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!

-E.

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Retro Radio Hour: Holiday Special – Performer Spotlight – Emily Dix

Emily Dix is one of the founding members and the Artistic Director/Producer of Bygone Theatre. She has directed all of their shows and is the main driving force behind all artistic decisions and fundraising efforts. It was her love of oldies radio plays that inspired the idea for the Retro Radio Hour series, and she is thrilled to be organizing the Holiday Special, as well as revisiting her role of Baby Snooks in the Baby Snooks and Daddy play, “The Christmas Skates”! Be sure to check out her online portfolio and connect with her on Linkedin! 

Emily Dix

Emily Dix

What inspired you to create Bygone Theatre’s “Retro Radio Hour: Holiday Special”?
The first “Retro Radio Hour” was a big success; we got a surprisingly large turnout and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Plus, it’s a fairly easy show to put together, and a cheap way to get a large number of our talented friends involved at once, so it’s a really fun show to do. Plus, I think people like to get into the holiday spirit by watching Christmas specials, singing carols, sipping hot chocolate – why not add a holiday radio show to the mix?

What is your favourite holiday tv special?
I love watching kids Christmas specials on tv. I think the “Muppets Christmas Special” is probably the best, but it isn’t really Christmas without “The Grinch”, “Rudolph” and “Frosty”. I’ve tried watching some of the newer Christmas specials as well but I think they got it right in the 60s – those stop motion shows are always the best and I can’t imagine the holidays without them.

What is your fondest holiday memory?
When I was a kid I used to always come to Toronto to see my Grandparents for Christmas. I especially loved being at the Dix’s because it was usually the only time of year I got to see my cousins from Ottawa. I have lots of happy memories of crawling around in the crawl space, playing with our new toys and eating those delicious arrowroot squares my Grandma used to make every year. I can’t think of any bad moments about those early Christmases.

What is your most embarrassing holiday memory?
Thankfully I don’t have many of those! All I can really think of is getting underwear for Christmas from my Grandma, when I was still young enough that the mere mention of the word would make me blush. All my cousins are around me frantically tearing the paper off of video games, trucks and action figures, and suddenly I’m holding frilly pink underwear. Mortifying for a 5 year old.

What are you most excited for in regards to “Retro Radio Hour”? Why should everyone come to see it?
The last couple shows we’ve done have been rather dark and serious, which is funny because I usually consider myself to be more of a fan of comedy. I love doing “Retro Radio Hour” because it’s just silly, harmless fun. There’s no deep messages or questions, nothing haunting or frightening, it’s just a chance to sit back, relax and laugh; and you will. We have an amazing cast and some hilarious plays, including ones originally performed by everyone’s favourite redhead, Lucille Ball, and the “funny girl” herself, Fanny Brice. What’s not to love?

Be sure to join us on Saturday November 30th, 8:00pm at the Winchester Kitchen. Tickets are only $5. Check out our event page for all the details.