Costume and clothing ………some thoughts.

What they are wearing is the first thing that an audience notice about a performer, and it is widely stated that 80% of someone’s opinion of you is formulated in the first 30 seconds. Yikes, that makes what you are wearing very, very important. One of the easy decisions a performer can make is ‘costume or clothing.’


noun |ˈkäsˌt(y)o͞om, -təm|

• A set of clothes worn by an actor or other performer for a particular role or by someone attending a masquerade: a nun’s costume.

CardiniI think the key thing to take away from this definition is the words ‘…for a particular role.’ Obviously, this is a huge part in defining what role you want to play for an audience. It needs to be very carefully decided what impact you are looking for when the audience first observes you onstage. It should be above all appropriate for the show you are presenting.

The classic and iconic image that has defined a magician for decades is the immaculate; tail suit, top hat, cane and cape. This is the standard (somewhat obsolete) clothing that has lodged in the public’s mind and it now functions as a costume. This outfit certainly works better for a manipulative act than a comedy magician, unless he is presenting a pastiche of a magic show.

That classic ‘Cardini look’ is a tough one to carry off unless you are a Lance Burton or Jason Andrews, so make sure that if you are going for this look that it really suits you. If you go for a classic look, it obviously works best for a classic act, an elementary point, but one that is sometimes forgotten by performers. Much of what I have just said is also true for a tuxedo— you don’t want people to think you are the head-waiter.

The other costume that has become popular for manipulative act is a satin/spandex look with the long duster jacket. I’ve seen a lot of performing outfits that look like prom night in Middle Earth!  I’ve also seen a bunch of performers who wear costumes that could conceal a large dog inside their jackets— don’t be surprised if the impact of producing a dove is a little more muted than if you are wearing a tightly fitting tailcoat. Audiences are pretty smart and subconsciously realize if a costume is specifically designed for the loads it conceals.

One very basic ‘old school’ rule is that a costume should only be seen onstage. If you are mixing with the audience before or after the show then you need a nice outfit lancethat can mingle with the ‘civilians’ in an easy manner. Of essence, a costume is intended to be worn while onstage while playing your chosen role, otherwise they probably just look kinda’ cheesy offstage

Clothing on the other hand is worn by everyone, and defines your personality rather than a role you are creating. The old rule of thumb is to wear whatever style of clothing your audience is wearing —but a better version of it. You shouldn’t ever skimp on your wardrobe.  All the ‘old pros’ were emphatic about not wearing their ‘Show Suit’ off-stage. They would also never sit down in their outfit—in order not to get bags in the knees of the pants or wrinkles in the jacket!

A great deal of thought needs to go into the color of the suit/ jacket you are wearing. If you are using small light colored props they will be lost against a white jacket, and the same with dark props and a black jacket. You can, however, ensure better visibility if you wear a contrasting shirt and position props accordingly. If you don’t know what color your performance backdrop is then it can be nice to have a choice of suits to ensure that you stand out. One of my golden rules is ‘If they can’t see you— they won’t like you.

I’m just going to say two words about shoes:

1          Polished.

2           Unscuffed.

I am just about to release some really great new items through the online store on my website — so check them out! Having spent many, many years looking for the perfect microphone holder to wear, I am delighted to say that we are releasing the perfect one. Even if you use a headset you will want one of these totally adjustable holders in your back pocket to use with any microphone should you need a back up!

~ by Nick Lewin on May 31, 2013.

4 Responses to “Costume and clothing ………some thoughts.”

  1. Nick,
    Excellent stuff. At the beginning of my career, a seasoned performer told me–Don’t walk out onstage if the audience is dressed better than you. I also learned the proper way to tie a bowtie from that same performer. (Besides it looks cool undone as well.) Shoes always polished and unscuffed.
    You’re a class act in every way!
    Jeff Martin

  2. Thank you Nick. At a time where it seems that no one notices or “cares” about what one wears when performing, your essay is greatly needed and appreciated.
    In a time where all these magicians appear on talk shows like “Ellen” or that goofy “Fallon” show, these people ALL look like slobs try to be “hip” with the young dress down generation. It is a crime that they are even let on stage looking like “garbage men or street creeps!”
    If you so called pros want an idea how to dress, check out Nick himself or Penn and Teller. It goes hand in hand with their performance abilities.

    But get rid of the jeans, t-shirts, stupid shoes, crappy hair styles, bad grammar and shoddy performances.
    You are not impressing anyone, except those sloppy kids out there to begin with! And who wants to impress them!
    Try a little “CLASS” for a change!

  3. Amen!

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