Designing Clothes Telling Stories


As Mrs Woolf (or Ms Stephen) succinctly puts, the clothes we wear make us feel a certain way , behave a certain way and direct others to read us in a certain way.

Clothes conceal as much as they reveal.

This I know but have never felt as keenly as when I decided to don the hijab, the female Muslim headscarf. I am still the same ME but perceived differently because of my hijab. Some treat me with more deference while others approach me with curiosity and care. Amused, annoyed, touched and irritated (rarely) by various reactions, I breathe and smile on.  What I have on my head and around my shoulders is a signifier that I happily put on. Where people used to be confused by my religion and race, I am now undeniably and  glaringly a Muslim. My headscarf shouts it so. Look beyond this covering and you’ll see that I am a Hainanese-Hakka Chinese who loves beautiful things, a good conversation, laughing out loud, going on long walks, breathing Theatre and making Art.


There are of course other stories of costuming oneself all around us: An easy-going relative with a slouchy-casual style was mistaken to be the household help; Mr K, my significant Other, was assumed to be Indonesian by fellow Singaporeans because he was wearing batik, a fabric synonymous with the country. The relative has since become more aware and careful about clothing choices whereas my Other half continues to enjoy the elegant comfort and shifting identities a batik shirt offers.



In life, our dress conceal and reveal. We make decisions all the time about what to conceal and what to reveal.

On stage where life is mirrored and magnified, the choices made must be even more conscious and deliberate: colours, shapes, texture, weight, size. Effective costume design reveals aspects of the characters, the relationship between them and enhances the story-telling. It helps actors bring their characters to life.

How do we then ensure costumes do what they are meant to do?

For me,

It always begin with a conversation, the text and ideas,


followed by generation of ideas and sketches,


more conversations, agreements


and sourcing of materials.



Not forgetting the shoes!

Measuring, cutting, problem-solving, putting the pieces together.


Fitting, fine-tuning and checking they work.


Photo credit: Set Designer XY



Finally when everything is done and the curtain falls, mucking around and attempting to create Warholian images of the cast in costume!


End Note

The costumes above are designed by Nasyitah Tan Wah Ling for Yellow Chair Production’s (Mono)Play in November 2014.


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