The Orient – Costume Ideas

Oriental Costume Ideas- Overview

The mysteries of the Orient and the Far East have fascinated the British for ages. So much so, that when it came to adapting the Arabian Nights story Aladdin as a pantomime, the writers re-set the action in Peking, China, as they thought the Orient was more mysterious and magical than Arabia!

Even nowadays, when international travel is easier and many countries are losing their identity through globalisation, the two major countries of the Orient, Japan and China, retain interest and fascination, especially in the wake of the recent Beijing Olympics, which showcased so much of Chinas cultural and artistic talents.

When looking at the Orient, there are some potentially interesting outfits available for females, many of which you will find at Props & Frocks. A classic Chinese garment is the Cheongsam, a simple no-frills dress (long or short) with a high collar, fitted waist and side slits, which show off the figure with elegance. Genuine Chinese cheongsams tend to favour the small, slim figure, but it is such a classic style of dress that there are plenty of imitations available, in various sizes. As oriental females tend to be depicted with black hair, we also find that the China Doll wigs and Cheerleader wigs we stock can be quite popular to complete the look.

Towards the other end of the scale one has the Japanese Geisha, the iconic female oriental entertainers. Interest in this style of costuming was re-aroused by the book and subsequent film Memoirs of a Geisha. To carry off the Geisha look requires a greater investment in preparation time, as the mask-like make-up is an integral part of the character, but the resultant effect can be well worth the effort. Geisha wigs are of course available from us, here at Props & Frocks.

For those willing to put in an even greater preparation time, one stage on from the Geisha are the even more elaborate and exotic outfits, such as might be seen in Chinese Opera or a Japanese Kabuki or Noh play. Interest in this area of Chinese performing art arose with the Western adaptation of ‘Monkey – Journey to the West’ which received added publicity during the Olympics thanks to its use by the BBC. Here both the costuming and make-up are highly stylised and possibly beyond the scope of this document.

For the less formal look, there are a range of tunic and trouser ensembles such as one might see worn by an everyday Chinese worker. Although these may sound boring and dowdy, many costume versions are made of patterned materials, some in silk-like styles and can look both authentic and impressive in an under-stated way.

Despite the potential of the Orient and its costumes, at Props & Frocks purely Oriental themed events are fairly rare, so in our experience we find it helps to look at other opportunities to inject some Eastern elegance into some other popular themes.

For instance the James Bond-based theme continues to be popular and since the Bond books (and movies) have always had a thing about the Orient, a good number of the films (which most people are more familiar with) feature several oriental characters and outfits.

The first ever Bond movie in 1962, featured the fiendish Dr. No, although his lab-suit outfit with a water-cooler-type helmet is probably not the best party look (Difficult to eat, drink and talk in!). Odd-job, the Korean factotum in Goldfinger, was fiendish in a different way – a dab hand with the Karate chop and metal bowler-cum-frisbee.

Much of ‘You Only Live Twice’ was set in the Orient, notably Japan, so Ninjas and Geishas (plus a few female assistants in cheongsams) featured, and whilst in ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ Scaramanga had his island hideout off Thailand, much of the film is set in and around Hong Kong and Bangkok (including a martial arts school featuring some very feisty female karate students). ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ had action in the South China Seas and at Eliott Carvers HQ, again in Thailand. The opening sequence of Die Another Day is set on the North/South Korea border and is followed by a segment in Hong Kong where the enigmatically-named masseuse Peaceful Fountains of Desire attempts to compromise Bond at his hotel.

Whilst talking about movies more generally, there are a good number of other films featuring action in the East, although on many occasions the Orientals are the bad guys (and girls): The whole Kung Fu canon of movies featuring Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and the like probably have sufficient fans to require little further help from us and there are numerous outfits available for would-be Ninjas. However, although Hammer Studios are best known for Horror films such as Dracula, Frankenstein, etc., they did produce a number of movies featuring Christopher Lee (already an established Dracula) as the hypnotic Mandarin, Fu Manchu, with his fiendish plans for world domination.

Turning to the world of musical theatre, we have the extremes of The Mikado and Madam Butterfly. The Gilbert & Sullivan operetta of The Mikado proved very popular in its day and aside from the Mikado himself (an Emperor-like figure), principal characters include Ko-ko, the tailor-cum-Lord High Executioner; the hero, Wandering Minstrel Nanki-Poo and the object of both their affections Yum-yum. The story has been filmed many times and, as a variation, there is also Mike Leighs film Topsy-Turvy which is set around the creation of the operetta by Gilbert & Sullivan at a time when their partnership threatened to collapse.

More seriously dramatic are the events portrayed in Madame Butterfly, the tragic tale of a Japanese woman jilted by a faithless American naval officer. Potential for an interesting Couples set here! You may be able to think of other operas and musicals set in or inspired by the Far East from Puccinis Turandot to Miss Saigon and Chess.

The Far East has also influenced aspects of style-culture over the years: Although this is something of a two-way street China is now embracing parts of Western culture in much the same way as Russia did, and Japanese youth tends to favour western fashion trends and looks, over the more traditional dress. But even here the Far East is doing things its own way: The extreme cartoon-like looks of the Japanese influences of Manga and Anime animation are now reflected in the street-style fashions of the Harajuku, which in turn may be said to be influencing the recent trend towards shorter costume styles for females we are seeing here in the West.

Whatever your take on the Oriental theme, you can be sure that we can help at Props & Frocks, here are more of our Oriental costume ideas

Chinese New Year animals include:

  • Rat
  • Ox
  • Tiger
  • Rabbit
  • Dragon
  • Snake
  • Horse
  • Sheep
  • Monkey
  • Rooster
  • Dog
  • Pig

Red and gold are the main theme colours when it comes to the Chinese New Year.

And finally, some of our other Oriental Costume Ideas…

  • For a group of 3 of you how about one goes as a pea, one as a king and one as a duck!
  • Dress up as characters from Murder On The Orient Express
  • Dalai Lama wear a Budhist Costume
  • 3 Kings from the Nativity We 3 kings from orient are bearing gifts
  • Super Mario Brothers
  • Sonic The Hedgehog both of these games were designed by the Japanese

 

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