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Importance of Costume in Nigerian Video Film

Importance of Appropriate Costume in Nigerian Video Film


This thesis studies the importance of costume design for an effective video film production. It further investigates the challenges faced by costume designers in the Nigerian Video Film Industry. For effective investigation of the subject, the research has been based on critical viewing of some Nigerian video film. These video films were selected using stratified random sampling technique also known as probability sampling technique and the use of simple random sampling technique was also employed. The analytical methodology was also used. Hence, existing literature on the subject were reviewed. Information gathered from this research work shows that most costume designers in the industry lack educational back-up, professional skills and commitment, while some who are professionals aim at achieving appropriateness of design in relation to character being portrayed, but are hindered by certain factors. These factors includes, budget, indiscipline on the part of ‘super actors and actresses’, lack of cooperation by film production crew and short time for research before production shooting. Based on the critical analysis of two films used in this study; one contemporary traditional setting and one epic setting, many short comings have been identified; inappropriate portrayal of the tribe being portrayed, inappropriate use of colour and line in costuming and inappropriate use of colour to depict character’s mood. From these findings, the study has been able to establish that for an effective video film production, the services of a professional costume designer is needed, and the cooperation of all other production crew members with the costume designer is indeed important.



1.1 Background to the study

Professionalism is important with the effective functioning of any business and to the success of any individual. Webster online dictionary defines professionalism as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or make a profession or a professional person”. According to Miller, professionalism can accurately be described as the set of behaviours that one would hope to find in a co-worker, like good work ethic, appropriate attire and physical appearance, effective communication, courtesy and good interpersonal skills (1). For Miller, professionals are punctual, dress appropriately for the work environment, acknowledge and learn from mistake, exercise control over their emotions and the language they use, act as team players and consistently perform at “the top of their game” (2). Some people believe that one can be a professional simply by working in a professional environment for so long, but that is not true.

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “a professional is a person who is paid to undertake a specialized set of tasks and to complete them for a fee”. The traditional professions were doctors, engineers, lawyers, architects and commissioned military officers but today, the term is applied to nurses, accountants, educators, scientists, technology, experts, social workers, artists and many more. There are seven main criteria according to Wikipedia a professional should have:

Expert and specialized knowledge in field which one is practicing professionally; excellent manual/practical and literary skills in relation to profession; high quality work; a high standard of professional ethics, behaviour and work activities while carrying out one’s profession; reasonable work morale and motivation; appropriate treatment of relationships with colleagues and a professional is an expert who is a master in a specific field (3).

Just as there is professionalism in so many fields aforementioned, there is also professionalism in stage and screen productions. In the theatre, there are professionals handling various aspects of the theatre for the success of any stage production. Some professionals artists are in the business theatre, while some in the academic theatre. The ones in the business theatre put their productions for money. Both the crew members and actors in the business theatre are mostly professionals who have taken acting as their profession and from it they earn their livelihood.

This study is concerned with professionalism as it regards to video film production. For a video film to be successful, so many professionals handling different areas like the director, producer, makeup artist, lighting designer, editor, costume designer and so many must come together to make it work. This study looks at the importance of accurate costume in a video film production and how a professional costume designer can go a long way to pass across the director’s intended message through the use of costume. But professionalism in the area of costume in some Nigerian video film production is gradually declining. There is reason to believe that this decline might continue, and if not looked into might accelerate. This is why Okilagwe states that “… there is apparent lack of adequate and appropriate professional skills much needed for the development, production and exhibition of films for value system re-orientation that could bring about social change that spells modernity” (57). In other to reverse this, decline the services of a creative, professional costume designer is needed in any video film production.

Film may be regarded as cultural artifacts created by specific cultures which reflects and affect them. Film is considered as an important art form, a source of entertainment and a method of educating or indoctrinating the citizen of a society. It is a medium of mass communication which is very powerful when effectively packaged and employed. According to Okonkwo, the film medium is unique because “it transcends and surmounts the functional barriers of language and culture difference by the combination of the creative and communicative qualities of visual and audio effect” (72).

The Nigerian video film is a vital medium of entertainment and education to viewers. Significantly, it serves the functions of cultural propagation and preservation of ethical values. It has remained a veritable means of mass mobilization: hence can be an influential force in changing human perception. In the early days, the Nigerian video film has been used to reflect and shape human views, norms and attitude. For over many decades now, the video film medium has explored stories rooted in things happening within the Nigerian society. Video films have served as cultural preservation and promotion to non-Nigerians through the use of costume.

