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Creating Outfits Based on Characters You Love
Whether it’s for Halloween, Disney-bounding on vacation, or just for the fun of putting together an outfit that’s inspired by a favorite movie, TV, video game, or book character–I think we all enjoy getting into somebody else’s shoes every once in a while.
This post will be looking not only at how to get the aesthetics right, but also at how to use character traits and storyline for inspiration, so we can get to the heart of the character we are portraying.
So, here are 8 aspects of costume and character design to consider before creating your character-based outfit:
- Symbolic Pieces
Let’s take a closer look:
This one is really a mix of the aesthetics of the costume and the heart of the character–symbolic pieces may or may not actually be worn by the character, but may instead be a materialization of something that is key to who they are on the inside. I am listing it first, though, because i think it is the most crucial part of costuming–since it is the clearest clue to who you’re portraying.
Unless you’re wearing a head-to-toe replica of the character’s costume, it may be difficult at first glance to know who you’re dressing as. This is why symbolic pieces are crucial. Look at your character’s story (and maybe to accessories that they wear) for any items that visually give a clue to who they are or what their story entails. Some examples are:
- Dorthy Gale’s Ruby Slippers, The Wizard of Oz.
The start and finish of her enlightening adventure to Oz.
- Snow White and the Poisoned Apple, Walt Disney’s: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
Causing the turn of events that is core to the story, and showing her dreamy, innocent, naivety.
- Mikasa Ackerman’s red scarf given to her by Eren Jaeger, Attack on Titan anime.
A constant reminder of why she keeps fighting for life and where that courage began.
- Frodo Baggins and The Ring, The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The item that was central to the whole adventure and evoked a power struggle that tested his character.
- Ariel’s “Dinglehopper“, as explained by Scuttle, Disney’s: The Little Mermaid.
Showcasing her excited curiosity over the human world.
- Katniss Everdeen, “The Girl on Fire“, The Hunger Games trilogy.
Symbolizing the coal mining District 12 she came from, who she became in the eyes of the ostentatious District 13, and the struggles overcome throughout the story.
Usually, you can come up with more than one symbolic piece (or idea or sidekick-character that can be used as an item in your outfit) per character… Adding to the above examples: Dorthy’s blue-farmgirl-gingham, curly pigtails and her furry-best-friend Toto; Ariel’s purple shell bra, fin (in a shade of green that Disney actually created uniquely for her), and supportive bestie Flounder; plus Katniss’ casual side braid and mad skills with a bow and arrow–all of these are additional things that readily symbolize those characters and their stories.
Feel free to use as many symbolic pieces as you can think of, or pick just one or a few that you feel are most important in expressing the heart of the character or story.
Once you’ve pinpointed the symbols, you can then either find pieces that are just like them, or use the idea of the images in a different form: such as jewelry, accessories, or even in the prints of the clothes you wear.
2. Color Schemes
There’s no denying that color stands out and tends to be the first thing we notice about anything we see. We also have a tendency to find meaning in colors or to use them to symbolically convey a message. So color is an important thing to remember, and a very good place to start when putting together a costume. What color does the character mostly wear? Do we know their favorite color? What colors would they never be caught dead in? –-Just a few questions we could ask ourselves in regards to color. Here are some examples:
- Aurora’s 16th Birthday Gown, Walt Disney’s: Sleeping Beauty.
Make it pink, or make it blue? For her iconic birthday dress, either color works, though pink is the most recognized.
(Despite her wearing blue for half of the movie… Smsh, marketing!)
But who says using both colors couldn’t be an additional option? 🙂
- Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, “The Three Good Fairies”, Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
In this instance, color is the only thing that really differentiates the costumes (Besides the small details of the shapes that enclose their cloaks at the neck), so it’s the most important part to get right. Flora = Red, Fauna = Green, Merryweather = Blue.
Would Merryweather still be recognizable wearing pink?–Nope!
(Except by those who remember this scene!…)
…But Merryweather hates pink… So i think she’d beg you to not vicariously dress her in it. 😉
- Hogwarts Houses, Harry Potter series.
Ever wish you could attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry? You can express this fairly easily through sporting the colors of your favorite house or the house of your favorite character.
Gryffindor = Scarlet-red and Gold, Hufflepuff = Yellow and Black, Slytherin = Emerald-green and Silver, Ravenclaw = Blue and Bronze.
- Sadness, Joy, Anger, Disgust, and Fear, Disney Pixar’s: Inside Out.
