What a busy twelve months it’s been for costume design. Really though, this art, or craft, or business (Deborah Nadoolman Landis insists it is definitely a business) gets more talked about each year. 2013 was especially exciting however as it seemed every month something even more thrilling arrived to fawn over. In the last few weeks alone we have had The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Sleepy Hollow, and now American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street on the horizon. Dipping back further, it was Stoker that got us excited about subtext, The Great Gatsby that slammed the lid on that twenties revival once and for all, and Behind the Candelabra that put Michael Douglas in a 16ft fox fur cape and white brocade jumpsuit.
With just so many memorable movies and TV shows to cover, Clothes on Film asked some respected contributors to the site for their opinions on the best, along with a few big name costume designers currently working in the business. Basically anything goes here: pick an entire film, specific outfit, or character – just so long as someone at some point wears clothes.
I’ll leave it up to folk smarter than me to figure out statistics and trends and whatnot, but what I can say is that out of 14 people who replied and sent forward their costume lists, Behind the Candelbra was clearly the most popular with 4, or 10% (maths), votes. Well done Ellen M.
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (Steve Coogan, costume designer Julian Day)
As great as all Steve Coogan’s clothes were in the actual film, the costume that made me glad to have eyes was the suit he wore to its Norwich premiere. The baby blue. The pockets. The short sleeves. The belt. Never has a single costume so perfectly encapsulated one idiot.
American Hustle (Jennifer Lawrence, CD: Michael Wilkinson)
It’s impossible to pick a single costume from the candy store of clobber that is American Hustle, but one of my absolute favourite moments came from seeing Jennifer Lawrence in a kaftan and Marigolds dancing to Live and Let Die while cleaning the house. Is there nothing that woman can’t do?
Iron Man Three (Guy Pearce, CD: Louise Frogley)
Nothing in Shane Black’s tremendous Iron Man Three script conveyed Guy Pearce’s character as efficiently as the check suit he wears to meet Pepper Potts. Having suddenly obtained infinite wealth but zero class, he dresses like a game show host, but somehow it works. You need to be a certain person to pull off this look. You need to be Guy Pearce.
Only God Forgives (Ryan Gosling, CD: Wasitchaya “Nampeung” Mochanakul)
Nobody – NOBODY – looks as good in a suit as Ryan Gosling. So his three-piece midnight blue affair in Only God Forgives was sex in my face, but I also enjoyed the simplicity of seeing his character in white and black tees depending on which level of reality the film was operating on. Probably none.
Behind The Candelabra (Michael Douglas, Matt Damon; CD: Ellen Mirojnick)
If you didn’t enjoy, with the unbound passion of a child in Hamley’s, every single thing Matt Damon and Michael Douglas wore in Behind The Candelabra, what the Christ is wrong with you? Look at Matt’s trunks! LOOK AT THEM!!
Sleepy Hollow – Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison, CD: Kristin M. Burke, TV)
Time traveling Crane still wears his 18th century duds in the 21st century, and it works. It keeps him a fish out of water and also adds to his appeal. The navy coat, worn collar up has become very identifiable with his character (and has even spawned its own twitter account). I like the small details like the rips torn into Crane’s one and only shirt when he was attacked by a monster having been sewn up by hand. I hope Crane will stay rooted in the 18th century; it suits the actor and the character.
Downton Abbey – Lady Rose’s robe de style (Lily James, CD: Caroline McCall, TV)
The episode of Downton Abbey Season 4 where Rose is presented at court hasn’t even aired yet (in the U.S.) and I’m already in love with the not one, but two robes de style she wears. The robe de style is a 20’s style with a drop-waist, full skirt and (usually) small panniers built into the sides. It’s such a unique (but derivative) look but it’s not one you often (if ever) see in TV and the movies. So bravo to Downton for representing it. (HERE is a promo pic, and a photo of the gown that likely inspired this one).
Romeo & Juliet – Juliet’s blue velvet gown (Hailee Steinfeld, CD: Carlo Poggioli)
This is a costume I like just for the sheer beauty of it. Blue ombre velvet with silver accents is right in the wheelhouse of costumes that appeal to me.
