I am a firm believer in using costumes and accessories to help tell the story. There are many ways costume technicians do this, whether it is through silhouette, fabric, etc. Something I have always been interested in and have used in my designs since beginning in costumes is color. The meanings of colors in certain cultures has always interested me and I have tried to find ways of incorporating the cultural background of the play into my color plots.
Blue: It is one of my favorite colors, and one of the first colors I wanted to incorporate into my design of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. In western cultures blue is a color associated with protection which is why I paired it with an old man's street coat. One can assume it was Cinderella's father's coat which she now keeps as a remembrance of her father. She uses the coat as a "safety blanket" although her father can do nothing to protect her from her evil stepmother and stepsisters.
There are more colors I incorporated into the final design, but I wanted to overall scheme for Cinderella to be blues. Cinderella is the character with the least amount of protection, yet she is in need of it most. Through my color usage I wanted to subtly introduce the idea that Cinderella's self made form of protection was the barrier she placed between herself and the outside world. This is mirrored through her actions not only at home but at the ball.
Now, the average viewer of the show will not spot this or have a discussion at intermission about the color choices and meaning of said colors. This is where a customer must accept that many hours of hard work and design may not take center stage in the eyes of the audience, but it will add to the overall story being told. Picking the right color can add volumes to the story, but choosing the wrong one can spell disaster. Just think what might have happened had I chosen hot pink for Cinderella's apron! (ew!)
Color Meaning: Back to what I was saying about colors and their meanings. It is important to have a vague idea of cultural color choices and what emotions they bring up in those cultures. For instance, in the west if a bride wore any other color besides white/ivory some guests might be in a huff. Yet, if a bride wore white in India the guests would be beside themselves with grief. In India the brides usually wear a red sauri because white is worn when in mourning.
Some widely accepted colors and their meanings in western culture:
Breaking the "Rules":After establishing the cultural view of color, it is sometimes fun to play with it. For example, while in undergraduate studies I was in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. The costume designer for the show wanted to enforce the blurred boundaries and complicated topics the show presented through her design and color choices. Knowing that a western audience would be watching she placed the character of Satan in a clean, white, linen suit. The stark contrast between the audience's view of what the color white means and their view of what Satan should be caused some audience members confusion. As a member of the cast I understood the concept. The audience's preconceived notions of how some characters should be, and the way they were presented (through the script, costumes, acting, etc.) were muddled.
The blatant play on what color a type of character should be wearing based on its cultural meaning interested me. It is something that again, adds to the story being told (if used correctly).
Colors and the meanings we associate with them are fascinating. A costumer could spend years studying just the color meaning and history of the one culture. I believe color is an integral part of telling our part of the story. Why is the character wearing this color? What color should they be wearing? Why has the playwright specifically noted that she wear a yellow dress (Glass Menagerie)? Although they are more questions to ask as you design, they could be the difference between a good design and a great design.
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