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Making it up as you go

Updated on May 14, 2014
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Hi, I am Adele, and I have run a large fancy dress shop in Essex, England since 1998. Happy to pass on my knowledge to help others.

Whilst a good number of costumes are off-the-peg and ready to wear for your event, there are those that require a little extra preparation time devoted to make-up and the like. With generic costumes such as Clowns or Geishas you may have chosen the outfit precisely because it allows you to ‘sling on the slap’ (although it is quite possible to be a clown with minimal make-up). With others you might find that convention dictates a particular look – thanks to Elizabeth Taylor, the strong eye make-up look seems an essential part of a Cleopatra costume. The principles of conventional day-to-day make-up routines with their delicate blendings and shadings may not be much use if something more stylised, dramatic or downright unconventional is required to complement your costume.

At Props n Frocks, having worked in the costuming field for many years, we’re happy to give you advice on the right products to buy and, in some cases, even show you how to get the best results from them. Chances are, though, that you might not hiring/buying immediately before the event, so that when it comes to showtime minus a few hours, you’ll hit the Internet for advice such as you find here, and/or something like YouTube for some visual demonstration.

On your video search engine, putting ‘<Character> make-up ’in the search box is the obvious way to get a range of useful results. The first thing you’ll notice it that there are those who use cosmetic make-up to create their designs, and those who use the face-paint and make-up products such as we, or other costume shops, sell. Both approaches have their benefits: Using cosmetics, you can save money by making use of what you might already have and only have to buy in a few specialist items and/or colours, whereas with face-paint make-up you can often buy purpose-built character kits which should give you all you need to do the job in one box.

The nature of the make-up materials involved can also be different, although admittedly there is a substantial cross-over between the two camps, especially with cosmetic companies bringing out wider ranges of extraordinary colours. There is also increased enthusiasm to experiment with unusual make-up colour combinations for everyday wear as well as special occasions.

On a broad view, whether it is more expensive to use face-paint than cosmetics is a matter of debate: For one thing, the volume of ‘colour-material’ per pound in face-paint may be greater, and, with face-paint , you are not paying so much for a brand-name and pretty packaging. That said, there are a good number of quite acceptable cheaper cosmetic brands on the market, and also a number of ‘leading brand’ theatrical make-up manufacturers charge high prices for specialist products.

The one thing you do get with branded products of either type is the security of knowing they are safe to use (and will also come off!). We have heard of cases where people have tried to save costs and create their own face-paint cosmetics with undesirable results: For example, whilst it is true that any foodstuff is safe, using food colouring for a Hulk/She-Hulk impression won’t necessarily harm you, but you might look green for longer than you intended.

Finally, if the make-up is key to your costume, it is a good idea to have a practice before the main event, if you can. Also, if you’re working from a video tutorial, don’t be too daunted by what you see: Some experts may work with multiple palettes of colours and a different brush for every task and colour, but, if you plan in advance, you can improvise alternatives and probably get just as good a result. Who knows, you may even be able to create a video tutorial for others.


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