Catching Fire – Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks, CD: Trish Summerville)
The costume design from Catching Fire was especially discussion worthy (and perhaps controversial) because it relied so heavily on couture and runway looks. However, many of them (especially the fluffy, ruffled McQueens Effie wore) really did suit the outrageous style of the Capitol.
The Great Gatsby – Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan, CD: Catherine Martin)
Like Effie, Daisy wore couture, in this case Miuccia Prada. More food for thought on the role of using designer clothes for heavily stylized or fantastical movies. Gatsby makes an interesting contrast to Downton, which went for very period accurate styles, while Gatsby only looked to suggest, or perhaps invoke the spirit of the 20s. That said it’s a lovely, interesting dress. And I love the headband, a replica of which you can get on Amazon. Who wouldn’t want one? I know I’ve already got mine.
Stoker – Mustard Etro jumper, chinos and sunglasses (Matthew Goode, CDs: Kurt Swanson and Bart Mueller)
Such clever costuming from a narrative and character standpoint: that rakish yellow hue is both rebellious and bilious, the sunglasses perfectly channel Patricia Highsmith-era shadiness, those cardboard-crisp light chinos are baying for blood spatter. But also because, in or out of context, he just looks so fucking great — there is no movie character this year that I wish to emulate more.
Her – Orange shirts and high-waisted trousers (Joaquin Phoenix, CD: Casey Storm)
I love the streamlined retro-futurism of the production and costume design in Spike Jonze’s sci-fi — it’s so whimsically chic, and yet so plausible. Such subtle detailing projecting the evolution of high-street fashion: collars button inwards, blazer buttons sit a little higher, high-cut trousers bind the waist like duct tape, seemingly made of neutral carpeting. Roll on the future.
Stoker – Blue Elie Saab dress (Nicole Kidman)
Slinky not-so-merry widow-spider attire, with lace that seems to emanate from her skin, this is updated fairytale garb that is also perfectly star-defining: this dress would be Nicole Kidman in or out of the film.
American Hustle – Tweed-and-burgundy shoulder-patch jacket (Bradley Cooper, CD: Michael Wilkinson)
All the costuming in American Hustle is kitsch, of course, but I love the subtle differentiations Michael Wilkinson makes within it: Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper’s vain alpha males are superficially both locked into the same bad-taste wardrobe, but only one of them has innate style – and Cooper’s lurid but beautifully tailored shoulder-patch jacket, something I’d totally wear if I was feeling brazen, proves it.
Frances Ha – White shirt and black pencil skirt in the final sequence (Greta Gerwig, CD: Uncredited)
After spending the entire film in rumpled blouses, tights and a particularly shapeless biker jacket, the re-employed, revitalised Frances faces the world wearing a slender, schoolteacher-style skirt and crisp white shirt — they’re clearty budget, and don’t match perfectly, but it’s the calculatedly grown-up outfit of a woman who’s spent too long apologising for “not being a real person.” It’s the image that appeared on the poster, but the character takes a long time to get there.
Rush – Franklin & Marshall t-shirt with dark denim flared jeans (Chris Hemsworth, CD: Julian Day)
In a scene when James Hunt meets his future socialite wife, he looks casual in a printed t-shirt (complete with oil marks) and ’70s-appropriate flared jeans. Compared with her model uniform of boots, deep-V dress, fur trimmed coat and wide brim fedora he looks scruffy, but much like Hunt’s persona he still looks charming and desirable enough to successfully chat up a woman clearly too fancy for him.
Django Unchained – Blue velvet valet suit (Jamie Foxx, CD: Sharen Davis)
Considering he’s spent his life wearing the rags you’d associate with a slave, when Django gets the chance to choose his own outfit it’s no surprise he went for a ridiculous get-up that’s basically Austin Powers with Seinfeld’s famous puffy shirt added for good measure. Inspired by Thomas Gainsborough’s 1770 oil painting, The Blue Boy, nothing says freedom quite like this.
