else is! Paul Tazewell’s designs for the blockbuster musical follow the styles of the Revolutionary War era, but they also prove highly flattering to the show’s dynamic young cast. Ladies will look their best in one of the dresses — with their form-fitting bodices and full skirts — designed for the Schuyler sisters, the three heiresses who intersect with American history. No man can fail to look good in one Tazewell’s ensembles featuring a waistcoat, knee breeches, white stockings, and buckle shoes. (Check out the design for Daveed Diggs’s Thomas Jefferson: it’s all purple velvet with an enormous white cravat.) And, if you want to rule over the crowd at your party, go all the way and appear as Jonathan Groff’s King George III, his red suit augmented with an ermine cape (complete with gold chain), white wig, and imperial crown. Who could say no to that?
Dressed to Kill: The characters in Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love are a tortured lot, often physically abusive to one another; you only need to take one look at Nina Arianda in the form-fitting, one-piece red dress with matching heels, designed by Anita Yavich, to know that her character means business. If you think you can get away with it, this is a look that will have heads snapping as you make your entrance. As a bonus, the outfit can be worn on many other occasions. (Try wearing that Kelli O’Hara outfit to your next high school reunion and you’ll see what I mean.) But remember: Any trouble you get into with that dress is strictly your responsibility.
Photos (left to right): Christopher Jackson in Hamilton, Chilina Kennedy in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Andy Kelso in Kinky Boots, Heidi Blickenstaff in Something Rotten!, James Monroe Iglehart in Aladdin, and Jill Paice in An American in Paris.