Since 2003, the musical Wicked has delighted audiences all around the world. This production, which is based on the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West written by Gregory MaGuire, is the “untold story” of the witches of Oz featured in L Frank Baum’s work The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its classic 1939 film adaptation, The Wizard of Oz. In Wicked, audiences learn that Elphaba, better known as the “Wicked Witch of the West” is not actually wicked; rather, she is a misunderstood advocate for the animals living under the cruel hand of the ruling Wizard of Oz and his administration. Tracing Elphaba’s life from her earliest days to her days at Shiz University to her eventual demise and departure from Oz, Wicked explores Elphaba’s family relationships, her friendship with Glinda — the “Good Witch of the North” — her relationship to the Munchkins, her creation of the flying monkeys, and many other “behind the scenes” events related to the classic story of Oz by L. Frank Baum.
Wicked is well known for its music and lyrics by renowned composer Stephen Schwartz and for its colorful and innovative costume designs by award-winning costume designer Susan Hilferty. Hilferty’s costuming work on the musical has earned her a Tony award, and it has inspired many people to consider a career in costume design. This field is ideal for those who are creative and artistic, especially when it comes to apparel creation, for costume designers conceive of and craft wardrobes for theatre, movies, historical reenactments, museums, and much more. There are many jobs available to those with a background in costume design and many potential ways into the career field.
Featuring a look specifically at the costume designs of Wicked, this guide explores the meticulously crafted wardrobe for the musical and offers other resources on costume design. Read on to find out more about costume design, particularly as it has been employed in the musical Wicked.
Susan Hilferty and Her Designs
Susan Hilferty was the lead costume designer for Wicked on Broadway, but that musical is just one part of her illustrious career. She has also designed costumes for many other Broadway productions, including, among others, Radio Golf, Lestat, and revivals of Into the Woods and Dirty Blonde. Hilferty has been nominated for Tony awards for several of these productions, and she has also designed costumes for productions at the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and dozens of regional productions. She is also currently the chair of the Design Department at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
Hilferty is known for advocating a strong liberal arts background for all her students, as she believes it will help them become creative and innovative costume designers. She makes use of her own background in this area in all her works, creating beautiful costumes that faithfully represent the characters for whom they are designed and also highlight several themes the writer or composer wants to highlight in the production.
Costumes for Elphaba and Glinda
Elphaba wears several costumes in the musical, and they expertly portray her transformation from a humble schoolgirl to the misunderstood, not-truly “Wicked Witch of the West.” Early in Act I, Elphaba wears a plain navy uniform while attending Shiz University. Many critics believe that it contrasts well with the cream uniform that Glinda prefers, but eventually Elphaba’s schoolgirl outfit is exchanged for the more familiar witch motif — a black Victorian-type dress and a pointed black hat. This costume is a bit sexier than the costume the Wicked Witch wore in the movie The Wizard of Oz, and it appears torn in Act II after Elphaba has been traveling the countryside looking for animals to rescue from the Wizard of Oz. Each of these stylish outfits fits in well with the storyline at the point that it is worn, and it really makes the story come alive for the audience.
As mentioned, Glinda’s costume for her period of schooling is cream in color, which hints at her later title of the “Good Witch of the North.” Glinda’s appreciation for color really shines through in her pink ballgown and the yellow outfit she wears while visiting the Emerald City later in the musical. Later, her silver and green politician’s outfit and white dress worn as the Good Witch help to conceal from the citizens of Oz the fact that Glinda may not be as kind and selfless as she seems.
The residents of Emerald City wear a lot of green, of course. Most of these costumes are haute couture, designed with expensive fabrics exclusively for the characters that wear them. Regular motifs include billowing skirts and a fantastical appearance that suits the residents of the capital city of the fantasy Land of Oz.
Costumes for Madame Morrible and Others
Madame Morrible is the headmistress of the hall where Glinda and Elphaba live at Shiz University. Although she takes a special liking to Elphaba and encourages her magical talent, she has wicked intentions overall. In the musical she tends to wear long flowing gowns that combine elegance with a look that implies a sinister mind.
Nessarose, Elphaba’s sister and eventual “Wicked Witch of the East,” transforms from a paralyzed schoolgirl to one who can walk with the aid of the ruby slippers over the course of the musical. As such, her initial schoolgirl outfit gives way to a black dress that, while not unlike Elphaba’s costume, helps distinguish her from her sister.
Fiyero Tiggular, a prince who meets Elphaba and Glinda at Shiz University, is eventually transformed into the famous Scarecrow. His princely attire gives way to the more ragged scarecrow look as he concocts a plan to help save Elphaba from death. This is portrayed appropriately in Hilferty’s costume designs, with the Scarecrow having a fitting, ragged appearance to match all the trauma he endures in the musical.
Costume Design Resources
Those who want more information Wicked, its costume designs, and the costume design field after reading this short guide should consult the following resources:
COSTUME DESIGN RESOURCES
Article written by Janice D. McDonald