How do I start clowning? clown costume, part 1

Clown Tutorial – creating your clown costume

Something interesting happened to me on the way to writing this article. I was perusing a very nice site named for something totally unrelated, and happened across this poster:poster of two clown ladies walking down the street - an poster

Now, the first thing that struck me about this poster was the “clownishness” of the two ladies pictured. Since I knew I was about to write this article on Clown costuming, I took this opportunity to sit back and think about what makes a clown’s costume “clownish.”First, we have to realize that there is virtually no single unifying characteristic about a clown’s costume. For instance, a Whiteface clown performing in a circus may wear a one-piece suit with a ruffled collar. An Auguste clown‘s costume may consist of a crazy quilt of differences — pants too big, coat too small, large shoes, small hat, all with contrasting colors. A tramp or hobo‘s costume may look shabby, or decrepit. And yet, we recognize any and all of these instantly as a clown’s costume.

When asked, my oldest daughter volunteered the following about the lady on the left: the striped shirt and skirt don’t match (“nobody would wear stripes and a conflicting pattern”), a lady wouldn’t typically wear suspenders, the hair was obviously a wig, etc. Some other thoughts: they’re colorful; the patterns are fairly large (easily viewed from a distance — remember that concept from our discussion on make-up?).

The Immigrant - Charlie Chaplin eating on board ship
The Immigrant – Charlie Chaplin eating on board ship

One of the things that stamp a costume as ‘clown’ are the intentional differences. Take Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, as an example. Chaplin’s character is a good example of a study in differences. The pants are very baggy — too large. The coat, though buttoned, is obviously too small. The shoes are ridiculously large. The hat, too small, doesn’t fit properly.

Were this an Auguste clown, the same contrasts would be apparent — if anything, more so. The colors would be bright, the patterns large (visibility from a distance again), and above all, you want it to fit your character and make-up, and not conflict with either. The same basic rules apply for your costume as for your makeup: feel free to borrow ideas and concepts from other clowns, but don’t become an imitation of Chaplin (or Lou Jacobs, or Buttons, or …) — you want to be yourself. Your costume is simply a tool to allow you to do that; remember Urkel from Family Matters — his costume reveals his character to the audience before he speaks or does anything.

Next time, we’ll introduce details on how to make your own clown costume, and how to make it uniquely yours. See you then!



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