The Eighteenth Century stage afforded the best opportunities for lavish costumes. The budget for costumes changed in accordance with the management. Because the Restoration stage enjoyed the patronage and esteem of King Charles II, both Davenant and Killigrew received ample funds for wardrobe. The theatrical tastes of the eighteenth century audience tended towards spectacle, and costumes were designed to please the masses. Because theatre during this time was a visual experience before anything else, it was important for successful theatre, both of the court and public theatre, to parade the actors in the most elaborate costumes possible. Because of limited budget, most performances were costumed out of stock. Whenever possible, however, repertory companies received loans on particularly unique and lavish costumes. "Charles II lent his coronation robes to Betterton for Davenant's Love and Honour, and Aphra Behn provided genuine feather garments from Surinam for Dryden's Indian Queen; the royal loan was repeated for Orrery's Henry V, and the feather dresses used again for Dryden's Indian Emperor and Mrs Behn's own Widow Ranter."[18]

          Although the public generally enjoyed the extravagant display of wealth and ornament afforded by such costumes, there were critics who felt that such opulence undermined the play itself. Edward Howard is one such critic:

And though the ear be the principal sense to receive satisfaction from the Stage, yet we find, that of seeing has not seldom a greater predominacy, whilst Scenes, habits, dances, or perhaps an Actress take more with Spectators, than the best Dramatic wit, or contrivance of the Age, from which we may prognosticate, that the enterlude of Punchinello…may be as long frequented as either Theatre. (Preface to The Six Days' Adventure, 1671).[19]

Opulence was not the only goal of the costumed eighteenth-century stage. During this period, audiences wanted realism. Costumes were rarely designed with any interpretive or theoretical goal in mind, as we see in many modern day productions. Tragic actors and actresses were costumed more lavishly than comic ones. "Because comedy was acted in 'modern dress' and was in any case considered an inferior medium, tragedy had the first claim to special finery, a state of affairs resented by some comic actors."[20] The audience would often come to the theatre just to see their favorite actor(s) on the stage. Of particular interest to the male members of the audience were particular actresses with noted sexual appeal. The stage gave certain actors and actresses a license to indulge in behavior otherwise unacceptable to society. The trend of transvestite playing was thus a noteworthy aspect of eighteenth-century theatre culture.

          The actors provided those costumes that were not loaned or located in the wardrobe closets of the repertory companies.

How much the individual actor supplied was expected to provide varied from company to company: in 1660 Davenant supplied his men with basic suits of clothes but not hats, feathers, gloves, ribbons, sword- belts, collars, stockings or shoes; while Killigrew, at His Majesty's behest, furnished the favoured Mohun, Hart and Kynaston with most of these accessories, including 'Three paire of Silke Stockins' and 'Two plumes of feathers' yearly apiece.'[21]


One can imagine, then, the eighteenth century costumes as a conglomeration of stock pieces and gaudy ones, in accordance with the capabilities of each company. This hodgepodge of style was indeed arbitrary to the play itself. Eventually, the theatre industry as a whole legitimated their tendency toward visual spectacle by claiming that the reason for such meticulous realism was a need for historical accuracy. "Both antiquarian zeal and the concept of decorum were to become more fashionable as the century rolled on, and with them grew the vogue for mounting historical plays in painstaking reconstructions of the costumes their characters would have worn in real life."[22]