Monday, March 28, 2011

The Medieval Rennaissance

My days in rentals frequently go like this:
Me: "Hi, how may I help you?"
Customer: "Fine, how are you?"
Me:......."I'm well, thank you.  How are you?"
Customer: "I need something Medieval."
Me: "That's great, we have lots of Medieval costumes!  What is your project?"
Customer: "Oh, I'm in a play, that's why I need a Renaissance costume."
Me: "Wait, so you need a Renaissance costume?"
Customer: "Yeah."
Me: "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you said Medieval."
Customer: "I did, I need a Medieval Renaissance costume." 

That tricky Medieval Renaissance, it gets us all at some point in our lives.  Like using apostrophes in non-possessive plurals, the terms medieval and renaissance are frequently erroneously used interchangeably to describe the centuries in Europe somewhere around 1100 AD and 1600 AD (sweet! That sentence sounded smart).  I am here to tell you my friends, Romans, and countrymen, that the years considered Medieval and the years considered Renaissance are not the same, and it's important to know the difference.  Why, you ask?  For similar reasons it's important to recognize the difference between the American Revolutionary War and World War Two.  Or to just sound smart at parties.

Let me paint you a picture of life in Medieval times.... the year is 1100 AD in a place someday known as Europe.  Your neighbor, Rome, is just getting over a whole slew of problems and has basically left you to your own devices.  You're still trying to figure out why this guy called the Pope thinks he's the king, the Islamic community is telling you that IV is really 4 (whatever that means, since you probably can't read), while you're still trying to grasp the concept of this crazy thing called "the button".  You can build some pretty cool cathedrals, though.  And you're excited to join your friends on a little trip they've dubbed The Crusades.

It was a very dark age.  Things were not very technologically advanced.  Clothing wasn't complicated, so when trying to determine if a costume piece is medieval or renaissance, ask yourself if it looks hard to make.
Look for tunics and simple silhouettes, as well as cyclas (basically a rectangle with a hole in the middle for the head, worn down the back and chest).
Women wore full length, loosely fitting dresses with tight wrist length sleeves as well as the cyclas.  Eventually flared sleeves were added to the tight sleeves.

For good medieval clothing movie references, watch "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves", and "Kingdom of Heaven". I make no promises over how good the movies themselves are, just the costumes.

Now for Renaissance!  Its picture is much rosier.  Renaissance roughly means "born again", and is sometimes referred to as the age of enlightenment.  The year is closer to 1500 AD, and thanks to the Italians, Europe has grown an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.  They've just survived the plague and are feeling pretty good about life.  Nearly every aspect of life is flourishing from this fresh approach to study; philosophy, science, politics, literature, religion, and especially art are advancing, and fast.  Famous renaissance artists include Michelangelo (the statue of David and the Sistine Chapel), Da Vinci (the Mona Lisa), and the Bard himself, Shakespeare.  Queen Elizabeth the first occupied the throne, and life was a peach.  

Renaissance clothing is all about extravagance.  Corsets for women came into vogue, combined with hoop skirts giving the silhouette a very exaggerated look. 

Men wore linen shirts under doublets (a kind of fitted jacket), with a jerkin over that (another fitted jacket but without sleeves).  Codpieces made their appearance (if you don't know what that is, I'm not going to tell you), and hose for the legs.  Yes men, you were the first to wear pantyhose. 
In the picture above, Geoffrey Rush is wearing a doublet (the long dark sleeves) and a jerkin (the matching bodice piece), with short puffy pants and hose.  This comes from the best movie I can recommend for appreciating Renaissance clothing, which is "Shakespeare In Love".

Here's a run down of the basic differences between Medieval and Renaissance.   
Medieval: Dark Ages.
Renaissance: Age of Enlightenment.   
Medieval: Slim silhouettes.   
Renaissance: Exaggerated silhouettes.
Medieval: Tunics.  Lots of 'em.   
Renaissance: Very structured doublets, jerkins, and puffy pants for men; corsets and hoop skirts for women.   
Medieval: Robin Hood and King Arthur.  
  Renaissance: Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth.
These two time periods really are tricky to differentiate when faced with costume upon costume, though it is important to know the difference.  This only skims the surface of these two very different times, but hopefully this gives you some kind of guidance the next time you're in search of a costume.  Or need to sound impressive at parties.



Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Wonderful World of Mehron

              We sell many brands of theatrical makeup, but the main three are Ben Nye, Wolf, and Mehron.  Most people are familiar with Ben Nye (not the Science guy, that's Bill Nye), as it seems to have been around for forever and is a very good product.  Wolf is the newbie to the makeup circuit and is proving itself very nicely.  Mehron is the surprise: it's been around for eighty years (vs Ben Nye's forty), performs excellently, and in some cases surpasses its younger peers (like in spirit gum).  We just got a lovely order of Mehron in and wanted to take a moment to showcase some of it.  Such as....

