Introduction an audience is rape. Rape is


“Colour is a very
powerful component of costume design and must be considered carefully. Colour
will register with an audience before line or detail – it is your first
impression on stage and one of your strongest tools in shaping emotional
response from the audience.” (Huang, Hunt, Hoem 2015)

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

Semiotics are a key
element in costume design. It provides a narrative behind each fragment of a
costume. ‘It is the study of signs and symbols and the way
they generate meanings. Although semiotics was developed in the field of
Linguistics to study the structure and signification of language, it has also
been used to study various non-linguistics signs systems. In this study, we
make a semiotic analysis of costumes and how they express the user’s
socio-cultural attributes.’ (Okadigwe, 2016). Costume is thought to be the most
noteworthy elements in theatre, it reveals information that isn’t be
verbalised, such as period, mood and emotions of the character.”This perennial
question of philosophy is answered by the science of semiotics. An animal’s
cry, poetry, the medical symptom, media messages, language disorders,
architecture, marketing, body language – all these, and more, fall within the
sphere of semiotics.” (Paul Cobley, Litza Jansz 1999).

Costumes must convey a message.”Following or
avoiding trends in dressing goes further to convey messages depending on the
culturally accepted codes among the people’s culture and convention. (Okadigwe


Chapter 1 – Dark events

There are many
sensitive issues a performer must portray when bringing a character to life for
an audience. An increasingly normalised way of building awareness, showing
power, and being period accurate to an audience is rape. Rape is an extremely
sensitive topic to bring to an audience with such high statistics of everyday
incidents.1 in 30 men and 27% of women/girls have been raped – making it 1 in 4
women- (Women’s foundation Oregon – Molly and Lyndsey, 2016). 50% of disabled
women have experienced domestic abuse compared with 25% of non-disabled women –
women’s aid 2007(Bates, 2014). With statistic so high, performances have to
remain sensitive whilst building awareness to an audience. It was not until
1990 that marital and date rape began being discussed, this is something that
has been brought to attention through film on numerous occasions, for example,
the 2008 film The Duchess.

The American television
series, based on the Archie comics, Riverdale
(Dir Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa 2017) , Portrays date rape drugs and a dated display
of power hunger. The character Cheryl also displays many signifiers to the
emotional distress she is feeling after almost being raped. This is shown as
the character has been aesthetically immaculate throughout the entire series
even though she has dealt with many issues, this shows she has reached the
final straw and for the first time, displays an emotional breakdown. This is
visually showed through the lack of makeup, her hair is untidy and the
signature red lipstick is faded with hints of red worn away at her lips. From a
costume narrative Cheryl has had bare legs throughout the series so far,
continually wearing short shorts and skirts – during this scene her legs are
covered by a thick blanket, this signifies the discomfort she feels with her
bare flesh being shown, it also shows that her character is seeking comfort in
covering her body with layers, as a way of protecting herself and creating a
barrier around herself. The colours of the room are pale pink and white
symbolising innocence, whereas the clothing all cast members are wearing a much
darker in tone, signifying that an incident has happened and that this
innocence has been lost. Her character is wearing a choker around her neck as a
symbol of feeling trapped and of this oppressive treatment.

It was not until 2012
that women could be the predators (Molly and Lyndsey 2016), it was only
possible for men to be the rapist, an example of a female predator in film
would be Perks of being a wallflower (2012
Dir – Stephen Chbosky ) in this film the audience catches a glimpse of
Charlie’s childhood molestation by a female family member through the form
of  a flashback, this only comes to light
after the audience learn that the character Sam played by Emma Watson has been
dealing with a similar situation, it is only then that Charlie realises what
has happened to him. This film provides a message that a victim is not alone,
an estimate of 70% of victims are unaware that they have been sexually
assaulted. (Molly and Lyndsey, 2016). The semiotics of costume during this
realisation is that Charlie appears worn down, his hair is untidy and his suit
has become creased from wear, his shirt untucked and tie loosened. Charlie’s
eyes are puffy- signifying the emotional distress he is feeling. Scenes are
hazy and keep blinking from present to the incident of the past, showing the
emotional process that Charlie is experiencing and the realisation of what has
happened to him.