Blue Jasmine – Fendi dress, Vivier shoes and Hermes bag (Cate Blanchett, CD: Suzy Benzinger)
Despite falling into financial ruin Jasmine Francis clings onto the remains of “put together” New York socialite uniform like a baby holding a security blanket. The only reminder she has of her former life is the very expensive clothes on her back and Hermes bag and unsurprisingly she’d rather wear them several times than dare purchase anything cheaper, which only speaks to her snobby character and crumbling mental state.
Only God Forgives – Distressed white t-shirt (Ryan Gosling)
Ryan Gosling picks up where Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire left off by displaying the subtle appeal of the plain white t-shirt. The stretched collar, the rolled up sleeves and looser fit tee worn with distressed jeans, black boots and silver chain could only be carried off this well by Gosling.
Behind the Candelabra – Diamond encrusted Speedo and shades (Matt Damon)
Everything on screen in Steven Soderbergh’s drama is brilliant, but Scott Thorson’s post-swim ensemble is the exact moment he starts drinking Liberace’s Kool Aid. An encrusted Speedo with an open black shirt, numerous gold necklaces and a suitably ostentatious pair of sunglasses show he’s not the sweet country boy anymore.
Suzanne Rowland (lecturer in Art and Design)
Behind the Candelabra
Liberace’s costumes were more extravagant and more sparkly than I had anticipated! It was a joy to watch. I also loved the way the costume designer told Scott’s story through his clothes, from his dog training days in denim to those glitz trunks, the chauffeur outfit and his casual wear at the end of the film. Genius.
Mad Men, season 6 (CD: Janie Bryant, TV)
The costumes are always so slick and appropriate to each character.
Jack the Giant Slayer (CD: Joanna Johnston)
Because my friend Joan was the cutter!
Les Coquillettes (CD: unknown)
A cute and timely film following three young women as they traipse through film festival parties, Les Coquillettes is notable for featuring one of the best dresses of the cinematic year. While prepping for a night out on the town Camille (Camille Genaud, who is something of a Gallic Greta Gerwig) decides that she should wear her “duck dress.” The dress—a short slip covered with a pattern of Donald Ducks—may be ridiculous but it works. As a skimpy garment covered in a childlike print, it’s a humorous aesthetic representation of the mature/immature balance often found in today’s portrayals of 20-something women (see also: Lena Dunham’s rompers on Girls). There’s also a delightful subversiveness at play in a French woman wearing an icon of American childhood.
Passion (CD: Karen Muller Serreau)
Passion is a highly stylised murder mystery with an intriguing (some may say voyeuristic, this being a Brian De Palma film) fixation on feminine signifiers. Much of the film takes place in the cold, corporate advertising world, but the setting is punctuated with streaks of bright red lipstick, and classic blonde on brunette rivalry/Sapphic tension. Christine (Rachel McAdams), a high-powered agency professional, wears slim fitting dresses and expensive looking coats at work and lounges at home in a glamorous black corset/garters/stockings set complete with a green velvet robe and heels. It’s not a very realistic “at home” outfit, but it seems the ideal thing to wear while devising devious schemes. Christine resembles a classic vixen, albeit one shot with a digital camera—it’s like a Helmut Newton photograph taken at an Apple Store.
Spring Breakers (CD: Heidi Bivens)
By now, everyone and their mother has a sense of Spring Breakers’ lurid, loopy aesthetic. Love it or hate it, the costumes are memorable and an integral part of the film’s overall sense of pop sleaze. The four protagonists wear candy colored bikinis, and little else, save for the occasional pair of airbrushed hot pants and ski caps for committing robbery. The neon bikini isn’t thought to be the classiest or most subtle of garments, and that’s the point: along with the film’s sundry shots of youthful bodies, propulsive score, and mantra like chanting of “Spring Break forever,” the bikinis become a form of hypnosis, no longer merely something “slutty” (such a descriptor is rendered useless) but rather something more weird, like a word repeated so many times it loses its initial meaning.
