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!


Oh Mama! – Bygone Entertainment’s Most (In)Famous Stage Mothers

In honour of Mother’s Day we thought we’d do a quick countdown of some of entertainment’s  most famous (or infamous) mother’s!

1. Sara Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor was raised to be a star. A natural born beauty (with violet eyes and a double set of eyelashes), Taylor was pushed by her one-time-actress mother, Sara, to be a perfect performer, and was enrolled in singing and dancing lessons by the age of 2. Sara kept Elizabeth’s focus on acting, so that by the age of 17, the girl was a beautiful star and a huge talent, although unable to count without using her fingers. At 16, Elizabeth apparently begged to be allowed to have a “normal” childhood, and her mother’s response was, “But you’re not a regular child, and thank God for that. You have a responsibility, Elizabeth. Not just to this family, but to the country now, the whole world”. Talk about pressure! (read more here).

2.. Gertrude Temple

A frustrated, wannabe dancer, Gertrude Temple was priming Shirley for the stage even before the girl was out of the womb. While pregnant, Gertrude played music in hopes that it would give her daughter an artistic bend. When the little girl showed she could tap rhythmically to music at the young age of two, Gertrude quickly signed her up for lessons. Despite the early pushes, the Temple’s did try to give their daughter as normal a life as possible, and wisely invested the money she earned, so that at age 21, she retired from the entertainment industry and went into a life of politics. (read more here).

3. Joan Crawford

Anyone who’s seen the cult classic Mommie Dearest knows that Joan Crawford wasn’t exactly “mother of the year” (“NO WIRE HANGERS!!!”). Growing up in a bleak and loveless childhood herself, Crawford was desperate for children, but never had any biologically; she adopted 5 in her lifetime. Crawford had the reputation of being a strict disciplinarian, even stating herself; “I was a strict disciplinarian, perhaps too strict at times, but my God, without discipline what is life?”. She was known to overload her children with chores and limit gifts in order to keep them from growing up “spoiled Hollywood brats”. The most famous of Crawford’s children, Christina Crawford, attempted a showbiz career herself, and depending on whose side you believe, was either a poor abused girl, or exactly the spoiled brat Joan worked so hard to avoid. (read a rather biased account here).

4. Ethel Gumm

Any Judy fan knows at least half a dozen horrific stories about her mother, Ethel Gumm. Put into her family’s Vaudeville act, The Gumm Sisters, at the age of 2, Frances Ethel Gumm (later Judy Garland) grew up onstage. Ethel pushed her youngest daughter the hardest, and that, combined with the fact that Judy obviously had more raw talent than her older sisters, can be attributed to the start of her career. When Judy signed with MGM at age 13 she was thrust into the life of a starlet by day, but still went home to her mother’s house and strict rules every night. Ethel was eventually banned from the studio lot, and when Judy was older and married her first husband, she and her mother became estranged.

5. Rose Hovick aka Mama Rose

It’s somewhat fitting that when trying to search for a picture of Mama Rose, I find it nearly impossible to track a real one down. Instead, photos of Angela Lansbury, Rosalind Russel and Bernadette Peters flood the google image search, as I find dozens upon dozens of stills from the classic musical, “Gypsy”. Despite Rose Thompson Hovick’s unrelenting desire to be a star her face now is virtually unknown, and her name is practically synonymous with “nasty stage mom”. The mother of two famous ladies, actress June Havoc and burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee, Mama Rose spent her life trying to live her dreams of fame through her children. If you read Gypsy’s memoir, you’ll find horrific stories of neglect and borderline abuse, and while daughter June had much nicer things to say of her mother, neither were about to nominate her for “mother of the year”.


Of course, most of us area lucky to have much more loving, supportive (and sane) mother’s than these. So to all the great moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day!