Lewis Carroll’s example
of this would be the story of ‘The Walrus
and the Carpenter’ this portrayal is a signifier of paedophilia. This also
is a way of communicating and teaching a child on an innocent level that
strangers can be dangerous. This is signified through the facial expressions of
the characters – wide eyes symbolize innocence and devious smiles are given to
the plotting characters, the walrus is hiding something, which is symbolised by
the gloves, a very popular method of semiotics through animation. This deviance
is proven by the walrus symbolically uses his walking stick as a flute – this
is a reference to the pied piper – a well-known tale of enchanting and luring
away children.

PTSD is also very
popular in performances, with influences from character personality to visual
portrayal; this disorder was first recognised in 1980. “PTSD has stopped
becoming merely a mental health disorder, and in many ways sort of an
organizing principle for how we look at narrative and therefor how we look at
culture itself.” (American enterprise institute, 2015). A popular form of
displaying PTSD through visual art is the form of a flashback or reliving the
traumatic experience. Examples of protagonists experiencing PTSD through
flashback are Katniss Everdeen (Catching fire 2009 Dir – Francis Lawrence) she
experiences flashbacks of fighting for survival in the arena, nightmares and
visually we see the strain on her face and tears in her eyes. Her clothing is
dark as a symbol of mourning for the innocent people who were so brutally
killed for the Capitals entertainment.

A heavily semiotic example in theatre, would be Rent (Dir Jonathan Larson 2005). Rent is
also another meaning for torn. This is symbolised in the characters personal conflicts.
“Between comfort and idealism, between love and dignity, between anger and
pain, between the fear of intimacy and the fear of getting hurt. The word rent
means shredded in grief or rage… And all the complexity of that simple,
four-letter word parallels the construction of this fascinating musical.” (Newlinetheatrecom,2018).
The costumes were clothes derived from the actors personal wardrobe and charity
shops – this wide ranging variety of jerry-built costumes gave the costumes the
narrative of their current status, similarly the set is built to look haphazard
and worn down this is signified by the peeling paint and cracked, discoloured set
and props. “Through the use
of formal properties from the musical and rock opera genres such as symbolic
scenery, a multitude of complex characters, and truthful gut wrenching lyrics,
Rent attempts to accurately represent the struggles and triumphs of a people
whose hearts are filled with love, hope, and a thirst for life.” (Cortlandedu,

Chapter 2 – Dark colours

Society has fashioned
an ideal/ goal to achieve the perfect body. “The way women who are being
watched by the public are being shaped into this image that is affecting the
way young girls feel about themselves, the behaviours that these women set are
being used as an example down to the characters in children’s television and
clothing.”  (Representation
of women in the media 2014)  Media and society play a big role in demanding
a new standard of how we should present ourselves to society visually. It is
predominantly young women who feel pressured to become this ‘perfect woman.’
“Media, while attempting to connect and relate society, has been leaving behind
a thick, lasting residue on the female self-esteem.” (Christaco 2015). A significant
colour narrative that is pushed by society and media is the colour black. The phrase
“Is the new black” is popular in the media as the narrative of the colour black
in this phrase is to be worn with every item or to be the colour of every item
of clothing women wear. “Used to say that something is the most popular or
fashionable colour or thing at the moment:” (Cambridgeorg, 2018) This snowclone
originated in the 1980’s, it became popular in the 1990’s as the colour was
considered the only fashionable option. “Designers tired of that restriction
and began to refer to their own favorite colors as “the new black.”
The phrase caught on and is now used to describe any trend that is replacing
the current favorite.” (Quoracom, 2018). Women have been taught that
black is a slimming colour, and that is why it is the most popular. “Fashion – is the equivalent of speech and
represents all the clothes available to us, just as language represents all the
words available to us, as found in dictionaries. What we choose to wear is the
equivalent of speech.” (Arthur Asa Berger 2010). In terms of theatre and
costume narrative, black is used to display an occasion and emotions. Black is
most commonly worn as funeral attire; it is a signifier of grief and mourning. These
are the emotions that an audience interpret when a character is dressed
entirely in black.

