Many elements contribute to the magic we see on stage during a musical – and costumes are one such element, necessary for creating spectacle and building character. In order for them to be appreciated from the front row to the back of the balcony, they need to be special.
Today, we look at 10 of the most iconic costumes in musical theatre history.
Red Dress and Curly Wig (‘Annie’)
The rags to riches story of little orphan Annie wouldn’t be the same without the iconic red dress and curly red hair sported by the title character. This musical is based on the comic strip of Harold Gray, who also came up with Annie’s look. However, it was costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge who brought the costume to the stage and ultimately won a Tony for the musical. In the 1982 movie version of the film, it is reported that the wig the actress playing Annie had to wear was so itchy, the producers gave her a comb to scratch her head between scenes.
Heidi Gray as Annie, Gilgamesh Taggett as Oliver Warbucks, and Chloe Tiso as Grace Farrell in ‘Annie’. Photography Joan Marcus.
Blue Pinafore and Red Shoes (‘The Wizard of Oz’)
The gingham blue and white pinafore is instantly recognisable as Dorothy’s from the ‘Wizard of Oz’. Though plain and simple in design, it is one of the most iconic costumes from early musical theatre history. Originally created by Gilbert Adrian, the dress that Judy Garland wore throughout the film version of the musical sold at auction in 2015 for a whopping US$1.56 million. And don’t forget those ruby shoes. Cleverly created by transforming plain white shoes with red paint, fabric and sequins, the famous shoes are now on display at the Smithsonian. They are one of the most asked-about artifacts housed at the museum.
‘The Wizard of Oz’ starring Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale.
Mask (‘The Phantom of the Opera’)
This famous piece of costuming has become a symbol of the show – though the one on the poster is not the same as the white mask worn on stage. Originally designed to cover both eyes, the original Phantom, Michael Crawford, found it too restricting – as it covered a large portion of his face, a lot of his acting was lost. So designer extraordinaire Maria Bjornson recreated the mask to cover only half the face, and the rest is history. Over 300 masks have been made for the Broadway run alone, with each actor having a mask custom-made to the shape of their face. We must also stop to mention what is under the mask: the incredible foam latex prosthetics that make the Phantom who he is.
James Barbour as the Phantom. Photography by Matthew Murphy,
‘Cats’ simply would not be the musical it was without the costumes. Designed by John Napier, the skin-tight patterned bodysuits transform ordinary humans into living and breathing cats. Napier ensured each cat’s character was translated in the markings on their costume, winning him a Tony. The original costumes are so iconic, they are now housed at the Smithsonian. Each bodysuit is handpainted in accordance with the lines of the actor’s body to enhance their feline movements. Top it off with ears fashioned out of the hair on their wigs, plus makeup that blends with the costumes themselves, and you are forgiven for forgetting that you are not watching a bunch of dancing cats up on the stage.
Photography Jenny Anderson/Getty Images
Bubble Dress (‘Wicked’)
Susan Hilferty’s bubble dress personifies Glinda’s personality as she floats down from the sky to make her entrance into the land of Oz. Designed to look like a flower, the dress has 64 petals that form the skirt and over 68,000 sequins. Most recently, a decommissioned bubble dress was donated to Scenery.com and transformed into Christmas ornaments. Needless to say, they sold out.
No ‘Wicked’ discussion would be complete without mentioning Elphaba’s dress during the infamous ‘Defying Gravity’ number. Though entirely black, it is made from 37 different fabrics and the skirt alone is made up of almost 250 metres of material! Hilferty won a Tony for her outstanding costuming in this spectacle of a show.
Allison Bailey and Talia Suskauer in the North American tour of ‘Wicked’. Photography Joan Marcus.
Rags to Riches Dress (‘Cinderella’)
This dress gets a mention for its amazing ability to transform on stage, in front of the audience’s eyes. Created by legendary Broadway costume designer William Ivey Long, the dress underscores the most magical moment in the show – when the Fairy Godmother transforms Cinderella for the ball. What starts as a villager dress made from rags transforms into an opulent white ballgown with a few twirls. The dress has a breakaway bodice, held together with fishing wire and the skirt of the ballgown is tucked up in the bustles of the villager dress. It is a piece of clever engineering that creates a memorable moment in the show.
The quick-change dress of ‘Cinderella’. Photo Credit theatrenerds.com.
