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!