The Tony-winning musical from 1979, a favorite on college campuses and given an exciting Broadway revival in 2005 is now a thrilling film, guaranteeing that some form of Sweeney Todd costumes will be seen at parties for years to come.
Evolution of Sweeney Todd Costumes
When first performed on Broadway starring Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was true to its 19th century Victorian London setting in its costumes and design.
For the first act, Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney wore the bedraggled clothes of the desperate poor, while in the second act, Mrs. Lovett traded up to garish gowns and Sweeney wore suits that were good but somber, befitting his mood. Mrs. Lovett's hair was red and twisted up on each side in a manner that made it look very much like devil's horns. Sweeney's hair was parted straight down the middle and flopped over on each side of his head. Most revivals or college productions have used this hair and costume palette for their own design.
Modern Sweeney Costumes
The radically reinvented 2005 revival, however, showed that Sweeney Todd costumes could take many guises so long as the overall creepiness is adhered to. In that version, Michael Cerveris proved how sexy bald could be with his stark head glowering above simple black trousers, white shirt and black tie.
Occasional use of a leather jacket made his Sweeney delectable and terrifying. Patti Lupone's Mrs. Lovett wore rump-hugging black mini skirts, knee-high fishnets, low cut tops and a lot of tacky jewelry. Her hair was a shiny black bob and her lips blood red. The rest of the cast also wore predominately black and white with suggestions of red, giving the overall feel of this Sweeney Todd the intense sexiness that underlines the horror.
Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd Costumes
For the new film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood teamed with visionary director Tim Burton to bring a look to the costumes that combined both the period and the Gothic sexiness that suit the tone so well.
Star Johnny Depp, his hair dark with one white streak, is dressed in the basic garb of a 19th century working-class man, but with slightly tighter trousers and a black leather jacket. Helena Bonham Carter, as a much younger and prettier Mrs. Lovett than is usual, wears the long skirts appropriate to the era, but also tight and low-cut tops. With dark brown curls hanging wildly on each side of her head, she's at once appealing and appalling.
Both characters are very Gothic and pale, with immense dark circles under their eyes. Re-creating this look would make for a great costume for a couple. You could also mix and match, adopting the Angela Lansbury devil horns for Mrs. Lovett, to be more distinctive. This could be done easily if a woman has long hair - she could just wind chunks around some wire and then spray in temporary red dye. Sweeney would have an even easier time - a dark-haired man could just spray in a white streak, or add white to a black wig.
Give Them Their Props
The overall look of the clothes and makeup for Sweeney Todd is ultimately whatever you want it to be - people will know who you are by the props. Sweeney simply isn't Sweeney unless he's carrying a straight-edge razor, which you should be able to find at a better costume shop or a prop shop. You could even make one out of cardboard and paint it silver - and perhaps add some drops of blood.
As for Mrs. Lovett, she should carry a rolling pin. If you really want to pile on the ghoul, you might carry a basket with meat pies and ask anyone you meet if they are hungry. Don't be surprised if the answer is always "no!"