“Dress rehearsal”. What does this phrase conjure? Usually people think of the last touches before actual performances start: they think of lights, sets, and – ah yes – costumes. When most of my time was spent in the company of theatre professionals, I heard many an actor commenting that they didn’t feel that they had complete understanding of their character until they were in costume. Costume pieces can affect an actor’s movements and posture, thus choices made in rehearsal may be altered. Things just seem to fit into place. And when you’re performing in costume it is easier to remove the costume and with it, the character, when the performance is over.
In WWE, ring-attire is more important than we realize and can signify a lot about someone. Steve Austin has mentioned that he had been asked at one time in his career to wear a singlet and he refused. Now, there are few things as iconic as the image of Austin in his black trunks and boots, smashing two beers together. Would Stone Cold Steve Austin still have been the same character or achieved the same success if he had given in to pressures to alter his ring attire? One could argue that Austin’s personality would have shown through no matter what he wore, but his outward appearance may not have been as commanding in different gear.
Paul Heyman talks about what costumes mean to in-ring performers in his interview last year with Ariel Helwani on the August 5th, 2014 episode of The MMA Hour. He goes into great detail explaining how he uses what he wears on TV not just to represent something to the audience, but sometimes to get himself into the right headspace for whatever he needs to achieve in his promos. (NOTE: This is also just generally a great interview, which you can and should watch right here. The stuff about his suits is in the first 5-6 minutes.)
One of the most notable things about Ric Flair in his heyday was the way he flaunted his wealth in his promos. He would talk at length about how much his suits cost, how much his watches cost, and how many of them he had. So much of his heel persona was defined by what he wore, not just in those backstage promos, but the opulent robes he went to the ring wearing. They were a large part of what made Ric into a larger-than-life character.
There are a lot of things contributing to the total catastrophe that is the WWE product right now. But when we talk about characters (and I promise, another character analysis is coming later this week) we should also talk about their look. It is often discussed who has “the look” WWE tends to go for in terms of stature or build. But what is their gear saying about them?
Currently, a major issue with this is that when they’re not wrestling (and even when some of them are) wrestlers in WWE aren’t just wearing their gear, they’re wearing their merchandise. From a business standpoint, this sells products. If someone sees their favorite wrestler in a new t-shirt, they’re more likely to go and buy said t-shirt than if they had to stumble upon it in a store or online. But when merchandise is constantly being updated and changed, when some marketing person is trying to create catchphrases instead of letting a wrestler’s natural ability on the microphone catch on with the audience, it becomes detrimental.
On Monday, during the opening segment we had some notable costume changes. We saw Sheamus come out in a suit, which has become the chosen way to distinguish members of the Authority from Everyone Else. When Kane became part of the Authority, he became suit-clad Corporate Kane. Even Seth Rollins’ first appearance after turning on his Shield brethren involved a sport coat. So naturally, with Sheamus aligning himself at Survivor Series with Triple H after defeating Roman Reigns for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, he needs to suit up.
A suit has always been a sign of wealth and power in professional wrestling. The Million Dollar Man was always dressed in those over-the-top tuxedos. When we think of Mr. McMahon, we conjure a picture of him in a suit. Paul Heyman always comes to the ring on behalf of Brock Lesnar wearing a suit. What is it about the suit that automatically spells trouble in our minds? Whatever it is, it works – but it might be over done at this point.
Another issue with gear on Monday was that Roman Reigns came to the ring during Sheamus’s celebration wearing his new t-shirt that is for sale through the WWE shop. Now Reigns’ normal attire means his boots, black cargo-type pants, and S.W.A.T.-style vest. To have him come out in a t-shirt means to forgo part of his signature look. Maybe I am a nitpicker, but it was noticeable enough for me to mention it on Twitter instead of talking about what was actually happening story-wise.
What a wrestler wears to the ring can absolutely make or break them. It can be the difference between connecting with the audience and not. But if you’re not actively making a change in the character or their storyline, don’t mess with their look.