Polo and Arm Cast (‘Dear Evan Hansen’)
Though not a flashy or intricate costume, it has to be noted that the stripey blue polo shirt and arm cast sported by the musical’s protagonist is quickly becoming an iconic musical theatre symbol. Costume designer Emily Rebholz reportedly agonised over every decision when choosing the costumes for the characters. Though mostly street clothes from brands such as Old Navy, New Balance and Gap, Rebholz cleverly chose oversized and not too trendy costumes to portray the title character’s personality, even before he begins to speak. Most impressive is the real plaster cast that Evan sports throughout the show that has to be sawn off at intermission.
Ben Platt in ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ at Arena Stage. Photography Margot Schulman.
Red, Yellow and Green Blazers (‘Heathers: The Musical’)
The blazers in ‘Heathers’ are symbolic both for who they represent and to the fans. Amy Clark took inspiration from the 1980s style encapsulated in the ‘Heathers’ movie. This is evident in the blazers’ bright colours and shoulder pads. However, adaptations had to be made in order for the cast to dance in the costumes, which they wear throughout the majority of the show. Clark describes the costumes as heightened reality; the skirts are shorter and the waists are tighter. This gives the most impact on stage and lends the outfits a theatrical quality. Another symbol of the show is the scrunchies, specifically made to be oversized so they read better on stage. Even the colours of the blazers have become iconic to die hard ‘Heathers’ fans, who can be seen throwing scrunchies on stage during bows, coloured to match their favourite Heather.
‘Shall We Dance’ Dress (‘The King and I’)
Arguably the largest ballgown in musical theatre history, the champagne dress that features in the “Shall We Dance?” scene is a spectacle on stage. Originally created by Irene Sharaff and revived by Catherine Zuber, the dress is made from an internal frame of bamboo, sprung steel and hoops to allow the actress to glide along the stage in the dress that weighs 18 kilos and has a 9-metre circumference. The dress utilises steel weights around the hem to stop it from flying up during vigorous waltzing. Gertrude Lawrence, who played Anna in the original Broadway production, was so fond of the dress that she asked to be buried in it. She died during her Broadway run and was indeed buried in the iconic dress.
Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner starred in the 1956 film version. Photo Getty Images.
The Dreamcoat (‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’)
No list could be complete without the most colourful costumes. As the song goes, Joseph’s dreamcoat has 29 colours. Though not all renditions of the costume are equally elaborate, all are impressive. Probably the most well-known dreamcoat is the one sported by Donny Osmond in the 1999 film version of the musical. Joseph’s dreamcoat reportedly weighed 20 kilos and spanned 12 metres; some styles cost over $15,000. Costume designer Jennifer Caprio recently adapted the original dreamcoat, conceived by Mark Thompson, for the 2014 National US touring production. She was committed to incorporating all 29 colours listed in the song into her dreamcoat. The result is a stunning visual display inspired by stained-glass windows.
The coat Jennifer Caprio designed for ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’. Photography Daniel Brodie.
So there you have it, 10 of the most iconic costumes in musical theatre history! What costume do you think belongs on this list? Let us know in the comment section below.
Yasmin is a Brisbane-based writer, performer and director who loves to push the boundaries creatively. She is the co-founder of Ghostlight Theatre Co. and is passionate about producing unexpected and high-quality productions. In her spare time, Yasmin enjoys collecting university degrees and is currently working towards her PhD in law.
Broadway Costumes™, Inc was established in Chicago in 1886 to provide quality rental costumes for the masquerade balls held by Chicago society as well as to provide costumes for, and help develop, opera productions in the United States.What is Broadway costumes? ›
Broadway Costumes™, Inc was established in Chicago in 1886 to provide quality rental costumes for the masquerade balls held by Chicago society as well as to provide costumes for, and help develop, opera productions in the United States.What do you wear to a musical? ›
Ever-so-slightly formal evening wear will fit the mood and make you feel part of the show. Serious plays can be high-brow, so smart casual attire would be a nice choice. If you are wondering if what you should wear to a musical is different than what you should wear to a play, it's entirely up to you.What are the 4 types of costumes worn by theater actors? ›
Four types of costumes are used in theatrical design: historical, fantastical, dance, and modern.What are the six the musical costumes based on? ›
SIX the Musical is a pop-Tudor mashup, fusing historical and contemporary references to tell the story of the six wives of Henry VIII.What is the dress code for NYC Broadway shows? ›
2) WHAT TO WEAR TO A BROADWAY SHOW OR PLAY
The Broadway show dress code is that there is no Broadway show dress code. During the summer months, it's common to see people in shorts and T-shirts (but no flip-flops, please), and even jeans pass as perfectly suitable attire for an evening show.