Costume remains one of the most understood and under appreciated film making art. Far in excess of merely ‘dressing’ an actor for their role, costume is discourse. A film can be read via costume; sometimes overtly, sometimes sub-textually. In movies, even the most rudimentary item of clothing can be a message the director wants to pass across to his viewers. Costume in video films is the language through which visual statements are made. They are therefore categorized as “cultural documents” (Asiegbu, 7). An assessment in some Nigerian video film productions show that most times costume is not well   treated in film production meeting. The costume designer finds it hard to carry out a qualitative research on the background of the tradition, culture or attire of the people that are about to be portrayed on screen. Some costume designers hardly go through the processes a costume designer is supposed to go through before finally arriving at a particular costume for the actor. Even the colour combination that is supposed to help bring out the mood of a character becomes difficult. When this research is not carried out, there is bound to be wrong picture painted on the part of costume by the costume designer.

A professional costume designer needs to be artistic, creative and detail-oriented; who contributes greatly in bringing out the inner meaning of a film production, through the use of appropriate costume. The costume designer usually establishes the identity and personality of characters by designing the production. He/she must be knowledgeable about combining design elements of colour and fabric textures to create fashion statement in a performance. Through film, costume can be used to affect the society. This is based on the ability of the costume designer’s creativity to reflect the socio-cultural life of the environment in which the story revolves. Thus, a costume designer is influenced by his/her society.

Before embarking on any video film production, the costume designer must read the script thoroughly to learn about the personalities of the characters. If the production is contemporary or epic, the costume designer researches the clothing style worn in that era. If a production is set in the future or has a unique theme, the costume designer consults with the director to interpret that vision into the costumes. All these are very important because without appropriate relation or interpretation of the visual designs, especially costume, the viewer might have a misunderstanding of the video film total message.

In preparing to costume a particular video film, the costume designer should create an initial design sketches by hand which is an important highly valued skill. Once the director approves the sketches, which illustrate details of fabric texture and distinguishing accessories such as jewelry, shoes, hats  and mask if any in colours the costume designer moves to action. A good costume designer needs to be experienced in pattern making and sewing to explain the details of how a costume is to be constructed to an assistant or a dress maker. He/she also manage and stay within the production costume budget.

There are a lot of roles costumes can play in video film production. It helps the viewer to understand the nature of characters on screen. It tells the viewers a lot about a character during a production, including his age, social status, occupation and era. Costume has over the years been recognized as vital parts of video film design. It should succinctly expose character’s personality and their status in their immediate social environment. Similarly, it should also be clear in revealing the actor’s tastes and idiosyncrasies. Costume is one medium that goes along way to establish the relationship between characters; the way costumes are used should help to establish connection between characters or group of characters.

Costumes should be able to communicate an actor’s mood; for instance, costume of bright colours or bold design may indicate happiness and such costume might even brighten up the mood of the viewer seeing the movie.  It should be made to meet the needs of actor. Actor’s costumes need to adequately suit the type of work they have to do in any video film production. Actors have to be able to move freely in a costume if there is a combat scene, they need to have clothing that will help them stay safe.

Costumes should also meet the style of a production; whether it is a contemporary story or epic, the costume should help the viewer understand what type of production he is seeing. It can also help the viewer figure out in which historical period a video film is set as well as he locale in which it occurs. As with all design elements, costume need to fit in with the over all cohesive picture. The sets, lights, costumes and other elements all need to seem to be of the same world.

Some producers and directors of the Nigerian video film paint pictures not merely larger than life, but indeed extra-ordinary. Oftentimes these video films are dominated with flamboyant costume, exaggerated make-up, extravagantly furnished mansions, unnecessary display of wealth and the use of fashionable vehicles not in harmony with the realities on ground. In agreement with this statement, Adesanya States that “aesthetically…this is regrettably the métier of the home video movies, gaudy costumes, vulgarly furnished mansions and exotic vehicles “ (19).

