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Costume & Colour

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The Béatrice Curtis Theory of Costume & Colour


Before I start- a disclaimer. I am not a Colour Analyst- I’ve had my own colours analysed but it’s up to you to find out about your own. These are just some general principles, that anyone can apply. I suppose they are more concerned with Performance Costumes, rather than what you would wear to class. But the same principles can be used, and it’s nice to feel that you look good in class as well as on stage.


Firstly- don’t be afraid of colour. So many dancers choose Black as their starting point. (I probably did myself, and I also tend to go for Navy as well, which is very nearly as bad!) I know there are a lot of reasons for people to choose black- it’s slimming, it’s neutral so you can accessorise more easily, it’s easier to find in the shops, or you may just have naturally Gothic Tendencies. But there are a lot of good reasons why you should give Black a miss:


  • Firstly- it’s very unflattering to a lot of English complexions.

  • Secondly- it really doesn’t show up your torso/abdominal moves very clearly.

  • Thirdly- a lot of theatres have a black backdrop and Studios tend to be black boxes, so you don’t show up on a stage, or in a studio theatre.

  • Fourthly, in a dimly lit restaurant you will become invisible.

  • Fifthly- if you are dancing in a more mundane environment, such as outside or in a village hall, you need to stand out from a busy background even more, & black simply doesn’t do that.


So pick out something that will flatter your own colouring & make you stand out clearly on your stage, wherever that may be. The colours have to be strong. Earthy neutrals & delicate pastels may look great on you in Real Life, but they will be too subtle for a stage/restaurant costume- bright stage lights will bleach them out, or the mood-lighting will be too shadowy. You should also be aware that bright stage lights can often render a pale item of clothing transparent!


Be bold! Try Scarlet, Green, Orange, Blue, Magenta, Buttercup Yellow, Chartreuse... Even if you are naturally pale & find intense colours overwhelm you, you can still go for bright, vivid colours- Coral, Peach, Red, Lilac, Turquoise, Apple Green- that are not necessarily dark. These vibrant colours look great on stage as well as close up.


Secondly, find out what colours suit you personally. Just because Acid Pink looks fantastic on your friend, doesn’t mean it will do you any favours. I firmly believe that Colour Analysis will help with this. I know a lot of Consultants charge a fortune for this, but not all of them do, so this does not have to be an expensive business. A lot of Adult Education Colleges run courses on this, or you can have a talk with a Cosmetics Consultant in a good department store- the big companies such as Clarins & Lancome train their staff very well. In particular, Prescriptives are very strongly based on getting the right cosmetic colours for your own skin tones & colouring.


Once you know what colours suit you, you can be more selective about what you buy. Refuse to buy anything- be it a full costume, a hip scarf, or material to make a costume yourself- unless it fits in with your own colouring.



This leads to my Third suggestion, which is to Develop a Colour Theme for your costumes. If you know what "your" colours are, this makes life a lot easier. If you decide on a basic colour scheme, say Bottle Green, you can work your dance wardrobe around it. That allows you to bring in toning colours (blues, greens) or contrasting colours (yellow, red, pink) or neutrals (black, white, grey). As your basic colour theme develops, you could find the contrasting or toning colours eventually branch off into a new colour theme of their own!


If you do decide on a Colour Scheme, you should choose your Starting Point carefully. Make sure it is the right colour for you, and make it one that you will be able to match fairly easily. In my experience, the upper body element of the costume is usually the hardest to get right. So, rather than buying wonderful skirt fabric for which you will never be able to find a matching top, get the top first, & then find the skirt material- I promise you, it will be much easier that way.



This leads onto the Fourth Element of my Costume/Colour Theory, namely How you put colours together. Your costume can consist of a single colour, or you may want to bring in a second or third colour, for interest. The standard advice is never to have more than three colours together. Any more than that & you will look completely unco-ordinated. 


Think of a Colour Wheel- all the colours of the rainbow, bent round into a circle. Red leads into Orange, leads into Yellow, leads into Green, leads into Blue, leads into Purple, which then closes the circle by leading into Red again. These are the Primary & Secondary colours, which most people would be familiar with. But you can also find Tertiary colours, between these. So between Green & Blue, there is a Green-Blue (Turquoise), and on the other side of Green, there is a Yellow-Green (Lime). In addition to these colours, you have the neutrals (Black, White, Grey, Brown) and metallics (Gold, Silver, which are also neutrals in themselves, Copper, Bronze). 



In this diagram, I have labelled the Primary colours in BOLD CAPITALS, the Secondary colours in bold lower case and the Tertiary colours in plain text, to make it easier to remember which is which.


Note- these colours come up fine on my screen- as they say, your mileage may vary!



There are certain colour combinations that look good, & some that will always look bad or unharmonious. Colour combinations that look good are the Analogous Colours, which are side by side on the Colour Wheel (e.g. Green with Lime), or Complementary Colours on opposite sides of the Colour Wheel (e.g. Green with Red). It can also be very effective to put together the two colours on either side of one colour. So, if you take Purple as the starting point for this, your two colours would be Blue-Purple (Periwinkle) and Purple-Red (Magenta).


Once you have two basic colours that go well together, you could bring in a neutral or a metallic, as a highlight.


It is possible to bring in a third actual colour, but you do have to be very careful about this. Again, there are some combinations which will look better than others. The strongest contrasts will be three colours equidistant on the colour wheel (e.g. Red, Blue, Yellow) and the closest toning colours will be three colours which are side by side on the wheel (e.g. Peach, Orange & Melon). Remember that a third colour means you should not bring in a fourth accent colour (e.g. a metallic) otherwise you will start to look like the Flags of All Nations.



Finally, whether we like it or not, Money is a Factor in Costuming Decisions. Not everyone can afford to buy everything they see, and in particular, Beginners may not have made the full commitment to this hobby that leads some of us to think nothing of spending £400 on an outfit! I developed a personal rule about Impulse Buys. If I see something fabulous that I desperately want to buy, I can- but only if I can think of three things I already have in my wardrobe that would go with it. OK, sometimes I break my own rule, but it helps concentrate the mind on whether I really, really wanted the thing that caught my fancy. Remember that if you buy something that is an unflattering colour, however cheap it was, it is a waste of your money, because you won’t get its full benefit. So Shop Clever. 


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Updated 24th January 2010