Building “The Dress”
by Joanne Cunningham
There are costumes, and then there are costumes. Some shows have iconic outfits that everyone automatically pictures when they think of a specific character. Ask someone to describe Mary Poppins, for example, and it’s almost a sure thing that they will mention her white dress with its red sash. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST? How can Belle wear anything other than her yellow ball gown? And for HELLO, DOLLY!…well, most people can probably describe the red dress that Carol Channing wears to perfection as she descends the stairs at the Harmonia Gardens.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with trying to recreate a well-loved look (costume designs are not copyrighted, so they are fair game to reproduce), as a costume designer I prefer to try and add something new and refreshing to shows I design. The director, of course, has final say in what sort of look they want, but I greatly appreciate the opportunity to add some of my own creativity to a show.
Of course, building a dress that is meant to be a show-stopper is no easy task. There are many different styles to consider, especially while trying to remain true to the time period without devoting 95% of available time to working on a complicated vintage pattern. Ease of movement for the actor is important, as is her comfort on stage since she will be in that dress for an extended period of time. The dress has to hopefully elicit a few “wow” reactions and look especially good under stage lights. And, of course, budget restrictions must be taken into consideration. (This is one area where I’m pretty certain neither Hollywood nor Disney has many concerns!)
While many of the incredible dresses you will see on stage in our production of HELLO, DOLLY! are ones that Sunset owns or that we have rented, Dolly’s red dress is one that has come from my own imagination and hard work. Pictures don’t do it justice, but here are a few hints of how it has been progressing. I hope that when you come to see the show this summer, there will be a “wow” or two in the audience when Dolly makes her appearance!