An example of dark colours used in
production would be Sweeney Todd (Dir
Tim Burton 2007). Colour is very limited in this production, it is present, yet
broken down to emphasize the mood of the scenes. Bright colours are only used
to show and highlight the use of blood. “Though much of the film is
monochromatic, colour is always present, and plays a large part in the visual
story. The three main hues used are red, yellow-orange, and cyan-blue.” (Colour
in “Sweeney Todd” 2018). Happy memories through use of flashback
contain flashes of vivid colour – this is how the audience will interpret the
signifier of the mood. The focal colour used for this is orange and yellow, for
example in Lucy’s hair. Colours slowly progress to be tied to each character
specifically, such as Turpin’s red jacket. The semiotics of this colour are dishonesty,
aggression and brutality. Colour symbolism is also used through Mrs. Lovett’s
signified colour. “Dark shades of yellow, making Mrs. Lovett look
sickly and unwholesome. This perversion of the color tied to Lucy and Sweeney’s
love creates the sense of wrongness about Mrs. Lovett’s fantasy marriage. Love
and happiness are impossible for Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett, and Mrs. Lovett
cannot replace Lucy.” (Colour in “Sweeney
Todd” 2018).


3 Tim Burton


Tim burton often uses colour to create a
solid mood and atmosphere to an audience. “The stylized use of colour in Sweeney
Todd is a key element of Tim Burton’s storytelling. Strong affinity of
colour evokes a moody, antique atmosphere; saturation of colour makes shots
easily identifiable as present reality or a flashback or fantasy; and although
the audience may not be consciously aware of the more subtle associations
between colour and character, they are present and affect the emotional content
of every shot.” (Colour in “Sweeney Todd”


Alice in wonderland is a very heavily
semiotic film. Tim Burton’s popular use of colour shows through in the 2010
film. A key element in this film is the lighting; it is used to separate the key
focal point from the background, as it is so detailed. The use of this lighting
highlights the two colours that is used throughout the film to display that
each object and character has a light and a dark side. Colour shows emotions of
the scene through the use of mood lighting. The magical world that Burton
creates comes from the constant changing of colours. The atmosphere Burton uses
is a very washed out depressing atmosphere, Burton uses De-Saturated colour in
shades of black grey blue and very pale whites. Burton has deliberately made
the colours de-saturated giving them a washed out look. It gives us the feeling
that the people who live there aren’t happy with their life and almost feel
imprisoned to the strict Victorian upbringing they have. (Tim Burton. Colour,
Lighting and distinctive characters, BlogSpot 2018)


Tim Burton is a man very well known in
the filmmaking industry. Burton uses distinctive elements of film in Edward Scissorhands (1994) Ed Wood (1994), Sleepy Hollow (1999) Big Fish
(2003) Corpse Bride (2005) and Sweeny Todd (2007). To present the
themes, which tend to reoccur and become a motif of his unique directing style
some of these elements of film language that he uses are, Camera angles,
Distinctive Characters, Sound and Colour. These are all used to portray
important ideas and are now expected in his films. ( Tim Burton. Colour,
Lighting and distinctive characters, BlogSpot 2018). Tim Burton uses distinct
characters, over time which is seen repeatedly throughout his productions-
their distinct features are signified through pale faces and gothic colours and
clothing “When we go and see a Tim Burton film we expect it to be dull with
un-saturated colours and selective colours used. We expect it to Dark with dark
lighting and shadowing used often. We expect the main character to be outside
the norm that is shunned and rejected from society and we also expect to see
Johnny Depp and/or Helena Bonham Carter to play a role in the film.” ( Tim
Burton. Colour, Lighting and distinctive characters, BlogSpot 2018).


Alice in wonderland is a very heavily
semiotic film. Tim Burton’s popular use of colour shows through in the 2010
film. A key element in this film is the lighting; it is used to separate the key
focal point from the background, as it is so detailed. The use of this lighting
highlights the two colours that is used throughout the film to display that
each object and character has a light and a dark side. Colour shows emotions of
the scene through the use of mood lighting. The magical world that Burton
creates comes from the constant changing of colours.


