'Cats' Musical Wiki

Makeup is an essential part of the Cats costumes, whether for cosplay, amateur productions, or any costumes inspired by the musical. The designs can appear daunting and complex, but with a bit of practice and the right materials, the makeup is very much attainable.


Different productions have used different makeup designers. The most prominent designs are by Karen Dawson, whose work has been used on UK-based productions since the early 1990s. She modified her designs for the 1998 film of Cats. Candace Carell worked on the Broadway production and her work was echoed through productions based on Broadway. Other productions developed their own makeup designs.

Each makeup design is fitted to the actor, so as a fan, simply copying someone's makeup might not work on your facial structure. It is well worth taking the time and experimenting with different versions of your character, and finding what works best for you. Practice is essential, creative and fun!


Collette coleman swing makeup 1

For Cats makeup, there are two kinds of paint - water based and oil based. Each has its pros and cons, and what works best for you depends entirely on your skin and what you are doing in costume.

Water Based Makeup:

  • Brands like Snazaroo, Kryolan Aquacolor, Mehron Paradise AQ, Ben Nye Magicake Aqua
  • Sometimes called "Cake" makeup
  • Requires water to activate the makeup, if a dry cake
  • Creates bold, flat blocks of colour
  • Does not require setting
  • Will wash off with just water
  • Often cheap and kid-friendly
  • "Cracks" and melts with rain or sweat

Oil Based Makeup:

  • Brands like Kryolan Supracolor, Mehron Creamblend, Ben Nye Lumiere Creme
  • Sometimes called "Creme" makeup or Greasepaint
  • Does not require water to apply
  • Blends easily
  • Requires powder to set
  • Requires soap / cleanser to remove
  • Long-lasting, professional quality

The terms "Cake" and "Creme" are misleading, as both formulations can be produced in a solid "cake" or a liquid "creme" texture. The reliable way to test what a product is made of is to try to wash a sample - water-based will dissolve and wash off, while oil will smudge but not wash off. Similarly misleading is referring simply to "Kryolan", "Mehron" or "Ben Nye" - these brands all have products in various formulations.

There are also powdered makeup products which also can add detail to Cats makeup designs, such as eye shadows and glitter. Other street makeup that can prove useful are mascara and eyeliner, and lipstick - as long as they are high quality products with strong pigment. Soft, "Natural" look products may not be bold enough for the Cats designs. Many of the female characters also wear false eyelashes to exaggerate their eyes.

Professional productions of Cats use primarily oil-based makeup, as the performers need their makeup to last through dancing the Jellicle Ball - one of the most demanding dance numbers in Musical Theatre, and sweat is unavoidable. However not all fans are as demanding on the staying power of their makeup, and instead may be more concerned about fine details to be observed up close.

Oil based makeup can cause irritation on some skin types and cause breakouts; Water based makeup can cause irritation on some other skin types and cause dryness. Using a makeup primer can help protect from either problem, but it is worth experimenting and finding what works best for you.

It is common to use a mixture of products - oil based bases and water based details, with street makeup products for lashes and lips. There is no "Right" or "Wrong" - this is a creative art, and whatever gives you the result you want is right!

Makeup Theory[]

Cassandra Emily Keane Asia 2014

Cassandra, Emily Keane, Asia 2014

The aim of the Cats makeup is an illusion - to make a human face appear more feline. The key elements of this are to emphasise the eyes, cheekbones and mouth, and shade away the jawline, flatten the nose and blend the forehead into the wig. This triangular "Cat-face" is the base to most Cats designs.

Contouring has become a key feature in modern makeup techniques - the Cats base is an extreme example of what can be achieved with contouring. There are of course some adaptations needed from regular contouring tutorials - the jawline and nose in particular need to not be emphasised for Cats as these are prominently human features.

Different productions, and different eras, use harder or softer bases, from subtle and very blended, to block colours highlighting the eyes and muzzle. But almost all characters emphasise the eyes and mouth, and play down the jaw and nose.

The second stage of the makeup is the details applied over the base - bold, strong lines to delicate details, depending on the character and production. It is easy to be timid and apply makeup details too small and light, but these designs are made for stage, to be seen under bright lights at the back of the auditorium. Being bold is essential for even the most delicate characters! There's a simple trick to see how balanced your makeup is - take a quick photo and view it as a thumbnail. The compressed size will show only the boldest features, and this can let you see what needs more work.