I need to write a response to this prompt for Hot Mikado.  Focusing on Nanki-Poo's main costumes, please analyze how the psychology of his character is present or is not present in his clothing in...

I need to write a response to this prompt for Hot Mikado.  Focusing on Nanki-Poo's main costumes, please analyze how the psychology of his character is present or is not present in his clothing in Act 1 and Act 2.  Please use specific details when discussing the two main looks and if they were successful or not for highlighting his psychology (this includes color, fit of his clothing, patterns that may be present, are the clothes in good condition or disrepair, etc. and how they apply to the character's psychology).

Expert Answers
Karyth Cara eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Each production of an play will show a good deal of latitude in costuming. Consequently, unless we know we are seeing the same production of a play, we can't talk about costuming details with any clarity. We can, however, discuss general costuming tendencies, often dictated by the script itself, and compare how given illustrations of tendencies do or do not present a successful representation of a character's psychological features.

I'll discuss an Act I costume for Nanki-Poo from one production, then discuss an Act II costume from an entirely different production. It will be useful as well as interesting to see the similarities and differences in how, and how successfully, each approach to costuming reveals character psychology.

Act I - Nanki-Poo

  • Gray colored fedora hat with darker gray band; jaunty leftward slant and lowered left-brow brim.
  • Gray fedora hat catches changing spotlight colors, e.g., gold and pink.
  • White shirt, open throat.
  • Light gray silk tie; catches changing spotlight colors.
  • Black suit; black suspenders.
  • Black patent leather shoes; no white spats or white accents.
  • Black hair, even.

Act II - Nanki-Poo

  • Dark gray fedora hat with black band.
  • Dark periwinkle blue shirt, buttoned up.
  • Black suit, buttoned up; pocket handkerchief same silk as tie.
  • Lighter shade of blue silk tie.
  • Black patent leather shoes with white top-accents, not white spats.

Admittedly, there are strong similarities between Nanki-Poo's costuming in these two different productions. Still, there is enough difference to make an interesting psychological analysis and comparison worthwhile.

Psychology of Act I Costuming

Two striking features stand out. One is the black/white binary contrast: black hair, suspenders, suit, shoes, tie; white shirt. The second is the responsiveness of the fedora hat and the silk tie to changing spotlight colors.

Colors are traditionally associated with and are symbolic of emotion, thoughts, character traits and psychological states. While gray may associate with and symbolize gloom, hiding, reserve, the change of gray to gold, pink, bright blue, or whatever color the spotlight throws, cancels the typical psychological presentation of gray to a rainbow of joy, innocence, honesty and nobility, as is associated with gold.

Nanki-Poo's gray fedora hat, all by itself, tells that he is hiding from someone for some reason but that the reason is not that he is dark and sinister. In contrast, he is noble, cheerful and innocent, i.e., pink, trustworthy, true and honest, i.e., rich blues. This depth and richness of psychological traits, which cancel the typical symbolic meaning of gray, is supported  and enhanced by the silk tie that similarly glows, shines, and changes color under the changing spotlight colors.

Nanki-Poo's suit coat reveals further psychological information. It is not buttoned up--nor is his shirt buttoned all the way to the top--allowing his black suspenders to flash out into view at random moments. The absence of stiff formality, which is symbolized by the unbuttoned buttons, reveals the absence of arrogance and the presence of spontaneity, relaxed outlook and joyful engagement with life.

Nanki-Poo's costuming as described here is an excellent representation of the psychological presentation as discovered in the script. We can conclude that the costume designer caught a true and accurate psychological picture of Nanki-Poo and represented it effectively and successfully in this Act I costume.

Psychology of Act II Costuming

The things that are most striking in Nanki-Poo's Act II costuming in the second production are (1) the strongly contrasting black hat band, (2) the buttoned up buttons, (3) the stiffly folded pocket handkerchief, and (4) the white accents on black patent leather shoes (patent leather is hard and shiny).

Based on the script of the play, we can agree that Nanki-Poo's psychological presentation is as represented by the Act I costuming in the first production:

  • innocent
  • noble
  • trustworthy
  • spontaneous
  • cheerful
  • not arrogant
  • joyful

The things mentioned above as being most striking in Nanki-Poo's Act II costume contradict the psychological presentation as discovered in the script and introduce conflicting emotional, cognitive and psychological features into Nanki-Poo's character. In other words, the costume designer had more of an eye for show and flare than for psychological understanding of Nanki-Poo or for representing that pshychology in costume.

The introduction of the black hat band, strongly contrasting with the gray fedora, adds a symbol of repressed villany and subversiveness, of untrustworthiness. There is a showy visual balance between the black hat band at the top and the black shoes at the bottom, but the visual balance is achieved at the sacrifice of successful psychological representation.

The buttoned up buttons, on the suit coat and the shirt, symbolize the psychological qualities of rigidity, emotional stiffness, artificial order, order perhaps attained through manipulation. These traits are accentuated by the stiffly folded pocket handkerchief, folded in a pocket-sized shape with just a sleek slice of color showing above the pocket opening. These costuming designs are again showy but contradict the psychological characteristics revealed in the play script.

The last touch of showy visual effect in conflict with psychological effect is the white accents of white top and side stripes on shiny black shoes. Black and white contrast symbolizes psychological rigidity, loss of innocence (innocence lost by coming to know good and evil, light and dark), and unyielding solidity of cognitive, emotional and psychological states.

Nanki-Poo's costuming here has failed to represent accurate psychological presentation. These costume design choices have represented a Nanki-Poo who is at variance with the character being portrayed in the script. Nanki-Poo's Act II costuming in the second production is ineffective in terms of psychological representation of the character and has not been successful at enlightening the audience as to Nanki-Poo's psychological presentation.