The sun is coming out far more often and yesterday, despite wearing a light, linin suit, after my second gig of the day the tie I had around my neck was literally damp to the touch. So why was I wearing a tie and three piece whilst working in a hot environment, with sparklers, dancing, and plenty of people?
I thought you might like to know the considerations and choices a magician has when choosing clothing for a close up gig. Of course, this doesn’t apply to performing on stage where all bets are off, though I’ll touch on female magicians, this is from a man’s perspective.
So come with me as we stroll through the considerations of a magician making that morning’s sartorial choices.
“I always dress as I have somewhere better to go afterwards” - Michael Vincent
I cannot tell you just how important pockets are to me as a magician. With them I can walk around without having the need for a bag to carry various different bits and bobs, dispose of used up or unwanted items, actually use them during routines as I literally build them into the act… Look, pockets are just handy. Indeed, one of the most frequent grumbles I hear from many of my female colleagues is the lack of pocket space available to them. Stories of having to get seam lines opened to have pockets added or, even more bizarrely to my male ears, having to turn fake pockets* into actual pockets just so they have someplace to leave a few props makes me realise that any grumbles I have over a deck of cards ruining the line of my suit are minor. In fact, the need for pockets in my act is so ingrained that a few weeks back I picked up a new pair of trousers to go with a jacket and waistcoat combination. I put them on for the first time at the gig and then realised – to my genuine horror – that my left cheek was pocket-less! This one small change threw off my set-up massively, I spent the whole gig feeling disorientated, and I’ve never worn those damn trousers again.
I mentioned him a few weeks ago, but if you’ve ever seen Michael Vincent perform, you’ll know his dress is always immaculate. I know that he’s been highly influenced by his mother, who never let Michael leave the house looking scruffy but, like every good performer, he understands that the way you dress say’s just as much about you as the words you use. Michael once passed on a piece of advice to me. "I always dress as I have something better to go afterwards."
This idea ties in exactly with the way I’ve always thought of my clothing when performing. I always try to dress one ‘step’ up the scale. To demonstrate what I mean, I’m going to use this rather spiffy graphic from the Gentleman’s Gazette.
When doing an event, I’ll find out if there is a dress code, and then dress up. By going to the next rung along I’m setting myself apart, but I’m still accessible. For example, when I’ve worked somewhere like Roof East where the clientele are dressed casually and it’s a relaxed, informal atmosphere, I wouldn’t turn up wearing a black tie, that would just look weird. I’ll wear something that, broadly, is smart casual. Conversely, when I occasionally work at Mr Foggs I’m in Mayfair, and – depending on the day – the clients tend to be business people having relaxing after work, or groups who have booked to have a more high end afternoon drink. Here, anything less than very smart cocktail wouldn’t work at all. Of course there are a plethora of exceptions, but magicians who break this simple rule and remain successful are those who have put a massive amount of thought and effort into their appearance. Not only that, but occasionally they have had to sacrifice gigs because they are not willing to compromise their more unique look to ‘fit in’.
Of course, your dress isn’t necessarily dictated by the dress code of others. Maybe there is a theme, a certain look that people have asked for. Though thankfully I’ve never had to, I know plenty of people who’ve worked in fancy dress. When the person hiring you is dictating what you should wear, life becomes a whole lot harder and staples you rely on can become utterly impossible. Then there is always the simple fact that at times, you need to just dress appropriately, no matter what others are wearing. Whenever I perform at the Magic Circle I will wear a formal cocktail suit. Michael goes a step further, and will only perform in black tie because ‘the building demands it’. This is despite the fact we both know that the vast majority of people attending will be in casual clothing, occasionally verging on the scruffy.
Most importantly a magician has to ask themselves what tricks they are going to perform. If I’m going to be doing something uses a notebook, what trade in do I have to make between portability, and the ability of people to read it? What I mean is this; though I can easily buy a little notebook that’ll slip inside my breast pocket, that might not be readable by anyone at the table not directly next to me. A bigger pad will be easier to read, but suddenly that has to go in a hip pocket and might well stick out the top, which is not a very good look at all. Add to that things such as cups, wands, mini-rings, sponge balls, rubix cubes, coins pens, and a myriad of other props, there is a very good reason why most magicians travel with only a handful of the tricks they are capable of.
I know Laura London has made a lack of pockets inherent to women clothes into a strength, and now her act is literally just her and a deck of cards. Clean, crisp, and classic. Then there are some performers who bring a bag with them going table to table. This allows them a huge amount of leeway with what they can perform, but personally this isn’t something I ever do. I like the casual freedom of wandering up totally unencumbered. My pockets are full but well ordered, containing only what I need to do my set and hopefully not too bulging. Of course, in some corner or other room there is a bag spilling cards, scrap paper, glue, and heavens know what else all over the place…
What was the final point of this blog? Having re-read the whole thing, I think what I’m really trying to say is that I need a new suit.
Paul's Edinburgh “Illusions of Depression” will be showing at Tollbooth Market, Gladstone’s Court, EH8 8BN from the 15th August to the 25th August.
*Seriously, what is the point of these?