           Makeup brushes.  It's amazing how much your makeup brush will make or break your project.  Case in point: a woman came into the store one day, almost in tears.  Her son was in a production of Oliver at his school, and the director was relying on students' mothers to be volunteer makeup artists.  Specifically, these women (who had very, very limited theatrical makeup skills) were asked to paint 80 kids in old age makeup in a very short span of time.  Anyone who's done old age knows it ain't easy.  The women had a practice session the night before, and this particular mother was mocked for her terrible skills.  Not wanting to be embarrassed again, she came to us for help.  After talking with her, demonstrating a few techniques, and even letting her practice on me, we discovered the she didn't lack the talent or understanding, she lacked decent brushes.  We set her up with the brushes she needed, and she left feeling one hundred times better.

          We've also brought in these cool little palettes with multiple colors, called the Prisma BlendSet.     
These little gems are great for face-painting children, as not only do you have a lot of colors at your disposal without taking up a lot of space, you can also drag your makeup brush across the palette then directly across the face to create an instant rainbow.

And of course, not to be forgotten are the airbrush paints.
Utah Makeup Artists, rejoice!  There is finally a good resource for your airbrush paints!

               There are many other things from Mehron we've brought in, like eyelashes and other fun tools and paints.  If you want to learn more about the company, check out their website at , especially to look at the beautiful and fantastic makeup ideas they've posted.  Or drop by the store where we'll talk shop and show you a sample or two.   

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cream makeup vs Cake

To use cake makeup, or use cream makeup, that is the question.  Whether 'tis nobler on the face to use one over the other must give us pause.   Before I get into the pros and cons of each, let me explain what they are in the first place, and why you need either at all.

From doing a play to dressing up for Halloween, street makeup (such as Cover Girl) will usually only take you so far and stay on your face for so long.  Stage makeup catches light better than street makeup, covers better, lasts longer, usually retains better pigment, and is often easier to work with for finer detail.  Popular manufacturers of stage makeup are Ben Nye, Mehron, and Wolf, all three good for different reasons.  Within those brands are offered either cake makeups or cream.

Cake (the larger foundation in the photo above) is a dry sort of compressed powder that is activated by wetting your sponge or your brush for application.  You can use water or, if you need the makeup to be water proof, liquiset.  When water-based it is easy to remove and is light on the skin, making it good for those with very sensitive skin (and ideal for things like face painting children).

Cream makeup (the smaller foundation in the photo) is oil based and applied with a dry sponge or brush.  Because it doesn't dry like the cake makeup, it requires powder to be sealed, or a spray of liquiset.  It lasts longer than the cake applied with water, covers latex appliances better (such as a witch's nose), and is generally better at reflecting light.

Because all of the lovely ladies who work at this store have experience in stage makeup, I asked everyone which they preferred, hoping I could declare a clear winner between cake or cream.  It didn't help me.

In Cake's corner we have Dot, who likes it because it's easy to fix or remove when she makes a mistake.  Wolfie likes how light it feels when it's on.  Ash praises its easy application, clean look, and longevity.  Jez prefers cake for full body coverage.

In Cream's corner we have Laura who loves its longevity and its ability to blend.  She dislikes cake for how easily it sweats off.  Jez prefers cream for details, latex coverage, and to both hide and create tattoos.  

I too am in Cream's corner and here's why:  To achieve consistency with cake, you must dampen your sponge or brush with the same amount of water every time.  I lack that ability, which results in one swipe being too dry and faint, while the next swipe is too wet and streaky and then it dries before I can fix it so I end up having to take it off and try again.  I also prefer creams because I frequently use my fingers to manipulate the makeup, which is harder to do with cake.  Creams also make it easier to mix your own colors on a palette , they run faster, jump higher, resolve the national budget crisis, and I digress.

Ultimately, both have their place and there's no rule saying you can't use both at the same time for different things.  The rule of all art is to experiment, play around with both until you discover which works best in what ways for what you need to do.               


Thursday, March 3, 2011


         Welcome to Mask Costumes! We're a full service little costume shop in Salt Lake City, Utah.  I'm the costume rentals manager, and after spending an afternoon in a seat belt crash-test simulator dressed as the princess Belle and arguing with Cinderella about how the incident was her fault and that she'd better have insurance, I realized something:

Thanks to the costume shop, I (and my coworkers) get to experience a lot of the more unique things in life.

      In what other occupations can you so readily end up on a reality TV show pilot without even auditioning, or find yourself discussing with Disney what costumes will work for their project.                                                                                  *coughcoughHighSchoolMusicalcough*

A moment from the TLC show "Outrageous Kid Parties", featuring our costumes.  Photo thanks to The Castle in Layton, Ut.

         There is only a handful of us employees at the store, but we have stories that are begging to be told and an abundance of knowledge (both legitimate and random) of the costume/makeup/wig/theatrical world to share.  And we *love* sharing what we've learned.  Over this blog I hope to not only impart some anecdotal incidents but also give tips and answer questions (please send me questions).  It can be a scary thing, finding the costumes you need for that work presentation, or figuring out how to apply old age makeup to 170 elementary school kids without having any kind of makeup background.  Our experience is your easy button.  And hopefully, along the road of this mysterious world of "blog", we'll help you to not only feel comfortable in the world of costuming, but a welcome part of is as well.