There is no dress code at the theatre. For all performances, attire should be comfortable and appropriate for the occasion. The theatre is air conditioned throughout the year. All guests require a ticket, regardless of age.Do you dress fancy for Broadway? ›
When it comes to what to wear to a Broadway Show, most people are worried about whether or not formal clothes are required. In short, the answer is no, formal wear is not required. Whilst it can be lovely to dress up for the theater, especially Broadway, formal clothing isn't expected or required for entrance.What to wear to a broadway show 2023? ›
Business casual seems to be the rule at Broadway shows.
Men might be in tailored suits, no tie. Women look a bit more fashionable at “serious” theater performances, not touristy shows.
So, would it be necessary to wear a suit or a long gown? Definitely not. However, it's nice to keep the tradition alive and make a small effort. Dark jeans or pants with a button down shirt, camisole, or sundress/cocktail dress would probably be the most appropriate attire.
Ideally a suit, evening dress or general business attire. Go for an outfit that suits your style but is also that little bit out of the ordinary. Because you're about to experience a truly unique evening from the moment you set foot in the famous Montmartre cabaret.Which type of costumes are among the most popular? ›
- Stranger Things characters.
Costume Designer's Tools
As discussed in the last chapter, the elements of visual design are line, mass, composition, space, color, and texture. The costume designer uses the design elements somewhate differently from a set designer.
Common fashion aesthetics for Theater Kids include Normcore, Emo, Preppy, and many others. Other common fashion items can include: Jeans. Closed-toe shoes.Who wears red in Six? ›
She wears a checkered top and skirt, with red lipstick as a reference to her line in Ex-Wives.
Six (stylised in all uppercase) is a British musical comedy with music, book, and lyrics by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. It is a modern retelling of the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII, presented in the form of a pop concert.Who made the costumes for Wicked the musical? ›
Susan Hilferty's Costume Designs for Wicked.What to wear to Hamilton in NYC? ›
There is no specific dress code for attending a Broadway musical. It is customary to wear comfortable and appropriate clothing. Kind of like smart-casual etiquette since no one usually overdresses as if it were the opera.What do you wear to see wicked? ›
Wicked: There is no specific dress code at the theatre. For all performances, attire should be comfortable and appropriate for the occasion. Please remember the theatre is air conditioned during the summer months; sweaters are recommended.? Exceptions: Of course, there are few exceptions to these rules.What do you wear to the Lion King on Broadway? ›
What to wear to The Lion King on Broadway? There is no dress code. A casual look is best. A light sweater, dress, or light wrap would be perfect for the theatre.
There isn't really a dress code. Some people were dressed in Harry Potter robes! We just wore jeans sandals and a top it was quite hot when we went. We went to a lovely pub right opposite for food was really nice.What should I wear to my first Broadway show? ›
Both formal and informal clothing is accepted. From casual t-shirts, jeans and flip-flops to a cocktail dress or tuxedo, the spectrum of audience style is so broad that there is no specific dress code.What is a smart casual dress code? ›
Smart casual includes items like blazers, sports jackets, dresses, sweaters, trousers, khakis, skirts, blouses, button-down shirts, polos, dress shoes, boots, heels, flats, scarves and jewelry.What do you wear to Carnegie Hall? ›
Carnegie Hall has no specific dress code—the most important thing is that you are comfortable. Wearing business attire on weeknights or more casual outfits are just the thing.What do you wear to the opera? ›
Attending the opera
But for regular performances you can wear what you like. Smart casual to high end couture, it's your night and we want you to have a great time – all we ask is that if you have large headwear that you remove it for the performance.
Create a classic look with khaki pants and a polo.
This is perfectly acceptable for Broadway, and you'll feel comfortable throughout the entire show. To make sure your outfit errs on the side of casual-but-not-too-casual, check that your shirt and pants fit well and are stain and wrinkle-free.
