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Leeds West Indian Carnival Programme

Carnival Themes and Costumes

Sometimes the theme for a street festival is decided centrally. Leeds Pride had ‘Superheroes’ as a theme in the past and in 2011 the theme for Bramley was ‘The Rainbow’. In Otley and the West Indian Carnival the themes are chosen and developed by each troupe and kept fairly secret from competitors. Film references are very common (Disney, Sci-Fi), and UK legends (Bodicea, Robin Hood). Nursery rhymes and games are popular with primary schools. Wildlife or Nature themes recur (the Jungle, the Sea, Endangered Species) and famous cultures (Ancient Egypt, other African kingdoms, Aztecs, China). Topics in the news also feature, in 2010, one of the Leeds West Indian troupes carried ‘BP Shame On You’ placards.


Colourful costume at Leeds West Indian Carnival

Leeds West Indian Carnival attracts a large number of big extravagant costumes, using large skirts on wheeled supports, tall headdress arches with insets, torsos with wings, and enormous heads balanced by bouncing tails. Several well-known designers, such as Hughbon Condor, Arthur France, and Raymond Wilkes, make an annual commitment to design for different troupes, or individual appearances. Each year local and visiting designers compete to astound the audience.

Colourful costumes at Leeds West Indian Carnival

Using lightweight foam, stretchy fabric, and plastic and wire support, fabulous creations are possible. Usually one designer will make the larger King or Queen costume, and work with the troupe to come up with their group look, including the smaller Prince and Princess costumes. Then there will be a team of workers creating the many troupe outfits, working to an agreed pattern, after buying fabric and fittings in bulk. Getting the troupe costume ready takes a lot of volunteers with mums, sisters, brothers, dads and friends all pitching in. There’s lots of finishing off to do at home, in a rush to be ready for the big day.

Costume Specific Curriculum Links


  • Design and Technology – using research to create design criteria, communicate ideas through discussion, annotated sketches and prototypes
  • Art and Design – Awareness of different kinds of art, craft and design, use of control over materials and designs 

Aim of Resource

The aim of the resources on this page is to give children an understanding of what Carnival costumes look like, how they are made, and why they are important to the Leeds West Indian Carnival. 

Learning Objectives

  • Knowledge of costume at Leeds West Indian Carnival, and of Hughbon Condor, an important figure in Leeds West Indian Carnival who has made costumes for Carnival for many years
  • Understanding of why costume is important to Carnival, how these costumes are made and by whom.
  • Skills – designing making costumes from found or improvised materials, working in teams, comparing and contrasting, research. 

Discussion Ideas

  • What sort of thing do you think of when someone says ‘Carnival Costume’ – are these costumes big or small, brightly coloured or dark? What do they look like? 
  • What sort of themes might a carnival have? 
  • How do you think a big Queen Show costume might be made? What would it be made from, and how long would it take to make? 
  • How can costumes be used to celebrate Caribbean culture? 


Activity Ideas 

  • Carnival costumes are often based around a theme, and this theme can be as broad or as narrow as the community chooses. Carnival costumes at the Leeds West Indian Carnival are still about the history of carnival, and are used to celebrate Caribbean culture and history more widely. Many costumes represent Africa and the Caribbean in different ways, so costume is a way of expressing that heritage and celebrating it in a beautiful way. Think about your culture – don’t forget you may be part of more than one! – and draw a series of objects that could be used as inspiration for a costume.
  • Listen to Hughbon Condor talking about his first winning costume (listen from 00:58 – 02:38).

    Hughbon has designed many of the costumes for the Leeds West Indian Carnival, and won awards for his costumes for many years. Hughbon discusses his very first winning costume for Carnival, entitled ‘Morning Glory’. Think about what the title of this costumes means – the glory of the morning – and about what Hughbon says about how a winning costume focuses on the upper body and the face, and draw your own interpretation of this costume. Compare these with others in your class, and discuss the differences and similarities in your designs.
  • Listen to Hughbon talk about the process of making a costume  (from 02:45 – 05:12) and the things you need to consider.

    Write down the ideas that you think are most important to making a costume (person as central, materials, structure, how it will be worn).
  • Look at all the photos of various costumes worn at the Leeds West Indian Carnival, and discuss the different themes and topics they depict. The images on this page above include:

    - Lisa Condor, dressed in a costume depicting a sea anemone, whose costume was designed by her brother, Hughbon Condor, and won the award for Queen costume in 1986

    - 1989 Carnival Queen Sheila Howarth and her costume representing a Rainbow of Peace
  • Discuss how some of these costumes may have been made, the theme behind them and what you like best about them. As a class, choose a theme for your own carnival – it could be the sea, nature, mountains, animals, colours, rainbows, forests, jungles, peace, happiness, or perhaps a place or landmark that is important to your local history – and work in groups to design a costume for Carnival. The first design should be created on paper, but as Hughbon discussed in the clips above, it’s a great idea to make a prototype!
  • Using the materials available to you, create a mini 3-D prototype of your costume.  You could use recycled material and natural objects to do this – items from the home or from outside (especially feathers and leaves!) to create these prototypes.
  • Listen to Hughbon talk about rivalry and secrecy at carnival, especially in costume designing (00.00 – 00.53).

    Your costume designs could be part of a competition and once the prototypes are made, each group can present their idea to the rest of the class.