There’s a huge bias and there’s still a lot of micro-aggression and discrimination, structural discrimination, against LGBTQ people. We still mainly have male white artists who are representing an incredibly diverse community. When we have most of the successful LGBTQ artists being white men, we tend to prioritize that narrative over trans people of color or bisexual women or men or lesbian women, and I think there’s a danger when we lift one part of the community up and we silence another part of the community, and we need to encourage the other voices to be heard.
Typically, a Broadway costume is showy and dramatic, but not all costumery falls into those categories–or if they do, it is in a much more subtle fashion. Such is the case with the designs that Tony-award winning costume designer Paloma Young crafted for Bandstand, a 2016-2017 season production. Set in the immediate post-war era of the 1940s, the musical is a swing-inspired theatrical moment in time that follows returned war veterans as they seek to win a national radio contest. Sweeping and dramatic, its costumes are understated in their elegance and Ms Young delivers some memorable pieces we’ll take a look at now. For this review, all of the photos are publicly available on the Playbill website and copyright remains with the photographer and licensee.
With the technical lingo and introduction out of the way, let’s sample a few of the designs Ms Young has put out. The female lead (and costumes for female leads are almost always the most interesting), Julia Trojan, is played by the truly incomparable Laura Osnes, and she spends the production radiating late 1940s glamor and style. There’s no particular order to the pieces I’m reviewing, so here goes:
This blue number is absolutely classic mid-1940s; it could easily have come out of the closet of any number of working or middle-class women in the era, either as a party dress for formal outfit for the former, or something a bit more run-of-the-mill for the latter. The 1940s was really the first decade of American fashion where patterned fabrics were obtainable by the masses. Prior to the Second World War, the cost of producing a patterned outfit meant that it was relegated either to specific types of couture or otherwise priced out of the range of the average American woman. But with increased production speed and revolutions in textile technology (including some used by yours truly’s grandparents!), patterned fabrics became accessible, and with accessibility, they became fashionable.
Blue and white is a classic combination of colors, or more strictly, a color and negative space. The floral is well-defined and monochromatic, with the variation in the blues caused by the presence or absence of additional dyes or pigments depending on how Bandstand’s costume shop decided to produce this number. Based on what I can see, Ms Young seems to have been inspired by a hydrangea or other dramatic flower; this is not a surprising choice! When you have a patterned number, you want the central element of the pattern, be it a floral or geometric design, to be memorable but replicable. Pick something too complicated, and the eye lingers too long on the design and misses the overall effect. But pick something too simple and you risk the work looking shoddy or overtly cheap (unless one is going for a minimalist effect–not typically done with florals). In the case of this dress, there is a complexity to the floral element that is replicated and allows for the viewer to appreciate it without distracting from the overall ensemble.
I also quite like that Ms Young did not do this is a simple straight dress, and instead chose to allow the fabric to bunch a little. The pinching of the fabric on the chest/shoulder and the bunching on the side show that the fabric has some give and is designed to be comfortable as well as elegant, something that would have been important to a performer such as the Julia Trojan character.
The other dress from this production that I want to take a look at is the one that Playbill features on the cover of the program. which has been used as the window card for the musical, and which features as the cover of the forthcoming (23 June) cast recording:
This is, obviously, a manipulated image, designed to look like something of an oil painting despite being based in a photograph. But what’s interesting is the design on the dress, which can be more clearly scene in this production still sourced from Playbill:
Every era has its inspired designs, and Paloma Young has clearly done her research here. The 1940s was an era when geometric patterns were making a comeback (and making their way into department store and middle class fashions) after being out of vogue for a few years. If you look closely at the pattern on the red dress, you can see that there’s almost a floral nature to the geometric pattern, but that it is still somewhat abstract and “clean”. The lines form a subtle, eye-catching design that does something else important: it changes as the wearer moves. I don’t have a great clip handy right now, but the way the pattern uses a different thread to catch the light all but guarantees that you will never see the same pattern in the same way twice.
Bandstand is not a musical that is about the visual aesthetic; it is intended to be a more character-driven, simpler production that places emphasis on the music. But that does not mean the costumery is any less rich or vibrant than some of the more showy productions of the 2017-2018 season. What Paloma Young has done here is create two very different, unique pieces that fit the era of the musical and draw the eye in a positive way.
The costumes complement the wearer (in this case Ms Osnes) without being too much of a distraction. Onstage, what will come through is the beauty of the fabric but in a way that does not take away from the music or the storyline. That’s not an easy tightrope to walk as a costume designer. Subtlety is your friend, and both of these outfits possess a subtle character that is not only ingenious, but accurate to the era from which they are meant to harken.
I just felt like posting some pictures of Tina Turner because she’s a boss.
This is a woman from a broken home with a mother who didn’t love her who built a successful music career with a man she didn’t love. She raised his kids from his previous marriage while he beat her for singing a wrong note, escaped the marriage with only her name and the clothes on her back…and a mountain of debt from their tour she canceled in order to divorce him. Tina then reinvented herself well into her 40s to become the Queen of Rock & Roll as a Black woman from the South, moved to Switzerland, learned German, married the love of her life in 2013 and gave up her US citizenship because she was never the star here that she was in Europe anyway. She’s the oldest woman to ever appear on the cover of a Vogue magazine (at 73-years-old) and she’s sold more concert tickets than any solo artist.
So yes, Tina Turner is a boss and I randomly felt like sharing that real quick.
Plus, there would be no Beyonce if Tina Turner hadn’t been the foundation for her entire stage presence. And Tina Turner Always On Beat.
Infinite List of Movies: [25/??] Legally Blonde (2001)
↳ “It’s impossible to use a half-loop stitching on low-viscosity rayon. It would snag the fabric. And you didn’t just get it in - I saw it in the June Vogue a year ago. So if you’re trying to sell it to me for full price, you’ve picked the wrong girl. ”
↳ C → cuban-american “I was on a plane watching a documentary about Diana Vreeland, who was the editor of Vogue for years, who is incredible […] They asked her ‘How do you get to be Diana Vreeland?’ and her response was 'Well, darling, first you have to arrange to be born in Paris!’ And that worked for her, and that’s great, but if someone were to ask me, I’d say: First, you’d have to arrange to be born in the Bronx, to two brilliant, fantastic, Cuban immigrants who taught me grace under fire…sometimes quite literally, 'cause it was the Bronx…who taught me that work was a blessing and not a chore, who taught me that you determine your self worth and that you tell people who you are…they don’t get to tell you.” - Gina Torres