It's true that etiquette regarding theatre attire has gone the same way as The Dandy, but traditionalists would argue that while there is no formal code, making an effort is simply good manners.What Broadway show is closing in 2023 after 35 years? ›
NEW YORK (AP) — The final curtain came down Sunday (April 16, 2023) on New York's production of “The Phantom of the Opera,” ending Broadway's longest-running show with thunderous standing ovations, champagne toasts and gold and silver confetti.What is the dress code for Hamilton Palace? ›
There is no dress code for Hamilton or any other West End show - wear anything you feel comfortable wearing to the theatre!How do you dress up as Hamilton? ›
Alexander Hamilton Costume
All you need is a tie neck blouse, khaki jeans, some prescription-free round silver glasses, and either a green tailcoat or a green blazer of your choosing.
Is there an age recommendation? Since HAMILTON contains some strong language, the show is recommended for ages 10+. Infants are not allowed in the theater. Children 5 years of age and above are permitted but must have their own ticket.How strict is Moulin Rouge on dress code? ›
Paris Moulin Rouge dress code
The official website suggests “elegant attire”. However, jackets and ties are not required, but if you feel like getting decked out to fully get into the spirit of the evening you're of course welcome to. Shorts, flip flops and sportswear are not permitted inside.
Anything goes (well almost)! The temperature in the theatre varies so many guests choose layers. Our guests wear everything from business casual to cocktail attire. And even Ugly Christmas Sweaters are welcomed during the holidays.What is Moulin Rouge dress code? ›
CLOAKROOM & DRESS CODE
Elegant attire required (tie and jacket not mandatory): no shorts, no short-pants, no flipflops, no running shoes, no sportswear and no open shoes for Gentlemen.
A costume is what a performer wears on stage. Everything the performer wears, including wigs and make-up, has to be carefully considered by a costume designer. Drama. Theatre design.Who does costumes for plays? ›
Experts in fashion history, practical clothes making, and theatrical design, costume designers plan and supervise the creation of the costumes and outfits worn by characters in a play or opera.What do you wear to a musical theatre audition? ›
Not as formal as a job interview… but almost there – then get a little more specific for specific show auditions or callbacks.” Many of the respondents suggested business casual attire – slacks and bright shirts or dress shirts for the men and dresses, nice tops and skirts, or even slacks for women.What is costume design in theatre? ›
Description. The Costume Designer is responsible for the visual appearance of the actors. These responsibilities include what is seen (clothes, shoes, hats, purses, canes, parasols, jewelry, wigs, makeup, etc.) as well as what isn't (corsets, hoops, boning, character elements such as padded stomachs, etc.).Why are costumes important in musicals? ›
Costume informs the audience about a character, their social position, personality, and contributes to the creation of the world of a play. For many actors, putting on their costume is an important part of getting into character before going on stage. It can affect their posture and how they move.What is modern costume in theatre? ›
Modern dress is a term used in theatre and film to refer to productions of plays from the past in which the setting is updated to the present day (or at least to a more recent time period), but the text is left relatively unchanged.
Paul Tazewell is an American costume designer for the theatre, dance, and opera and television. He received the 2016 Tony Award for Best Costume Design for Hamilton.What is a costume chart? ›
The costume plot is a list or chart that shows which characters appear in each scene, what they are wearing and their overall movement throughout the play. This helps track the specific costume needs of every character. It can also identify any potential costume challenges, such as very quick changes between scenes.What are character costumes called? ›
Cosplay, a portmanteau of "costume play", is an activity and performance art in which participants called cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character.Do musicals have a dress code? ›
Both formal and informal clothing is accepted. From casual t-shirts, jeans and flip-flops to a cocktail dress or tuxedo, the spectrum of audience style is so broad that there is no specific dress code.Can I wear black to an audition? ›
The basic rules are what not to wear to an audition. No solid black, solid white, or solid red clothing. No costumes unless specifically asked to wear one.What is the best color to wear to an audition? ›
Stick with colors that look good on you
Jewel tones look great on camera. Blue is the color that gets cast most often. Also, salmon is a flattering color on most skin tones and looks great against the typically blue backdrop at auditions.
The Greek poet Thespis invented theatrical garments in the sixth century BCE, and they have since been referred to as “Thespis' robes.” Athenians generously spent money on the set and costumes for the drama competitions.Who was the first costume designer? ›
Costume design has a very long history. The ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, who lived in the 5th century B.C., created specific costumes for actors to wear when performing his tragedies.