I'm a sewing enthusiast in Beacon, New York, with a love of all things retro. This site is all about tutorials, tips, inspiration, and lots of spirited discussion about sewing as it relates to fashion history, pop culture, body image, and gender. My first book, Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing, is now out from STC Craft/Melanie Falick Books! Also look for my line "Patterns by Gertie" from Butterick.
I saw Wicked on Broadway last night, and it was truly amazing. (I love musicals, and I can't believe it took me 8 years to go see this thing. Oh, to have seen it with the original cast!) I have a friend who worked at the shop that constructed some of the costumes, and her tales of the intricate details that went into each piece are stunning. So I expected to be blown away by the most opulent and dazzling costumes, and I was. (My dad said the chorus members all looked like Elton John, which is surprisingly apt.) But it was the more understated ensembles in basic navy and black, worn by Elphaba (aka the Wicked Witch of the West) that really held the most power, in my opinion.
What's most impressive is how the clothing tells a story in such an authentic way. It's first a product of good writing, I suppose, that Elphaba's iconic witch costume comes off as real, rather than kitschy. There's a story behind each piece: the hat was given to her as a cruel joke by classmate Glinda, for example.
But the costume designer (Susan Hilferty, who won a Tony for Wicked and also designed the brilliant Spring Awakening) made sure that the costumes told an unwritten story. In fact, the coming of age theme comes across stronger in the clothing than anywhere else. In the beginning, Elphaba wears navy and black shift dresses that play up her dowdiness, but also exude youth. I remember thinking how young the actress looked, and I (needlessly) worried that she didn't have the maturity to pull off such a powerful role.
Fast forward to Act II. Elphaba spends the latter half of the act in a magnificent gown. (See this fabulous blog for many detailed photos of the dress.) It has a distinct Victorian silhouette to it, but the arrangement of the rows of trim play up the body's curves. The actress was truly transformed: sexy, confident, wounded, angry.
Elphaba is an incredible character on her own: a radical who is ostracized and misunderstood because of her ideals. But the costumes took her journey to another level altogether, telling of her sexual awakening and the incredible glamor of being an outlaw.
I don't spend much time with people who think fashion is inherently frivolous or shallow, so I never really have to defend my interest in the subject. But if I did, I would use Wicked as an example of how clothing can carry as much symbolic and emotional weight as any other visual representation.
Which brings me to the question of the day: are you ever made to feel shallow for being interested in fashion and garment construction? Do you think that fashion is a powerful art form, or is that overstating it? Do share!