A New Yorker article this past summer recounted some of Greta Gerwig’s notes for Frances Ha’s initial screenplay: “I keep thinking about a leather jacket. Not a cool one, just something a friend had given her because she didn’t want it anymore. Maybe it’s too big, and there’s no perfect season to actually wear it.” The combination of the jacket (worn throughout the film) with a floral dress and jolie laide clogs is probably the most relatable outfit I’ve seen onscreen this year—it’s cute, rather than glamorous, and there’s a certain endearing awkwardness to it. She isn’t dressed to impress someone, and one gets the sense that many of her outfits are thrown together, college-style. The fact that Gerwig used the idea of the jacket as inspiration for the character she so believably embodied makes perfect sense. She’s looking for a perfect fit, and with the small victories at the film’s end maybe the ideal season to wear the jacket will finally come.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
One has to admit that a big, poufy, Barbie dream wedding dress that produces fire is a real crowd pleaser. Consider it the anti-Frances Ha outfit: totally unrealistic and extravagant. Katniss’ (Jennifer Lawrence) dress is a fun blend of girly and badass, and adds some edge to a cliché wedding fantasy. It shows us how far fashion can potentially transport us from the everyday.
Django Unchained – Blue velvet valet suit
With Django Freeman’s infamous blue suit Tarantino manages to turn an apparent throwaway gag in to what is perhaps the most elegant film reference in the whole movie.
2 Autumns, 3 Winters – Knitted scarf (Vincent Macaigne, CD: Anne Billette)
The scarf worn by Vincent Macaigne as Arman is present in practically every scene in which the actor appears, adapting, like any good accessory, to the shifting mood it encounters with subtle precision. In Macaigne too an alterna-icon is born, in which the street smarts cool of a Depardieu or De Niro is merged with the more academic standing of the French actor’s background.
Blue Is The Warmest Colour – Dodger blue jacket (Léa Seydoux, CD: Sylvie Letellier)
Matching the distinctive shade of azure that bathes Emma’s (Seydoux) hair, it’s difficult to name a piece of clothing that has so quickly laid out the emotional intent of a single figure in the whole of the cinema of 2013. Bonus points for the magnificent complexity of the emotional intent being projected.
The Great Gatsby
I never met a sequin I didn’t like so the collaboration between Catherine Martin and Miuccia Prada for the ladies’ Gatsby costumes felt like the Jazz Age on steroids (and a whole lotta champagne). What was missing was a focus on the jewellery, truly amazing pieces by Tiffany & Co. which had a tough time competing with all that sartorial glitter. Other unsung heroes of this movie were the men’s costumes by Brooks Brothers, which outfitted Fitzgerald himself in his day, and gave the film a more authentic 1920s look.
Suzy Benzinger knocked it out of the park in the pieces she chose for Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, using iconic brands like Chanel, Hermès, and Missoni as a kind of visual shorthand for what a modern-day wealthy socialite wears. She didn’t stop there however, her costumes for Jasmine’s sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and Ginger’s boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) were just the right note to bring out the class differences between Jasmine and Ginger and give the film an updated A Streetcar Named Desire feel.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
What I loved about these costumes was the perfect interplay between the colourful over-the-top ensembles at the Capitol and a rougher, darker feel in District 12 and in the Arena, with a focus on leather, gigantic knits, technical fabrics, and athletic wear. By pulling stunning ensembles from the runway of Alexander McQueen for Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) as well as Maria Dora knits and an otherworldly wedding dress for Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) by Tex Saverio, Trish Summerville proves costume design is sometimes about getting the best look for the characters, whether you created them or someone else did. A standout achievement.
Dancing with the Stars (CD: Daniella Gschwendtner and Steven Norman Lee, TV)
I can’t help being impressed by the inventiveness and sheer number of looks the series costume designers, wardrobe team, and hair and makeup departments put together every week for all the celebrities and professional dancers. No detail is left undone and you can see the thoroughness down to the hair, makeup, and shoes. Even the manicures on the ladies seem well thought out. I give it a 10!
Amber Butchart (writer, fashion historian, DJ)
Ripper Street (Series 2 CD: Lorna Marie Mugan, TV)
I would say my top costumes of 2013 would be found on Ripper Street. They chime perfectly with the characters; Edmund Reid’s exquisite tailoring mirrors his straight laced attitude while Captain Jackson’s dashing mismatched patterns speak perfectly of his flamboyance, well-travelled nature and scant regard for sartorial propriety. I especially love the garishness of Long Susan’s ensembles. The tones are reminiscent of aniline dyes: the first chemical dyes that were initially developed in the 1850s and which hugely expanded the colour palette for Victorian clothing. By the 1880s these new mauves, pinks and greens were all the rage (outside of Artistic or Aesthetic circles that preferred the antique look of vegetable shades). As mistress of a brothel it’s only right that Susan would swathe herself in these gaudy colours that mark her out as a fearless lady of fashion.
