Behind the scenes: Costuming in Ram’s Head’s ‘Hairspray’

April 8, 2015, 10:19 p.m.

When the lights come up this weekend on the Memorial Auditorium stage, the audience’s eyes will take in the spectacle of light, sound and color that is Ram’s Head’s production of “Hairspray.” But they may not be aware of the effort and passion that went into outfitting the performers on stage.

Asia Chiao ‘15, head costumer for “Hairspray,” led me backstage to show me the rainbow of costumes to be sported by the cast. Bubbly and cheerful, the senior embodies the bright qualities of the show, her lively nature reflected in its costuming.

Unlike many other Stanford productions, Asia informs me that “the costumes were custom-made by students.” Beginning as early as October, Asia formed a student team to produce designs, a rarity due to the limitations of time and budget. “Ram’s Head was incredibly generous with funding,” giving students with a designer’s eye a chance to express themselves and lend their talents to the musical.

Each costume is meant to highlight a character’s personality or development throughout the storyline. For Tracy Turnblad, the curvy and fabulous wannabe television star — “Every costume was designed to showcase where she is in her path toward stardom,” says Asia. Initially looked down upon for her weight, Tracy Turnblad grows in confidence, and her increasingly vibrant costumes reflect her newfound comfort in her own skin — why not wear a big, poofy, eye-catching skirt? By this point, Asia says Tracy has “found a look that’s completely her own.”

Meanwhile, Tracy’s contemporaries wear outfits inspired by period fashion of the sixties. The socialites that star in the television show Tracy joins wear pastel, tightly cinched clothes as a way to express “the glamorous, ideal world of the sixties,” in Asia’s words. She wanted to create a “very kosher, girly look” for these characters to emphasize the differences between Tracy and them. “Tracy’s supposed to look a little bit ridiculous because she doesn’t fit in with them,” says Asia with a smile. It is Tracy’s status as an outsider that drives the show forward.

Though the costumes are inspired by the sixties, Asia clarifies that the production staff “made a conscious decision not to be strictly historically accurate” with the ensembles. Instead, they wanted to offer a “refreshed view” that made the time period feel relatable, rather than dated, so that audiences could understand the show both in the contexts of the past and the present. Asia “infused a modern aesthetic” by creating timeless dresses that women would even love to wear today.

Involved in costuming, along with other elements of theater including acting and directing throughout high school and college, Asia finds the process of designing each character’s personal aesthetics very rewarding. As an Art History major, she is “very visual” and enjoys the design aspect of costuming. Ultimately, she finds the craft a matter of story-telling, a way of “visually sharing with an audience who a character is.”

“Hairspray” will run April 10, 11, 16-18 in Memorial Auditorium. Tickets can be purchased here.

Contact Madeline MacLeod at mmacleod ‘at’

Madeline MacLeod is a Staff Writer for the Theater beat at the Stanford Daily. She is a freshman from Roseville, California who loves English, French, psychology, and of course, theater! In her spare time, Madeline enjoys reading, hiking, and running. To contact Madeline, please email mmacleod 'at'

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