With exclusive insight from The Hangover (2009) costume designer Louise Mingenbach, we investigate how clothing defined character and brought this chucklesome movie to life.
The Hangover begins with Doug (Justin Bartha) sharing a tailor’s fitting with his soon to be brother in law Alan (Zach Galifianakis). Alan confides in Doug just how excited he is to be attending his bachelor party. Wearing a jock strap for no conceivable reason we get the idea that maybe not all of Alan’s dogs are barking.
Next we meet school teacher Phil (Bradley Cooper), the kind of man who embezzles money from his pupils for their school trip and siphons it into his Las Vegas fund. Assumedly he is planning to pay it all back with his winnings; Phil makes out he does not care but we eventually learn that it is all bravado. He became a school teacher for more than just a steady wage.
Phil wears what could be termed a ‘trendy teacher’ ensemble, a pair of Mason slacks and open John Varvatos waistcoat with casual light blue cotton shirt by Organic (check closely and you can see most of the pockets have been removed). The sunglasses, silver-rimmed pink lens aviator’s, again by John Varvatos, come on when he joins Doug and Alan outside. “It’s the weekend, I don’t know you, you don’t exist” he tells a mithering pupil by the school gates.
Finally we are introduced to Stu (Ed Helms). He is a mild-mannered dentist who calls himself a doctor (“Dr. Faggot” according to Phil) with an almost unbelievably cold partner in Melissa (Rachael Harris). She is so uptight that even Stu’s lie about the bachelor party being in Napa Valley wine tasting instead of gambling in Vegas goes down like a lead balloon.
Stu is dressed in stone cotton slacks and beige striped short sleeve shirt with jumper tied around his shoulders. Sporting a white crew neck matelot sweater, Melissa nearly matches him for country club blandness. Louise Mingenbach confirms that she drained all colour from Stu so he could blossom later in the casino scene – a brand new man.
Following a scowling goodbye from Melissa, Stu dons prescription dark chrome sunglasses and joins his friends in the car, a vintage Mercedes on loan from Doug’s nearly father in law. We are graced with the first of Alan’s funky t-shirts, a retro ‘Weekend Forecast’ tee from Baron Bob coupled with cargo pants, cross-trainers and vintage Blublocker aviator shades; this is a guy so uncool he is actually super cool. Something about looking that ridiculous and not giving a damn makes him a kind of drop-out Steve McQueen. He sits reading ‘The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book’ like it means something. At this juncture in the story he is a joke.
Doug in plain pink cotton shirt and indigo jeans has enlisted in the sunglasses club with a pair of black Ray Ban Wayfarers, à la Tom Cruise in Risky Business, while Phil lets those silver John Varvatos compensate his ego for not riding shotgun. As if further proof we needed we get another hint at the smoothness of Phil on arrival at their Vegas hotel. Contrast his Filson made black leather holdall and brown leather hand-luggage with Stu’s bog-standard fabric suitcase. Phil even travels on ice.
Suited and booted for their night out the guys converge on the hotel roof for a Jägermeister bonding ritual. Dressed up to get wasted, this eclectic fashion show tells us much about what makes the characters tick; one man’s suit, it would seem, is another man’s prison.
Phil is black-on-black in a slim fitting, tone on tone single breasted J. Lindeberg suit with silk shirt by Anto. According to Louise Mingenbach, Anto are a great resource and have been making movie star clothes for decades, counting Jerry Lewis (both on and offscreen) and legendary style icon Cary Grant among their clients. To them anything is possible, a concept that a costume designer with a clear vision to interpret can obviously appreciate.
Doug looks even more relaxed than Phil in an open neck white shirt and black single breasted jacket by Balenciaga. Stu keeps things simple with a JC Penney chest stripe polo shirt and khaki suit by Theory, exactly what we would expect of his character at this stage. We are getting a read on these guys already; if he had stepped out in a black J. Lindeberg we would have known something was amiss. Mingenbach understands how costume creates character; it is an immediate visual connection with the audience.
Case in point with Zach Galifianakis’ wonderfully bizarre evening ensemble; Louise Mingenbach worked in tandem with Galifianakis to create Alan’s ‘going out’ look. The vanity-free actor was ‘up for anything’, understanding that he was creating a character and not reflecting his own personal taste. His costume manifests Alan’s rather sweet and sad disposition; a man out of touch with modern social dictates, though completely unaware of himself.
The snug ‘Human Tree’ t-shirt is by Junk Food, purchased here from Urban Outfitters, the white jeans are Levi’s. The outfit is accessorised with a plastic carrier bag and brown leather satchel that clearly exasperates Phil in his sensible man’s man get-up. “Indiana Jones wears one,” Alan retorts during one of his sharper moments.