Pacific Rim (CD: Kate Hawley)
I have to pick out Pacific Rim for its WW2 aesthetic. It balances a retro-futuristic technological look in the combat suits, then has all those lovely 1940s nods with Rosie the Riveter style workers and flight jackets, emphasising the End of Times scenario of their desperate struggle. Perhaps my favourite costume of all is Tendo Choi’s tweed jacket, bowtie and rosary beads strung round his tattooed wrist. Badass.
Game of Thrones (CD: Michele Clapton, TV)
The other costume I got really excited about was Daenerys’ dragon scale blue dress in Game of Thrones. Michele Carragher’s embroidery is breathtaking, a rich mix of ancient and modern needlework skills creating such intricate detail (look closer at the insects on the clothes of the inhabitants of Qarth in season 2) This dress and it’s development through the shows give credibility to Dany’s evolution from the earlier seasons and link her to her growing dragons as their mother.
The one I haven’t seen but want to: Behind the Candelabra. I’m interested in seeing how Ellen Mirojnick created such flamboyant costumes with budget restrictions and fascinated by overblown stage costumes in general. Liberace has to be one of the greatest showmen ever in this respect, but I don’t know whether I’ll admire his style or find it unredeemably tacky.
…and a now a few words from those working in the biz:
I adored The Grandmaster (CD: William Chang). It was beyond beautiful, spanning time and enhancing the mood of the film.
Kristin M. Burke (costume designer)
Spring Breakers. The Alien “Hawaiian Shirt” look is just fucking stunning. Seriously. Day-glo bikinis with pink ski masks is another icon from that film.
Man of Steel (CDs: Michael Wilkinson and James Acheson)
In Man of Steel, Michael Wilkinson and James Acheson seriously upped the game of the superhero film genre! The costumes created for the world of Krypton are epically beautiful, on par with any large-scale period drama. But one of my favorite costumes of the entire film was Clark Kent in a worn, vintage-style (Kansas City) Royals t-shirt – such a simple moment that captured the thoughtful work of Wilkinson.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Start to finish one of the most visually striking films of the year! Trish Summerville expertly wove together custom, designer, and rented costumes to create a brilliantly cohesive film. From the worn, aged clothing of the districts, to the menacing sculpted uniforms of the Peacekeepers, to the excessive fashions of The Capitol – there wasn’t a single throw-away look in the bunch! Summerville’s collaboration with Elizabeth Banks to capture Effie’s personal character arc within the film was breath-taking.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (CD: Ann Foley, TV)
In only ten episodes, Ann Foley has created a stunning world with great subtlety. The core agents represent such wonderful range, perfectly mixing elements of street clothing and graphic militant uniform. With FitzSimmons, Foley has created the new best dressed nerds of this generation. The story told simply through the dresses built for the recurring character Raina are reason enough to watch the show!
Peaky Blinders – Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy, CD: Stephanie Collie, TV)
The suit he wears on the horse. I can’t really describe it but as I’ve renamed it, ‘Cillian porn’: tweed, practicality, warmth, and period. Detachable collars should be brought back. The suit is perfect for his character. Highly skilled cut and make, and thought through breaking down. It’s strong enough to be the boss, ‘casual’ enough to be part of the people and his fellow ex soldiers.
Saving Mr. Banks – Walt Disney (Tom Hanks, CD: Daniel Orlandi)
Walt Disney is one of my heroes. The suit transformed Tom Hanks into Walt Disney, it’s pretty magical. I read a quote from Daniel Orlandi that said that Walt would never be seen without his jacket, which is the kind of trivia I love. Also his little pocket handkerchief has Mickey Mouse on it. Basically magical.
