Ghostbusters (1984) is perhaps best known as the first ever big budget FX comedy and not for making any serious style statements. Yet tucked amongst the fluffy hair and khaki jump-suits sported by the Ghostbusters themselves is a classic example of mid-1980s opulence – Sigourney Weaver’s oversized cape coat:
Full-length cape coat in blue wool with horizontal and intersecting vertical maroon stripes. Wide three-quarter length sleeves, stand collar, big button fastening. Matching cape running to three-quarter point at the rear.
All contemporary women’s wear descended from male clothing, and nearly all male clothing descended from military dress. Sigourney Weaver’s cape coat is no exception. Based on a 19th century Garrick overcoat, in popular culture it most directly resembles a long caped Mac Farlane as worn by Sherlock Holmes.
Giorgio Armani is the designer most directly responsible for bringing modern male-inspired tailoring to women’s wear. From around 1983 his broad shouldered jackets, tweed slacks (also Ralph Lauren), wool blousons, striped neckties and gathered pants established an era-defining look of self-indulgent luxury.
Women were succeeding in business like never before; trends dictated that they adopt serious, masculine attire in order to fit in with (and in the case of ever widening shoulder pads, compete with) their male colleagues. However, although Armani contemporised this concept, he did not invent it.
In 1966 Yves Saint Laurent broke the mould for gender bending fashion by creating ‘Le Smoking’ a female version of the male tuxedo. This was not just men’s clothing re-appropriated for the female form, which was arguably Armani’s ethos in the 1980s, but an innovative, feminine look in its own right.
For Ghostbusters, Weaver’s style is not nearly as ‘le garçonne’ as Saint Laurent’s tuxedo, yet his underlying principles of derestricted dress still apply. It helps too that Sigourney Weaver is so tall, slim and potentially androgynous. This early key look of the eighties was not unisex; it was ‘which sex?’
As upwardly mobile cellist Dana Barrett, Weaver’s wardrobe, as selected and designed by Theoni V. Aldredge, consists mainly of knitwear: jersey dress, scarves, fine fabrics, chunky cardigans, layering, lots of grey. The same too with the Ghostbusters’ receptionist Janine (Annie Potts); this is a knitwear movie for women, reflecting both the New York fall climate and an upsurge in ‘yuppie’ fashions.
The enveloping cape coat is a typical expression of the yuppie era. Its extravagant fabric, likely cashmere wool or broadcloth, epitomises a decade soon to drown in its own decadence.
The cape is too much cloth, it is not even functional. This is about showing what you can afford – enough fabric so as to actually hang surplus from your body. Although Dana does not work in the financial sector her cultured friends and Manhattan apartment all contribute to self expression through clothes.
However during the film’s finale Dana dramatically changes her look (though not by choice) from safe to erotic. Her body possessed (and presumably her wardrobe too) she is found by confused Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) wearing a lurid batwing dress with wild hair and punky make-up to match.
Dana’s tailored style has been swiftly deconstructed to convey a monumental change in her personality and consciousness. The effect is obvious and, as such, for the requirements of a rapid fire comedy, most effective.
Like the movie itself, Sigourney Weaver’s Dana look has dated exceptionally well. The custom men’s-as-women’s wear trend is currently more in vogue than ever (particularly at the time of writing with sculptured military jackets a big winter trend). Dana may ultimately become just the Ghostbusters’ damsel in distress, but sartorially her character remains a modern woman; the all-encompassing cape coat testament to her strength.
© 2009 – 2013, Christopher Laverty.