This is another one that uses color as the most defining aspect of the costume designs, this time using basic color psychology symbology to define each character. Sadness = Blue, Joy = Yellow, Anger = Red, Disgust = Green, Fear = Purple. Though, choosing purple to signify Fear was a surprise to me. What do you think?
- Good vs. Bad – Light vs. Dark, Star Wars series.
Color was a big part of the costuming decisions in Star Wars. A lot of thought was put into it. George Lucas wanted to make a visual statement that well contrasted good from evil. Evil = Harsh, Dark and Technological. Good = Humble, Light and Earthy.
3. Textile and Patterns
Textiles, especially ones with patterns, embody a lot of character and personality. Sometimes they become iconic of a particular character, making you think of them anytime you see the fabric. In some cases, their costumes may not even be recognizable without the fabrics or prints that they wear so much. Does your character have a definitive print they wear? What do you see them in most commonly?
- Cher Horowitz, Clueless.
Pretty certain that at least like 60% of her outfits contained plaids (and/or faux furs!)–starting with that iconic, yellow blazer-miniskirt suit set. Pure 90’s prep.
- Sally, Disney and Tim Burton’s: The Nightmare Before Christmas.
What’s a ragdoll without rags? Sally is a sweet, curious, hopeless-romantic. Her patchwork dress both is adorable, with its mismatched colors and prints, and a little bit spooky, with its dulled, grey-toned colors, rough stitching, and ripped fabric, to go with her setting in Halloween Town.
4. Shapes, Forms, Silhouettes
Pay attention to shapes. What elements are important? If you can’t recreate the exact silhouette, what is similar enough to at least hint at the style?
- Wendy Darling’s Nightgown, Walt Disney’s: Peter Pan.
I think it’s safe to say that Wendy probably doesn’t usually wear her nightgown everywhere. So it’s worth it to consider what she might wear instead. Maybe you’re visiting the Disney Parks and would like to Disney Bound as her, but would rather not run around in sleepwear. Adding elements of the shapes present in her nightgown could help you get as close to her costume as possible, whether you’re replicating or just hinting at her look.
Innocent, nurturing Wendy is both playfully imaginative as she holds tight to the childhood she loves and responsible as she looks towards the adulthood that lies closely ahead. Her flowy, boatneck, puff-sleeved, empire waist nightgown is both whimsical and elegant.
- Sora, Kingdom Hearts video game series.
Boldly enlargened, chunky shapes give him a cartoonish look, inspired by Mickey Mouse, and emphasize his silly, innocent, child-likeness by giving him a smaller appearance in his oversized clothes.
Obviously, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to scale your whole costume to perfectly fit his silhouette (I know i’d certainly trip wearing his shoes!)–But at least grab some baggy pants. 🙂
- Minnie Mouse, Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse cartoons.
Minnie’s bows and flouncy skirts emphasize her playful, flirty, sweet and sassy attitude.
The Heart of the Character
5. Attitudes and Personalities
If nothing else, you must stay true to the character’s personality. Try thinking about the above aesthetic aspects and if you were to change or enhance any one of them, how can you do so in a way that still represents their attitude?
Do they tend to act like they’ve got it all together?–try opting for sharp silhouettes and strong fabrics. Likewise, a shy and gentle character is well suited for flowy or cozy materials, and often soft colors. Examples:
- Marie, Walt Disney’s: The Aristocats.
Marie could be difficult to come up with an inspired outfit for, since she’s an unclothed cat. You can use the white color of her coat and add her pink bows, but what next? Consider her personality.
Her sugar and spice attitude calls for something classy but sassy. Chic and put together, but playful and girlish.
- Piglet, Walt Disney’s: Winnie the Pooh.
I don’t know about you, but i can totally see sweet, bashful little Piglet cuddled up in a big, soft, fluffy, pink sweater, hiding away from the cold and trying to smother away his fears.
6. Comfort Zones and Ambitions
Similarly to observing your favorite character’s personality, what can you see regarding their comforts and discomforts, likes and dislikes, hopes, dreams, and fears? These are core things to what makes a person who they are, so it’s another thing you can use to decide what they would or would not wear.
- Merida, Disney Pixar’s: Brave.
She is boldly adventurous and doesn’t possess the qualities that are traditionally “feminine”. Being that Merida longs to take control of her own destiny, i wager that her fashion sense wouldn’t be one that aims to follow trends.
She leans towards comfort and practicality in what she wears: particularly fancy clothes are not practical for horseback riding, archery, and climbing mountains, so they’re far out of her comfort zones (especially considering the dress her mom wanted her to wear).
- Peter Pan, Walt Disney’s: Peter Pan.
