Costuming for All

By Carlos Bautista

As we are in the midst of putting our marching band shows on the field, and preparing for indoor season, one aspect of the show design to take into consideration is performer aesthetics such as costume, body tights, makeup, and hair. It can be easy to overlook the experience of the few performers that may be feeling out of place for the general idea you want in aesthetics. 

For the realm of costuming, two facets to consider are gender presentation, and skin tone matching. In many show designs there can be gender-based roles, such as Bonnie & Clyde, Romeo & Juliet, and many more. An easy misstep can be to assume a performer’s gender identity and find the performer in an uncomfortable situation where they will most likely feel unseen and overlooked. A way of avoiding this issue can be to present the costumes to the ensemble and give the performers the opportunity to discuss with you which costume they would feel most comfortable wearing. It could also be a benefit to find the possibility of using a gender neutral costume whenever possible. When it comes to mesh on the costume, make sure to match the mesh to each performer’s skin tone as much as possible. The mismatched mesh can be distracting but also a sign of discounting some performers that don’t fit into the ‘nude’ that is used as commonplace within costuming companies. Don’t be afraid to challenge the companies you typically order your costumes from to expand the range of shades they offer for the mesh they integrate in their designs. This can include body tights and gloves. These items are easily pushed to the backburner when ordering, and in a time crunch just order the caucasian-based shade of nude. These steps can feel like tip-toeing around a difficult topic, but having the performers most comfortable in what they have on can lead to them feeling more confident and performing to the best of their ability. 

When it comes to makeup and hair, this is an area where you can encourage your performers to create their own idea of what they can have to fit into the design choice. These two avenues of styling are typically designed to be completely uniform when that might not be 100% possible. Something to be aware of with makeup can be making sure that some colors used can be visible on all tones. Some darker shades can be harder to see on darker skin tones. Encourage some students to create a look that is best for all tones. Even a slight variation between looks can help each student feel great no matter what. For hair, we have many performers that are working with different textures that can be barriers for them in recreating a specific hairstyle. This can be a sensitive area for performers to be open about discussing, but always go into the situation with an open mind and a willingness to support the performer for what works best for them. Personally, I have had staff members with tighter hair textures help create a look for students that can be easily accessible without forcing them to cause unnecessary heat or chemical damage to the hair. 

As we are preparing our show designs, being mindful of these topics can assist in creating a diverse and inclusive culture within the program. WGI has a great resource of a list of companies with the products that they offer in various shades and tones for your programs use. The URL for that resource is below:

https://wgi.org/inclusive-costuming-resources/

 

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