“Theatre does not make
use of these signs in their original function” Erika Fischer-Lichte, theatre
professor-1992  (The
Use Of Semiotics In The Theatre Film Studies Essay, 2015). Carroll’s visual demonstration of this
would be the use of animals when playing croquet, the flamingo as the mallet
because of the similarity of the beak and shaping of the neck, and the hedgehog
is used as the wooden ball from the way the animal curls into the desired

Theatre often gives
objects a different meaning or symbolism that the everyday for example – Alice in wonderland by Lewis Carol,
plays croquet with a flamingo and a hedgehog, similarly a hedgehog could
symbolize a bristled brush. “Design depends largely on constraints”
Charles Eames (Graham Pullin, 2009). “Objects, images and texts can all be used
to create metaphors. Metaphors are often at their most interesting when they
link something familiar with something unfamiliar” (Alexis Payne, 2014),
costume provides a semiotic background to a character – it also foreshadows for
future events involving this character, a very well-known example of this would
be the use of gloves in animation, in particularly Disney, such as the film
Frozen (2013 Dir Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee), The character Prince Hans wears
gloves as a symbol that he is not being truthful.  “The reason for creating and resenting
theatre is to communicate meanings.. understand how meanings are communicated
to and assembled by spectators can be of enormous help to the director as he
works to translate his individual vision of the theatre production into a living,
three-dimensional work of arts” (The Use Of Semiotics In
The Theatre Film Studies Essay, 2015).

“Effects of shadows,
long drawn elements, harsh contrasts, and black and white used a lot in his
films, I can definitely see how he would be said to be heavily influenced by
Gothic Art.”  (Jordan Fogerson, 2012). These dark components semiotically
display a feeling of fear without displaying anything to beafraid of. This is a
common feature is Burton’s creations. The emotions that the audience will
automatically feel are of depressed and scared states – this is not due to the
horror on display as there is very frequently none to display. Burton goes against
the norm of reality, by teaching the audience not to judge the physicality of a
character, as these gothic characters, often are friendly characters. Tim
Burton attempts to translate a fascination with the world after death, he
incorporates this into his productions in many ways i.e. skeletons and other
worlds with an after-life feeling.

Chapter 3 – emotion

An audience will
instinctively interpret an emotion upon looking at a colour. “Because of its
deep connection to our emotions, colour is often one of the first areas a
designer and director explore together.” (Huang, Hunt, Hoem 2015) Colour is
often used to create a symbolic meaning throughout a production, for example Red Shoes – “their passions and
interests, which lead to better alignment with career goals” (Redshoemovementcom,
2016) is the association the audience has received from the red shoes
throughout history. During the production of the 1948 film the colour red was
used by Michael Powell as a symbol of creative and sexual desire. This is used
to light the character, on her makeup and on her ballet shoes – this
foreshadows her blood. Mathew Bourne followed this distinct colour signifier when
adapting from film to screen.

Semiotic study is an
analysis of signs or the study of sign systems an example of this would be
symptoms before an illness, or a red stop sign – semiotics questions the colour
red and its meaning. “It is the study of signs and symbols and the way they
generate meanings. Although semiotics was developed in the field of Linguistics
to study the structure and signification of language, it has also been used to
study various non-linguistics signs systems. In this study, we make a semiotic
analysis of costumes and how they express the user’s socio-cultural
attributes.” (Okadigwe, 2016). Examples of the use of red colour symbolism
would be in every production of Les Miserables.
It symbolises passion and revolution. More on les mis
and compare with red shoes

