Some costumes have made an indelible mark, becoming so memorable they are capable of calling to mind an entire show with one outfit. Here, in no particular order, are some of the most iconic costumes in Broadway history.
1. There's an old-fashioned adage that redheads shouldn't wear red. And yet, one of the most famous redheads in American culture — Little Orphan Annie — is most famous for wearing a fire-engine red dress. The dress, and the scrappy orphan who made it famous, originated in the Little Orphan Annie comic strip created by Harold Gray in 1924, but is now most famous for the 1976 musical version, Annie. Although the dress has taken on different forms in its history (including various collar shapes and, in the original strip, patterned red fabric), the most iconic incarnation features a white Peter Pan collar, short sleeves with cuffs, and a white belt. And, of course, it's best accessorized by a scruffy canine companion.
2. In the novel "The Phantom of the Opera" by Gaston Leroux, the mysterious figure of the title is described only as wearing a black mask to hide the entirety of a hideously deformed face. In various adaptations of the story the mask changed design, including a blue incarnation in the 1943 film version. In the 1986 musical version the mask became white and smooth, and covers only half of the Phantom's face. Although the show's world-famous logo has made it arguably the most recognizable mask in the world, it's interesting to note that the mask featured in the logo design (which features coverage for the top half of the face) doesn't actually match the mask worn in the show (which only covers the left side of the face).
3. Harry Potter might be the most famous bespectacled scarf-wearer in recent pop culture, but not on the Broadway stage. That honor goes to the character of Mark in the 1994 phenomenon Rent. Embodied originally by Anthony Rapp and costumed by Angel Wendt, aspiring filmmaker Mark's glasses and chunky black-and-white striped scarf captured the spirit of the poor artists struggling to stay warm and live La Vie Bohème on the lower East side in the mid-90s. In a show full of costumes that made their mark (who can forget Mimi's blue vinyl pants?), it's the jaunty scarf of the show's narrator that has become the most iconic.
4. The idea behind A Chorus Line — inspired by the lives and stories of several Broadway chorus dancers, many of whom starred in the show — is that it represents Broadway dancers as authentically as possible. As such, the costumes for the show (designed by Theoni V. Aldredge) look like the range of leotards, tee shirts and character shoes you might find at any dance call in 1975. But in amongst this line, one stands out; the red long-sleeved and short-skirted leotard of Cassie. Cassie, too good to belong in a chorus anymore, looks too elegant to blend in. And, when she and her leotard take on the dynamo number "The Music and the Mirror," it's hard to believe anyone would be able to watch anyone else.
5. It seems fitting that a show about the Demon Barber of Fleet Street would feature hairstyles that have become iconic. The look of the title character of Sweeney Todd and his murderous companion, Mrs. Lovett, were indelibly set in the original 1979 production on its stars, Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury (the costumes were by Franne Lee, with hair and wig design by Lyn Quiyou): whitened Grand Guignol makeup, distressed pants and suspenders that have seen better days, and an apron for Mrs. Lovett that will come to have some disgusting things smeared on it. But it's Sweeney's center-parted hair, somehow both innocent and sinister, and Mrs. Lovett's red, messy, and quirky double buns, that most distinctly defined the characters.
6. There are plenty of sailor suits that have graced Broadway stages (looking at you, On the Town), but none have quite the impact of the one worn by nurse Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. It's Nellie's costume for the Thanksgiving Pageant in which she appears as a swaggering guy bragging about his delicate "honey bun" (played by the distinctly unfeminine Luther Billis in coconut-bra drag). A funny moment of gender flipping in a setting where the roles of men and women were very distinctly defined, the cartoonishly oversized suit captures perfectly Nellie's sunny, funny, disposition, and brings a moment of levity to a characters whose lives are overshadowed by war.
7. Every once in a while a costume comes along that creates its own fashion language. Such was the case with the 1999 dance musical Contact. Made up of three one-act plays, it was the last of the evening that featured a lonely businessman who comes to a mysterious dive bar, where he encounters a swing-dancing dream girl. Although the rest of the dancers are dressed in sexy black and red outfits (the costumes were designed by William Ivey Long who, as the costume designer of Chicago, knows from sexy black outfits), the girl, a Hitchcock blonde originally played by Deborah Yates, wears a simple dress in a color rarely considered sexiest — bright yellow. And yet she (and the sunny shade) so effortlessly dominates the scene that the character is known simply as "The Girl in the Yellow Dress."
8. Glamorous entrances in glamorous gowns at the top of glamorous staircases have been a hallmark of entertainment probably as long as those elements have existed. But no show captures the moment better than Hello, Dolly! with Dolly Levi's entrance into the Harmonia Gardens restaurant. In the original 1964 production, star Carol Channing wore a glittering red beaded gown with an ornate necklace, opera gloves, and a headdress of red ostrich feathers that would be right at home in one of Ziegfeld's follies (the costume was designed by Freddy Wittop). It's the perfect dress for making an entrance, and its capital-g Glamour ensures that the entire room, and indeed audience, knows that Dolly is indeed back where she belongs.
9. Having humans play animals onstage can be tricky, and having humans play animals that are already instantly recognizable all over the world can be even trickier. But when artist and director Julie Taymor created the costumes for her musical adaptation of the massively popular Disney film The Lion King, she took her inspiration not only from the film but also from Africa and her own aesthetic and experience with theatrical mask and puppet design. The series of costumes she created became instantly iconic on their own. Although many of the costumes for the animals of Pride Rock feature complex pieces (some of them mechanized) her costume for Simba, the young lion who grows to become king, is simpler. It leaves the actor free to move around with the restless energy that defines the leonine prince, but features a lion's head mask (designed with Michael Curry) that is worn on the head like a crown, fitting for the king Simba is destined to become.
10. This is the original cast of Hair, but the most memorable costumes in the show aren't pictured — or rather, they are, but under the costumes worn here. Because sometimes, the most iconic costumes in Broadway history don't include clothing.