Costumes should be able to fill in the gap of what a viewer might miss in the course of the actor’s verbal delivery. Hence, the need for professionals in the area of costume is indeed important for an effective video film production.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Costume is an essential feature of any dramatic production which constitutes the total visual appearance of the actor. It is an important fact of acting, therefore should not be seen by the costume designer as mere covering or beautification of an actor.

Costume designers in some Nigerian video films rarely put in effort or thorough research into the culture that is about to be portrayed. This makes costume worn by actors in some Nigerian video films full of exaggeration and unrealistic with the realities on ground. Costume is no longer seen as an essence of identity by the costume designer, but a means to show case the actor’s curves and beauty. It is no longer seen as an aspect of video film production that needs to be taken seriously forgetting that there are a lot of messages about a film that only costume can help to pass across to the viewer. Some Nigerian costume designers lack creativity, educational back-up, professional skills and commitment. For a way forward, this area of specialization calls for a critical study.

1.3 Aims of the study

This study aims at critically appraising the costume designs in some Nigerian video films Akwa-Ugo and His Royal majesty, with a view to determine their level of effectiveness and creativity by the costume designer. Also the need for professional skills in the area of costume design for an effective video film production and to draw attention to the importance of costume as it can go a long way to inform and educate viewers on the cultures of Nigeria as they sit in the comfort of their homes.

This study also aim at influencing costume designers to create designs that would transform the actors into the  characters they are playing so as to establish the tone and style of the movie.

1.4 Significance of the Study

The study is expected to make way for other scholars to go into further research. It can also help students who wish to learn more about costume designing for video film production. It shall draw attention to the potentials of costumes in the communication chain and how costume can be the basis of a realistic interpretation and transformation of actors which can be used in an attempt to understand the situation in the society and its history, and also to bring to the door step of viewers the societal norms and values. It shall also give a full link on the duties of a professional costume designer in any video film production.

1.5 Scope and Organization of the work

The primary concern of this research is to elucidate the importance of appropriate costume in Nigerian video film. In-depth analytical attention will be given to concept such as costume design, costume designer and film while interrogating these issues.

The scope of the study covers two Nigerian video films as representational paradigms of the many video films produced in the Nigerian movie industry. The video films are Akwa-ugo and His Royal majesty. The study involves a critical analysis of costume, its less communicative functions with factors related to issues on lack of professionals in the area of costume design.

The study is divided into five chapters. Chapter one is the introduction which briefly defines professionalism and its need in the Nigerian movie industry; the functions of costume and costume designer. The introduction also has the methodology which is how the objective of the paper will be met. Chapter two is the theoretical frame work and review of related literature. Chapter three is the synopsis of the two films and character analysis of the video films selected. Chapter four is the appraisal and their communicative functions of characters. Chapter five is the summary, research findings and conclusion, with the works cited.

1.6 Research Methodology

Primarily, the research is based on critical viewing of the two selected video films which are Akwa-Ugo and His Royal Majesty. These two films are ways of capturing concrete details of the way costume is handled in Nigerian video film production. These video films were selected using stratified random sampling also known as probability sampling techniques and also the use of simple random sampling techniques was used. A population of over 150 Nigerian video films which were produced between the years 2010 to 2012 was selected. The reason for choosing from this population of 150 video films is because they occupy the greater percentage of video films produced in Nigeria. From the population of 150 video films, sixty Nigerian video films which are strictly traditional attire (costume) were chosen as the strata. Then from the strata, a simple random sampling technique was done by writing down the names of the video films on a full paper and then took it out to different individuals who are good at watching Nigerian video films to select two from the sixty films which they think the costume designer has not done his/her research well before embarking on the costume design of the production. Out of the sixty, these two films came top. The use of the random sampling gave the sixty video films an equal opportunity to be selected.

Furthermore, the research methodological approach used in the course of the study is the qualitative research method, whereby sources of data are derived from the video films selected which are visual texts. The reason for qualitative research is to help the researcher measure the role of costume and costume designers in the Nigerian video film and how well costume has been handled. It is also to deepen the understanding about the impact of costume. This research employs content analysis as films is visual text that embodies meanings.  The selected films were watched several times and proper character analysis was done with focus on its costume.

The secondary sources for the study include the literary research method which involved the use of library to enable the researcher to consult books, magazines, journals, encyclopedia, internet and other thesis in the area of theatre-Arts. The MLA style of referencing has been employed for the documentation of this work.

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