“Colours are dynamic
signifiers; where chosen carefully they bring coded messages to the spectators
for their individual interpretation” (Anonymous, 2015) Colour often has an
impact on its audience’s emotions and specific colours are often chosen for
this very purpose. i.e. purple and red is used for chocolate wrappers, which
makes us feel hungry – it is also a symbol of a luxury which is related to the
traditional purples and reds from higher status and royalty. In performance,
examples of these colours signifying importance are King Arthur’s clothing in
several different productions Merlin wears blues and purples; purple is also a
sign of magic. Wolfgang Reitherman directed the 1963 Disney’s Sword in the Stone used these colours to
foreshadow future events, the red and yellow tones that are used throughout
Arthur’s clothing is precisely the colours used in the crown worn as the film
concludes. “By knowing that red and yellow are the most visually
attention-grabbing colours, you might design a better billboard….Like most
things related to design, these aren’t rules set in concrete but rather one
more tool that you can use or intentionally violate to deliver your intended
message.” (Rikard, 2015).

Colour is an expression
of emotions; this can be manipulated in a very small way or large – depending
on its audience. “There are four psychological primary colours – red, blue,
yellow and green. They relate respectively to the body, the mind, the emotions
and the essential balance between these three.” (Wright, 2008) Examples of
colour creating emotions would be the Cameron Mackintosh theatre production of Miss Saigon is a perfect example of
character development. White and pale colours are used as a symbol of innocence
through costume, and as the characters develop, and get darker within them so
do their costumes, whether they are broken down or a completely new colour
pallet is used, as the audience begins to learn the story of each character the
colour palette is deepened and much more vivid colours are also used. Compare with Les mis

Paul Cobley and Litza
Jansz (1999) agrue that we “have to understand semiotics in order to realise
contemporary culture”. This is a tremendous factor in the creation of costume
design. Costumes are a form of communication. They bring a character to life
and share their personalities with the audience/society through semiotics. Noh
theatre is a perfect example of this, every cut, colour, shape and line is
there for a reason. How light a fabric is and its texture is all part of the
communication of the story, one mistaken symbol will change a character in
their entirety. Gillette suggests that a “…costume designer needs to distil
that mound of information into a few typical lines, colours, textures, and
details that represents the essence of the period”. (Okadigwe, 2016) Noh
theatre expresses emotions through dance forms. The mask is made so that
expressions change from each angle for example, chin raised means the character
is happy. Non-human masks are signified through metal fittings in the eyes of
the mask.

‘Traditionally, film
costume is read overtly through the idealist approach. But Roland Barthes
developed a semiotic system for interpreting the discourse of fashion.
Influenced by Saussure, Barthes found semiotics, the study of signs.’
(Okadigwe, 2016). Berger informs us that, ‘”A sign, from semiotic perspective,
is anything that stands for something else” (Okadigwe 2016). An example of this
would be when a performer is portraying a character of importance, the
performer could verbalize that they are important, another performer could tell
the audience or their costume could provide the audience with this information
for example by wearing a uniform or being very well dressed.

Costume will always be
a way of communicating non verbally – whether it is deliberate or not “A  costume designer may decide to avoid trends
and hence dress a character in jean and tee-shirt, a fraudster may decide to
look responsible by wearing suit and tie: In every costume there must be a
message whether intended or not” (Okadigwe, 2016). Fantastic Beasts and where to find them (2016 Dir David Yates) the
audience learn the plot twist for the ending of this film right at the
beginning of the movie. Grindelwald and Graves both are introduced from the
back of their heads; their hair is also cut and styled the identically. Their
costumes are similar, the necklines of their costumes both lower into a V shape
and their coats are long and finish at their knees.

A perfect example of
colour and use of semiotics would be the 2013 film ‘The Great Gatsby’ the
comparison of Gold and yellow has a great meaning within this film. Gold – the
ultimate symbol of wealth throughout centuries, is a representation of Daisy
“the golden girl” and “Voice full of money”. Where-as Gatsby’s car is yellow
which is fool’s gold, this exposes “a show rather than substance.”  (Club academia, 2013 and Alexis Payne, 2014)
This is a signifier of posing within the Gatsby character, showing pretentiousness.
Representing his need to be watched, and also displaying his wealth. The eyes
of TJ Eckleberg are cut to momentarily throughout the story are a symbol of
God, and that he is always watching the characters.


Go Top

I'm Eleanor!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out