Friday, June 06, 2008

Old costume photos

I enjoy studying the people in old photos, especially their clothing. It's interesting to see the fads in photography poses, what people choose to wear, how & whether they accessorize - a little social & cultural anthropology. Old photos of actors in costume are even more interesting. I'm jealous of the detail and apparent weight of the costumes, though perhaps the only ones whose photos have survived are the professionals, who could afford something more substantial and more elaborate.

As we've been in rehearsal for Pirates, I've come across a few old photos of actresses playing Ruth. I'm fascinated to see the vaguely oriental look to the earliest of these, and find myself wondering what kind of dancing or blocking those Ruths were able to do in costumes that look fairly heavy. The lefthand picture is from 1880, the center one dates from 1901 and the one on the right is undated. That last one is rather funny; doesn't she look like she should be holding a tambourine or offering to tell your fortune?

Now check out these costume shots, which are clearly from the 20th century:

This one's dated 1919. Suddenly we see the stereotypical pirate hats on Ruth and the Pirate King. I don't know why Ruth's got one corner of her apron tucked up, unless it's to show off more of her fancy skirt. (I wonder what it looked like up close.)The braid and trim on Frederic's jacket make him look like a military school cadet. Notice the skirt on the PK. I'm assuming this is a picture of the old D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, and the PK's costume is probably based on that from the original production, or at least an early one. Maybe it's just the way the skirt drapes, but I think it looks vaguely Greek.

In this 1926 pic, look at Fred's Greek-looking pirate costume. (This is a scene from Act I, when Fred's still in pirate costume. In Act II, as above, he changes from "this alarming costume" to "decent clothing".) Looks like the 1926 Ruth is wearing the same costume used in 1919, though that pirate hat sure does look strange seen from the side, doesn't it?

And here's a 1950s Ruth: still with that pirate hat. I do wonder what she's wearing under that skirt to make it that shape - a funny sort of hoop? a petticoat with ruffles that start just below the hips? The vaguely military style of her jacket (note the cuffs & front "placket") is kinda sharp. You definitely get both the nursemaid and the pirate in this costume.

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