Can you imagine Peter Pan in a suit and tie? He certainly couldn’t!
Not his style. If you know Peter Pan, then you know that his #1 rule and only longstanding ambition is to never grow up. EVER! And a suit and tie scream “GROWN UP MAN!” like no other article of clothing in the western world.
- Diana, Princess of the Amazons, Wonder Woman.
On Themyscira, an island populated by female warriors, it makes sense to wear clothing that looks powerful, is easy to move in and is semi protectant: strong colors, lots of metallics, short and/or flowy hemlines, metal and leather.
Furthermore, Diana’s dreamed of being a hero since she was a little girl,
So, similarly to Merida, it’s not surprising that Wonder Woman is drawn away from clothing that is impractical for battle.
7. Genders and Ethnicities
Gender and ethnicity are strongly intertwined. Both can be a huge part of a person’s identity, and therefore a fairly simple way to define a character through fashion. Gender is a cultural construct (just like many other ethnic traditions and ideals), in place to define what is and is not proper for a male or female within that community (Including rules for how they dress), and whether there is any in-between or other variance of ways the sexes can express themselves. It differs from culture to culture and changes time to time.
How big of a part of the character’s identity is their gender or ethnicity? In their culture, what does it mean to be a woman, man, or other? If they were of a different ethnicity or culture, would they still be who they are? What if your favorite male character was a girl, or vice-versa?
These questions can help you decide whether using culturally significant pieces will help people identify who you’re costumed as, and/or whether it works to do a gender- or race-bent version of their look.
- Tiana, Disney’s: The Princess and the Frog.
Tiana is a very inspiring, hardworking, and determined individual. It would be easy to say that she’s that way in part because she’s an African-American woman set in the 1920s, a time still rife with racism as new freedoms began to bloom in both black rights, and women’s rights.
Of course, all people are capable of having determination and a good work ethic (Cinderella is a pretty fair example)…
But Tiana has extra to prove, and more effort needed to exert. So her story and character have extra strength because of both her ethnicity or “Race” and her gender.
- Fa Mulan, Disney’s: Mulan.
Mulan didn’t feel capable of fitting into her role as a woman in ancient China, where she was expected to “bring her family great honor in one way: by striking up a match”, and being the most beautiful bride and perfect mother one day–and in very specific ways.
In a desperate attempt for a new chance to bring honor to her family, and save her father (who wouldn’t have survived in another war), she chopped her hair, threw on her dad’s armor and escaped on his horse in the middle of the night to join the war, courageously, though illegally, pretending to be a man.
So her ethnicity and culture, and especially her gender (and challenging the roles and stereotypes she didn’t fit into), are a huge part of her identity. You can easily be costumed in her female-roles version, or her “male” soldier version.
What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a man? Mulan challenged the traditional roles and blurred the lines between what a man or a woman is expected to be capable of.
8. Settings: Life stories, Locations, Eras
This last aspect is the final thought, which is in place to make sure the whole outfit makes sense in light of the character’s whole story and authentically represents who they are. Ultimately, a life story can be displayed when all of the aspects are considered in creating a look. Each detail that visually speaks about who a person is can tell their story. But this final aspect is one that double checks whether the details really do tell that story.
Furthermore, if you’re creating a costume that is time-period-specific, and want to be accurate, this is also a point in which you can consider any extra historical fact-checking that needs to be done.
Does it benefit you to draw inspiration from the country or region your character lives in? How about the era or decade? What if you changed the time and/or place they came from?
- Aurora, Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
With 16 years as “Briar Rose”, the peasant girl in a cottage in the middle of the woods, she had very humble beginnings, not knowing she’s a princess. She was even disappointed–devastated–when she found out.
With this in mind, it may be a good idea to think again about what her comfort zones might be, since it may not have been clear without looking at the whole picture of her story. Certainly, the disappointment had more to do with realizing her life was made up for her, and she felt she lost all choice in any matter–But this still may be something to consider, particularly when thinking of how much or little to glam up her look in light of what would be appropriate with her story. How much is too much change for Briar Rose?
- Nancy Drew, Nancy Drew Mystery Stories book series.
The first Nancy Drew book was written in 1930, the original classic series ended in 1979 (Though new books are still being written), and the illustrations that are most well known were drawn (or re-drawn) starting in the 1960s.
Using trends and styles from these time periods could help you get some ideas if the information given in the books wasn’t enough.
I hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, i would so appreciate it (I’ll do a happy dance!) if you helped my little blog by sharing it with your friends 🙂
Let me know in the comments: Who is your favorite character to dress as? Or what is your dream costume?
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