(Oh, and for anyone wondering, yes that is The Hangover director Todd Phillips inside the elevator dressed in a black velour Puma tracksuit and curly wig. It is not like Hitchcock wouldn’t have done the same).
Playing its genius card for an unsuspecting audience, the film skips Doug and co’s wild night entirely, for now anyway, and fades in on the aftermath. And what an aftermath – as who we later discover to be Heather Graham as stripper Jade creeps out of the hotel suite in a short pink dress, while Stu awakes face down on the floor amongst a sea of debris and a wandering chicken, it is a sight to behold.
After semi-clothed Alan finds a tiger in the bathroom and a baby in the closet, the amnesiac crew quickly pull themselves together. Missing Doug the groom they head downstairs poolside for breakfast and a debrief.
So comes a classic image of the movie with all three guys in the elevator, Alan leaning against the wall in his Human Tree tee, vintage shades and a baby strapped to his chest, Stu wearing his filthy JC Penney polo fiddling with the hole where his tooth used to be and Phil, untucked Organic shirt and J. Lindeberg pants, hand on mouth, wondering just what the hell they must look like.
Finding a medical tag wrapped around Phil’s wrist, the trio head off in a ‘borrowed’ police car, initially to a hospital and then to the Little Wedding Chapel. Here they meet proprietor Eddie. With the help of some tacky printed photos, mugs and t-shirts, the gang realise Stu got married the night before to Jade the stripper and that they were all ushers.
Their hideous powder blue contrast trim 3 piece suits were, apparently, hired along with the chapel for filming (though some sources on the net claim it was actually a purpose built set in Vegas). Heather Graham dons a tassily yellow t-shirt dress with black belt in the photos, vintage (probably 1980s) as most of her costumes were, purchased in either LA or Las Vegas.
After an encounter with Chinese gangsters who bash up their police car and shoot Eddie in the shoulder, the guys hasten to Jade’s apartment not entirely sure what they will find. Turns out Jade is as nice as pie and, as Phil rightly points out when Stu protests he has married a stripper, “hot” too.
Louise Mingenbach chose a provocative but fun and feminine look for Jade, probably to distance the character from what one might consider a typical Las Vegas stripper on the lookout for a good time. In other words we need to know that she isn’t a gold digger. Heather Graham plays the part with a warm smile and permanent chirp so believing her relationship with pasty, gap-toothed Stu becomes marginally less of a leap.
No sooner are the gang settled watching Jade breast feed her baby (to his credit, Phil doesn’t stare) than the police burst in and arrest them for stealing the cop car. Quick thinking Phil talks them out of trouble at the station and they are quickly released, but not before being tasered by schoolchildren on a field trip.
Still none the wiser at Doug’s whereabouts they collect the somehow unscathed Mercedes from a police impound. Seconds later they all are attacked by a nude Chinese man, Mr Chow (Ken Jeong), who leaps from the boot brandishing a golf club. Baffled and dejected they head back to the hotel in the hope of finding some answers.
Louise Mingenbach corroborates a conscious attempt to reflect the guys’ state of mind in their bedraggled clothes. Phil especially, his blue shirt covered in blood with a thick lip and mad hair, has never been lower. Proceedings spiral even further downward, for Alan in particular when they discover it was Mike Tyson’s tiger they stole and he gets laid out by a punch from the former champ.
Just managing to dig themselves out of trouble with Iron Mike by returning his bad-tempered tiger in the Mercedes, they are then savagely run off the road by Mr Chow’s armed cronies. Now fully clothed in what Louise Mingenbach describes as a ‘lounge lizard’ ensemble, perhaps the film’s most flat out crazy individual is properly introduced.
As campy Mr Chow, Ken Jeong steps from his blacked out SUV in a pair of tiny Cuban heel boots, cream flared trousers, single breasted blazer, cream poloneck and chintzy gold costume jewelery. Mr Chow is designed as a real ‘Vegas character’, the type of guy who could only exist in that environment. He certainly has his own sense of style and, in an ironic twist considering how we are first introduced, is defined by what he wears.
Ken Jeong’s costume was made for him after trying several vintage pieces to get an idea of where his character was heading. Basically, Louise Mingenbach admits, he is wearing women’s clothing. Chow is in drag, it’s a performance; he is flamboyant, though not necessarily homosexual. His sexuality is destabilised within a typical gender framework. But remember this is Vegas, the normal rules don’t apply.
Roughed up by Chow’s companions, the guys find themselves accused of stealing $80,000 of his gambling winnings, not to mention Phil stuffing the minute gangster into the boot of their car as a ‘lucky charm’. Chow claims to have kidnapped Doug and proposes a desert exchange: they give him back his money, he’ll give them back Doug.
With no choice but to agree, they stumble back to their hotel in desperate hope of finding the cash buried somewhere inside the suite, but to no avail. Alan however does find something that takes his eye – his copy of The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book.
