A Tip Of The Hat: Conveying Character With Hats

Every costumer knows that it is their job to create an outfit that showcases the actor’s character onstage. While every designer has their own method, it is doubtless that all put in hours of research trying to find just the right colours and styles. But the actor too can make small changes to the clothes they are given and in doing so drastically alter the meaning of the pieces, especially when it comes to hats.

I am currently taking a millinery class at Stratford Off The Wall. You can see some of my how-to tutorials on making hats here. Today in class while we were creating our patterns an interesting point was made; depending on the angle someone chooses to tilt and wear their hat, a variety of personalities can be conveyed, all with the same costume piece. Take for example, a man’s fedora;

In the first image, Cary Grant looks sexy and sophisticated. Maybe a business man, or even a gangster. He wears his hat tilted and low down on the brow.
Bob Hope wears his hat a bit further back on his head and at a less severe angle. This gives a more laid-back vibe, almost tired or lazy and somewhat comical.

Finally, Ray Bolger wears his at the back of his head, giving him a clownish appearance that works well with his goofy, snarky farm-hand character.

A similar effect can occur with mens’ bowlers;

The first image shows a man wearing a bowler the “correct” way, sitting right atop his head. This is a serious, sophisticated and very vintage look.

In his Boardwalk Empire outfit, Steve Buscemi looks every bit the classy gangster, thanks in part to the casual backwards tilt of his hat.

Once again, a hat worn on the back of one’s head immediately creates a clownish look, as does an ill-fitting hat, as seen in this Laurel & Hardy shot.

Women’s hats can do the same thing;

For a serious, mysterious look, Joan Crawford wears a severe looking hat, tilted low on her brow with a minimal side tilt.

Lucille Ball looks sultry and sophisticated in a hat with a fashionably jaunty tilt.

The smiling woman also wears a hat tilted far to the side, but hers is further back on the brow, giving a playful, energetic vibe.

Finally, Judy Garland is the picture of youth and innocence in this cap that sits at the back of her head, wrapped around her ears.

When costuming it is always important to remember not just what your actors will be wearing, but how they will wear it. Subtle changes in attitude can be reflected through minimal costume changes; a man could start the play with his fedora tilted low, looking professional and suave. After a frantic day, he may push it further back on his head, while wiping his brow. During a madcap comical scene later on, the hat could end up right on the back of his head and even slightly squished (likely combined with a loosened tie or un-tucked shirt). That’s just a random example, but you get the idea.

So if you feel your costume is lacking a little “something”, give your actor a hat and let them play with it. It may just top things off perfectly.

Want to make your own vintage hat? Check out our A.D. Emily Dix’s tutorial on how to make a custom hat pattern from scratch!


Dial M For Murder – Dirty Business

The other day I wrote a post about how to remove the tarnish from old brass things, and today I’m going to do the opposite and try to make a faux tarnished look on some cheap dollarstore trophies! Time to get down and dirty with a sharpie and some paint.

I started off with this plastic trophy; $1.50 from Dollarama:

Step 1: Cheap Plastic Trophy

Step 1: Cheap Plastic Trophy

It’s got the right shape, it’s light weight, can’t break, and but-by-gosh the price is right, but it’s got a cheap shiny finish that looks plastic, even from a distance.

Now, these trophies are supposed to be a few years old (after all Tony Wendice retired from tennis a year ago, so they are all at least a year old) but they aren’t ancient, so I don’t want them to be too tarnished or rusted or anything. Since I have a few of the same style, I thought I’d try to show them aged differently, as though he’s won the same tournament a few years in a row.

My first step with the older looking one was to add some dark tarnished looking bits around the details. I started off with a sharpie to get it exactly where I wanted:

Step 2: Sharpie Detailing

Step 2: Sharpie Detailing

I also dulled down the gold with a bit of silver sharpie. It doesn’t show up well in a photo, but basically all it did was make it a little less shiny, while still looking metallic.

Next, for some broader strokes, I got out the black paint. I applied it using a very dry, rough brush, and added layers slowly, often wiping some away with a kleenex. Tarnish builds over time, so you need to take the time with this step as well! It should look layered in a way.

Step 3: Black Paint

Step 3: Black Paint

I put that one aside for a bit, and started on the newer looking one. For this, I still wanted to get rid of the shine, but not by using as much black, so I got out some metallic paint that I had: Dynamic Metallic Latex Paint by Paint Wizard. It had more of a sparkly finish rather than a glossy look (though of course not like glitter, that would look worse). I sort of sponged that on, like this:

Left: The Original Cup, Right: Sponged Metallic Finish

Left: The Original Cup, Right: Sponged Metallic Finish

This kept it looking warm, but a bit more like a metal. Since it’s also supposed to be aged, I added some black paint to this as well, but not as much as on the first one. The final products look like this:

The "Newer" Cup, The Original, and the "Oldest"

The “Newer” Cup, The Original, and the “Oldest”

Admittedly, up close they are still not as good as buying a vintage metal one, but as those run you nearly $100 a pop, and these cost me under $5 and only about 20 minutes to make, I think this is a better solution. I still need to change the base, but that should be as simple as putting a different, less colourful plaque on the front.

Stay tuned for more!


Dial M for Murder – Good Ol’ Fashioned Elbow Grease (and Brass Polish)

They say there are 3 things everyone wants when buying something:

  1. Good
  2. Fast
  3. Cheap

Unfortunately, you can only ever have 2 of the 3. In theatre, I’m of the belief that the best 2 to have are good and cheap, which means we often have to spend a lot of time, and a lot of elbow grease making things look shiny and new.

This week I’ve busted out the Brasso metal polish to clean up a few props we’ve found around town; a $12 fire screen from Value Village and a $5 clock our SM Jayden found along Queen West.



What started out as a dusty, dirty, tarnished little clock…



Looks shiny and new with a little bit of that $5 polish!

And while the fire screen takes a bit more time…



it too can can brand new with a little work.



Look at that shine!

So my advice to all of you who want to make great theatre on the cheap – start early, and take all the help you can get. We started collecting props and set pieces months ago, and while we have a lovely Props Master, Jackie McClelland to oversee the whole process and do the brunt of the work, the whole cast and crew keeps their eyes peeled for deals, so we can make the most of our time and money.

Stay tuned for more before and after shots of our props, costumes and set!