Why Actors Wear Costumes


why do actors wear costumes? have you thought about why? It expresses in no words all sorts of aspects of their personality, lifestyle, beliefs and attitudes as well as class, education and job.  What is your costume?

When I meet people and they ask what I do and I tell them and they looked surprise and say “why would anyone pay for that?” in an incredulous tone I know that they really don’t understand just how their image impacts on their lives, from relationships to job opportunities, and just how much they are communicating without opening their mouths.

One way of thinking about image and why what you wear matters is to think about actors and costumes.  In fact some of the very first costumes in ancient theatre were the masks, was the character happy or sad? Was this play a comedy or a tragedy?

A friend who is in the TV drama making business told me once that the first thing in a script is a description of the character’s wardrobe and appearance.  It’s that important!

Why do actors wear costumes?

Edith Head costumer designer quote

It’s all about assuming the identity and persona of the costume.  It creates a back story and communicates it without words, from level of education to psychological state, social status, religious beliefs to personality traits.

Consider how Sandra Bullock’s character was costumed in the movie 28 Days – when her life spirals out of control her grooming disappears and her clothes become sloppy.  Poor grooming and a lack of attention to dress indicates that we are not in control of our lives and potentially our mental state.

Sandra Bullock 28 days - why actors wear costumes


On the opposite end of the scale Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada is always immaculate, and wears many black outfits (remember that black is very Yang and implies strength and power, but not friendliness).  She is sharply groomed and all her clothes are structured to further emphasise her power and position as the boss.

This costume implies power and control


Why do we dress up for job interviews?  Because we want to convey that we are an expert in our field, that we are in control and can be trusted with responsibility.  We are telling our potential employer that we can pay attention to detail and understand what is appropriate and businesslike.

Many years ago I wrote a blog post about the patterns chosen for each character’s wardrobe from TVs Mad Men which you can have a look at here.   Every character in every TV series or movie has a very specific wardrobe.

Another great example of costuming explaining personality traits is Sex and the City.

Sex and the city costumes and character traits

There was no way that these “friends” would ever have borrowed clothes from each other.  Their personality traits too strong and wardrobes very different.  We had risque and sexy Samantha, sensible, down-to-earth lawyer Miranda, creative and kooky Carrie, and romantic and feminine Charlotte.  Their clothes told us a story about who they were and what kind of behavior and attitudes they would have.

Without costumes which includes grooming, we would not understand who the characters are and what is important to them.  So if costumes are so integral to a TV show or movie, why do so many people not understand that the clothes they wear each day are their costumes, and what they choose to tell the world before they speak?

7 steps to style solve the style puzzle


I'm not sure if it's for you but how would you feel if you learned all about the colours and styles of clothing that suit your individual personality, shape and style? Just imagine what it would be like when you can open your wardrobe and pull together fabulous outfits that make you look and feel amazing every day? If you'd like to stop wasting money on the wrong clothes and accessories plus join an amazing bunch of very special women also on their style journey - then my 7 Steps to Style program is right for you. Find out more here.

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  • People pay interior designers to style their houses, so why not pay for style advice for yourself?

    BTW Imogen, I thought your story in one of the videos with Jill Chivers was terribly sad, where you grew up with only brown lace-up shoes. When I was 10 my mother bought me (for a special party) some glittery silver shoes. I loved them and stayed up most of the night just looking at them!

    We have examples of art and design all around us so of course our ensembles reflect our tastes.

    I suspect your clientele falls into a number groups: people who have left the workforce and lost their style mojo, people going into a new job who want to look right in a new milieu etc etc.

    There have been such radical changes in clothing in recent years that many people need help. After the glamour of the Dynasty-like late 1980’s we had the grunge era, which left many in despair. We had the fashion for Jade Jagger-inspired floaty peasant boho skirts (unwearable for many) and also black pants suits for work. Fast forward to now and we have “normcore” with the only individuality in our accessories. Who would have thought that with all the clothes now manufactured, we would end up with jeans and denim shirts being staples?

    Anyone who thinks that what you do isn’t important isn’t living in the real world. As Oscar de La Renta said, dressing well is a habit and if you lose the ability if you don’t do it every day. This applies to men and women and older men can look incredibly elegant if they pay attention to what they wear, so style is great for everybody, as Italians and Spaniards and the French know…

    • Yes my lack of shoes was sad – maybe that has led to my larger shoe collection as an adult? My clients are quite varied – but in the main women get busy, and they realise they have wasted lots of money on what doesn’t work over the years, so they hit a point where they decide they want to know what does work, or they want the hard work taken out of their hands. I think we have to see the value, rather than seeing the cost!

      • I think a lot is shaped by our childhood experiences in this regard. I never owned a (day)dress when I was a teenager/in my early/mid twenties. (Just weren’t many in the shops and the ones that were available were too pricey.) Now, as a late-twenties woman, my wardrobe is bursting with dresses, I very rarely wear trousers anymore and even the skirt-blouse combo is not as common, I mainly opt for dresses whether for casual events or a more formal environment… I am sure the past has more deeply affected my subconscious than I actually realise.

  • Hi: I met the woman who did my colours many years back. I asked if I should still wear my pastels as I am a soft winter in her words. She told me as my colour has lightened, I should wear my darker colours. Is this so? I taupe, white, black, charcoal, deep blue green, cranberry. I always have liked pastel green thru dark green, and pastel pink through it’s darker shades. Ok with you? I wear petite clothing, a 10 in Canada but find the tops too long at times. I am now 5 ft 3 inches and weigh about 138. maggie

  • I really like what you said about how costumes can communicate character backstories without using words. My brother is a filmmaker, and he doesn’t know how to tell the audience that the main character is a spy without having it said. If he hired a film costume designer, they could dress the actor in a way that would communicate the spy background without saying it.

    • Wardrobe and costume is so super important in visual media! Why waste a 1000 words or minutes on explaining when image can do it for you in 1/10th of a millisecond!

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