The subsequent sequence is a clever subversion of audience expectation in both story and costume. Phil and Alan appear on the casino escalator in a shot mirroring the intended target of Todd Phillips’ lampoonery, Rain Man (1988). Even the calypso soundtrack is the same.
Alan is wearing an exact copy of Dustin Hoffman’s double breasted grey suit from the film, a fact confirmed by Louise Mingenbach. It is an amusing red herring. We know the suit, even if we do not remember Rain Man that thoroughly, we know the suit; just as importantly, we know the sequence of events.
This is where Hoffman’s autistic character counts cards and wins his brother – played by Tom Cruise – a fortune. Of course Alan is heading for disaster. He cannot even dress himself properly let alone con a casino. He will lose and it will be cringeworthy.
Except that he doesn’t. Much to Phil’s surprise (Cooper back in full J. Lindeberg and doing a subtle Cruise impression), and the rest of the group, Alan takes the bank for all he can before the eye in the sky spots their ruse and an exit strategy is needed.
The second point of subversion in this sequence is Stu. Purposely nondescript up until now, he arrives on the casino floor wearing a specially made orange silk shirt by Anto and black single breasted suit by Dolce & Gabbana. Even his accent has changed. With Jade on his arm aiding their scam, Stu now looks every bit at home in Vegas as Mr. Chow.
Heather Graham’s costume, a 1960s style long sleeved red mini dress and knee high boots, was intended to have a greater reveal. Unfortunately for Louise Mingenbach this shot hit the cutting room floor. The dress was created from an original design by Mingenbach herself.
A telltale example here of the costume designer’s lot, like an editor in some respects; to have his/her work appreciated yet not noticed; to be distinctive yet not distract the viewer. However those with eagle eyes could certainly enjoy the dress, its simple, sexy design, and appreciate that Heather Graham looks as appealing in it as her character is supposed to.
Somehow then Alan wins the $80,000 and redeems himself in Stu and Phil’s eyes after doping their Jägermeister, unintentionally with Rohypnol instead of Ecstasy, but illicitly nonetheless. As they ride into the desert their Mercedes is reflected in Mr Chow’s mirrored John Varvatos sunglasses, which were specifically chosen for this shot. Phil comments that their “luck has officially turned around”. Big mistake.
The exchange with Chow, who is wearing the most horrific brown panelled leather blouson imaginable, goes well in that nobody gets killed. However the Doug he kidnapped was not ‘their’ Doug but Alan’s dealer from the local liquor store. They have just paid $80,000 for a man who sold them the date rape drug. Understandably Chow is not offering any refunds so Phil decides they have no option but to call groom Doug’s fiancée Tracy and declare all.
Now we flashback to the very first scene of the film by the roadside, except that Phil does not get to finish his confession before being tackled to the ground by Stu. In a brainwave moment, Stu deduces that groom Doug has been trapped on the roof of their hotel all along. When they eventually find Doug, up there cowering in the shade from all that Vegas sun, the race is on to get back in time for his wedding.
Stu says a temporary goodbye to Jade, now attired more softly than ever in a delicate hippie-ish dress with flower embroidery, and the four-strong group drive back home as fast they can. A mobile ‘Tux Shop’ (surely somebody is doing this by now?) draws up alongside and tosses them four ready packed dinner suits.
The tuxedos are Boss, most likely ‘Cary Grant’ from the Boss Black collection, and chosen by Mingenbach for their distinctive lapels. All are worn with a plain black silk necktie. Special attention should be drawn to Alan running along the freeway in his, again the last to get dressed, and always the top half first.
Amazingly the wedding ceremony goes off as planned. Even with Stu destroying his foul-mouthed partner by calling her ‘a bad person’ and Doug’s face resembling a freshly creosoted fence, none of the guests are any the wiser as to the guys’ predicament over the last twenty four hours.
Incidentally Tracy’s (Sasha Barrese) wedding dress is by Amsale and worn with a Damiani pearl necklace. The bridesmaids’ outfits are Betsey Johnson from Bloomingdales. This is a classically beautiful wedding ensemble that spot-on fits the assumed budget and taste of the characters.
With a laugh out loud photo collage that exceeds all expectations of the ‘the night before’, The Hangover draws to a close. This is more of a costume film than people might assume. Outfits are chosen to enhance the narrative and characters without dominating either. These are hip, fun clothes that are just a little bit special; truly encapsulating the spirit of the piece.
Louise Mingenbach has, perhaps inadvertently, created a new template uniform for the bachelor party. Expect to see groups of lads trawling Las Vegas in J. Lindeberg and Dolce & Gabbana along with a bearded guy wearing Urban Outfitters and carrying a man bag. Not forgetting those all important sunglasses of course. Abandoned baby and missing tooth are best left optional.
With special thanks to Louise Mingenbach.
© 2009 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.