COSTUME AND FANCY DRESS

Following up on our last discussion of the three functions of clothing, a pivotal issue to consider is how fabric enhances or shows-off the body. We select our own wardrobes based on cost, availability, function, and the “look” portrayed. There was a Walmart commercial last year (or the year before) in which teenage girls spoke about their love of that retailer. Not only were the clothes affordable (they could indulge in quantity), but fashionable as well. They each said that Walmart fashions allowed each to be individual and unique. Wrong! How many teenagers are buying the same garment? Thousands! When buying fashion, the consumer is buying into a “look” that is prepackaged by the designer or retailer, and it is through that “look” that the consumer becomes identified as belonging to a certain group, social or economic class, or profession. We must admit that we judge people based on their looks. And even during that first impression, the signals and information gained from a reading of their clothing and accessories forms the basis of that judgment.

When an artist creates a narrative, s/he dresses and accessorizes the figures appropriate to the characterizations intended. Figures should be dressed age-appropriate and accurate to their personalities and status. As with muscles and movement, costuming whether accurate to daily life or fanciful, must be consistent with the artistic intention and readable by the viewer. To construct another parallel, the artist functions as the producer of a movie. Both select actors based on body proportions and “looks,” dress them in costumes that convey the essentials of their roles, and surround them with accessories and props that further set the tone of the time and place of the drama. So, in this discussion, we will analyze the choices made by artists in respect to the perception of the figures’ body proportions as created by the costume and the role accessories and props play in defining the status and character of those figures.