Peaky Blinders – Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory)
Any of her costumes; all of them: practical, lady-like, woman of steel, protector, caring. Lovely colours and shapes.
Populaire – Louis Échard (Régis Roinsard, CD: Charlotte David)
For obvious darling check, and flattering cut reasons. Gorgeous period, expensive but needed suit for his character. The fabrics/costumes in this film are a bit show off-y (the opposite of Daniel Orlandi’s for ‘Saving Mr Banks’), but why not? It’s stylised and all that jazz.
I did truly enjoy the costumes from Star Trek (CD: Michael Kaplan), the textures of the fabric and minimal design lines made for beautiful modern designs, not overly futuristic, grounded, and with excellent fine details.
The colour in the costumes for Hannibal (CD: Christopher Hargadon, TV) tended to be very muted to highly saturated – great for the storytelling. There were strong costume choices for Breaking Bad (CDs: Kathleen Detoro and Jennifer L. Bryan, TV), such as Skyler (Anna Gunn) and Walter (Bryan Cranston), and Walt’s costume symmetry between the first and last episodes.
Finally, here are my own personal costume picks. Trust me it was tough enough to select four – I kinda just love everything. I should also add that I’ve not yet seen American Hustle, Her, Blue Jasmine or Blue is the Warmest Colour. I feel they would probably feature in my list if I had.
Stoker – Saddle shoes
There are a million reasons to love the costuming in Stoker, but for me it’s all about those saddle shoes. Such a smart and simple idea, to reflect the journey (or step?) from childhood to adulthood, prey to predator via the most childish of footwear to the most adult. Those crocodile Christian Louboutin heels Mia Wasikowska’s slips on toward the end of the story indicate the most important composite part of her character’s becoming. Plus she looks utterly bewitchingly beautiful, which is neither here nor there but still…
After Earth – Life suit (Jaden Smith, CD: Amy Westcott)
Partially justified, partially just plain nitpicking, but After Earth was hardly well received. The main reason this should bother anyone is that the costumes got overlooked amidst all the fist shaking. Basically I’m talking the life suit worn by Will Smith as Cypher Rage and Jaden Smith as his son Kitai (in a slightly modified version). Intriguing the suit changes colour depending on environmental conditions, e.g. it’s black when in heighted ‘danger mode’ and reddy brown with a light underlay in its natural state. Costume designer Amy Westcott used beetles as reference for the suit’s colour palette, and mushroom ‘gills’ as the under layer – the idea being that the suit is organic and perfectly in tune with its surroundings. It could be contested that if this concept does not show on screen it is ultimately irrelevant, however it does show on screen and actually spun rather cleverly into the narrative. Although, perhaps tellingly, was not in the original script.
Peaky Blinders was the TV event of the year of me, well certainly British TV event anyway. The costumes themselves were subtle in a way that, say, Boardwalk Empire is not, nor should be. This was a rough, gruff world of dirt and workers. Heavy tweed, flat caps and collarless shirts form a uniform look for the Peaky boys, although shrewdly costume designer Stephanie Collie was not afraid to draw on modern inspirations, like tighter, shorter trousers and more fitted shirts. This produced a costume/fashion crossover that is becoming increasingly popular with films and television. There was no ‘tie in’ range for Peaky Blinders, but there should have been. Or maybe not? Maybe part of the fun in recreating an on screen look is sourcing and creating it yourself..?
Behind the Candelabra
Everything costume in this film (or mini-series if you prefer) is so perfectly executed it’s no wonder the press went wild. Of course there’s the novelty factor of Michael Douglas as Liberace dressing in rhinestone capes and kimonos, not to mention Matt Damon as his lover Scott Thorsen disappearing a pair of sequin trunks. Yet the real joy of Behind the Candelabra is the quiet moments when both characters are at home, simply existing. The world was a stage to both of them but costume designer Ellen Mirojnick refused to go overboard. Instead it was seventies silliness mixed with comfort and, yes, even style. The main thing was that neither she, nor director Steven Soderbergh ever treated Liberace as a joke.
With thanks to all those contributors and costume designers/makers who made the time to take part.
© 2013 – 2018, Lord Christopher Laverty.