Page To Stage: The Costumes Of Sherlock Holmes

For The Revenge of Sherlock Holmes! it was integral that the costumes were designed and realised with both historical accuracy and theatrical flair. Stewart Charlesworth, set and costume designer for the project, describes the processes involved in bringing his two dimensional designs to realisation in our Hoxton Hall production:

There is something quite thrilling about being given a project that is rooted in the period of time that first got you interested in costume design. So imagine my joy at being given Sherlock Holmes as a piece and then given free rein to create a madcap Music Hall world where everything is heightened to a comic extreme.

For this version of Sherlock, we pushed the year forward to 1898, after Conan Doyle first "killed off" his legendary character. Having become irritated that Sherlock was his only literary success, he felt that killing him off in a tumble over the Reichenbach Falls would allow him to bring new stories and characters to his vast fan base. Time would prove him wrong and he would eventually rewrite Holmes back to life.

Bella Hudson The changing of era meant we were pushed firmly away from the heavy bustle dresses of 1870 and into the beauty of the Belle Époque with its nipped waists and Dana Gibson ideals. The 1890s saw huge amounts of colours and pattern and accessories, stripes and plaids came through on both men's and ladies clothing, ribbon bows, pleated chiffons and lace and feathers adorned both costume and head gear, and ladies adopted the top half of the masculine silhouette with fitted waistcoats, dickies and jackets with pocket watches.

The silhouettes I used for the ladies wear became exaggerated version of fashionable modes of the day. Bella Spellgrove's theatrical take on a girls walking costume has something of the romantic Shepherdess to it with its ruched bustle drapes and ankle length skirt. Mrs Hudson's pleated dickie, and delicate leg o' mutton sleeves are teamed with a corset disguised as a waistcoat to give her the appearance of the Gibson Girl.

Gibson Girl
From the satirical pen-and-ink illustrations of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson the Gibson Girl began appearing in the 1890s in the United States. The artist saw his creation as representing the composite of "thousands of American girls." The Gibson Girl image was seen as the personification of the feminine ideal, combining elements of older American images of female beauty, such as the "fragile lady" and the "voluptuous women". From the "fragile lady" he took the basic slender lines, and a sense of respectability. From the "voluptuous women" he took a large bust and hips, but was not vulgar or lewd, as previous images of women with large busts and hips had been depicted. Tall and slender, yet with ample bosom, hips and buttocks, the Gibson Girl reflected an ideal shape that epitomized fashion across the US and Europe in the late 19th- and early 20th-century.

The evil character of Mrs Moriaty is perhaps the most out of place as the villain of the piece. The large monochrome stripes, huge exaggerated puffed sleeves, heavy furnishing, weighted drapage and the black powdered wig show Mrs Moriarty a woman who has collected various items of clothing from her career as an opera singer on the largest stages. Everything from her heavy eye make up to the white streak in her wig is there to add mystery.

Ensemble Our ensemble girls, all three of them, show three distinct, popular styles from the 1890s. They also show the fashion for teaming strong colours: blue and white stripes with pink drapes, red orange and purple, and orange gold and brown. Audiences went to the Music Halls to escape the drabness of reality and the costumes surely would have caused much excitement to both sexes!

Ensemble 2 The fabrics are sumptuous and you'll notice, especially on the ladies ensemble, there are small amount of contrast fabrics, these would have been rich expensive fabrics bought or cut down from older outfits, hence the sparing use of them! The trims are beaded and sequinned to reflect the colours of the sets and the glow from the footlights.

The men are just as colourful. In a period of time where only black brown and navy were worn during the day, with maybe a break into fawn for the slightly more flamboyant (!), I really went to town with the theatrics. All of the boy’s suits and outfits are based on the fashionable cuts of the time with some older styles thrown into the Baker St Irregulars to show their eclectic nature.

I suppose I should start with the Great Detective himself?

Sherlock Holmes Sherlock Holmes was the hardest character to get right. I wanted to keep the well-known elements of his popular dress, the Deer Stalker, the Norfolk Jacket and Inverness Cape, as well as injecting some of the Musical Hall into it.

Within the concept of the show, the performers took on ‘stock type’ roles of the Music Hall. The actor playing the role of Holmes was the "Serio" or serious actor, and so I wanted to keep elements of that in at all times. Therefore he is the only character with grey tones. But lustrous grey, elephant and dove figure hugely in this costume, and its cheeky check pattern certainly raises the game of a seemingly sombre outfit to fit with his counterparts. The dash of colour comes with the shot cravat and quilted smoking jacket that teams him nicely with his counterpart, Bella.

SHolmes Dr. Watson (centre) takes on the role as ‘Chairman’ of the Music Hall, and Inspector Lestrade, as the comic. Both wear versions of the Sack Suit, a typical everyday suit worn by all classes. The bold yellow and green plaid of Watson and the blues and reds of Lestrade (left) both compliment the characters greatly, adding a touch of wit to their onstage personas. The shirts and their collars formed a huge part in telling us the status of the characters as well, with Sherlock in a wing collar, Watson in a flat and Lestrade in rounded "penny" collar, you could see the class distinctions.

Dr Watson 2 Dr Watson Watson's suit especially was commented on by many, and proved a firm hit. The burgundy trim, bow tie and green velvet double breasted waistcoat really went all the way in making him the man of the moment!

The Baker Street Irregulars wore a variety of coloured tatty open weave shirts in a mixture of styles and so conveyed the rag-tag nature the bunch. Due to the mischievous nature of the trio it proved hard to match the colours, textures and cuts to blend and suit, as well as stand out! We have a mix of cutaway frock coats and blazers, waistcoats of all different styles and trousers to match! From neck ties to bow ties and caps to bowler hats, all finished off with a pair of dirty hobnail boots that were constantly being repaired, the BSI were by far the most complicated group to costume!