Why do magicians wear tuxes?
By J.L. Siefers
This wonderful question has rarely bothered magicians for decades. It should. Some possible answers might include:
- He is getting married today.
- He just got off work as a waiter.
- He is going to the prom.
Wait! The man is about to do magic. Surely anyone doing great magic wears a tux. It logically follows that a person dressed in attire not worn generally by the public in nearly sixty years must be a well trained and entertaining artist.
I encounter responses such as:
“People won’t know we’re magicians if don’t wear our uniform,” bemoan penguin-like prestidigitators.
“Real magicians must wear tuxes,” cries the part-time professional in his ill fitted and second hand attire.
The question of what magicians should wear has been around for more than a century. The correct answer has been around just as long. Unfortunately, many magicians don’t get it.
Jean Robert-Houdin, the father of modern magic, looked around at how his fellow magicians dressed. The common uniform for a “real magician” was to dress up like a wizard complete with a conical hat. Robert-Houdin chose to view magic as an art. He devised many wonderful effects. He would go out on a bare stage to present his magic dressed in formal evening attire. The attire was appropriate and commonly worn for evening theatrical productions. Instead of dressing in way completely different from his audience, Robert-Houdin dressed just like his audience.
The point being made is simple. If you want magic to be viewed as a fine art, take your performance and dress seriously. Let the quality of your magic performance speak to the level of your magic artistry. If you want to be a magic clown, then dress like a penguin.
What about Lance Burton? Great question, thanks for asking. Lance’s performing personality makes wearing a tuxedo appropriate for his performance. Mr. Burton consciously links back to magic’s historical roots. Figuratively speaking, he wears the mantel of magic passed down through the ages. He portrays the great magician out of our past. Lance performs classical magic effects while donning the classical magical attire.
This is completely different from the approach of 99.998% of the other magicians wearing tuxes. Most part-time professional magicians wear a tux without regard to their performing personality. The key to what to wear is your performing personality. Begin with the assumption that a tux is not an option. Examine the key elements of your performing personality that you want to communicate to your audience. Tailor your dress to consciously communicate those key elements.
Another factor to consider is whether you want to stand out or blend with your audience. Let’s say you want to blend with your audience. This is common approach for the restaurant or corporate magician. What will your audience be wearing? Try to dress a little above your audience. Let’s say you want to stand out. Find ways to contrast with your audience that communicates positively to your performing personality. For example, assume your performing personality is that odd middle aged uncle that all the kids love but make parent roll their eyes. You know the type, every family has one. His style sense will be decades out of style but he will be clueless that he isn’t the hippest guy around. If that is your chosen performing personality, then the performer’s style will match the outfit. The point again is that the outfit chosen by the magician must relate to performing personality.
Let’s get back to the original question. Why do magicians wear tuxes? Nobody knows including the magicians. Know your performing personality. Select your dress to complement your venue and performing personality. Treat your magic performance like the artistic performance you want it to be.