"Whip It" © 2010 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

Whip It: Roller Derby Vogue

Much was made of Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut. Barrymore, as a Hollywood veteran, however, used many of her connections to help with the success of Whip It (2009). One of those connections was the well-respected Costume Designer, Catherine Marie Thomas.

Known for her adept diversity, Thomas has been the designer on films as wide-ranging as Kill Bill (Vols. I & II) and The Prairie Home Companion. With Whip it, however, Thomas found herself in a position of freedom, as Roller Derby is traditionally known as having an “anything goes” approach to uniforms; from fishnets to feathers, nothing is off the table.

With team names like The Sirens, The Holy Rollers, and The Hurl Scouts, Thomas was able to work with themes for each team’s uniform. Additionally, because the actual sport of Roller Derby has no real guidelines regarding uniforms (i.e. skirt length, presence of “flair”), Thomas also had the freedom to create variations within the same uniform theme.

The team of protagonist Bliss Cavender / Babe Ruthless (Ellen Page) is called The Hurl Scouts. For their uniforms, Thomas worked with the traditional faded green colours of Girl Scout uniforms. From that point on, however, all bets were off. Some skaters wear shorts, while others don skirts. Ellen Page’s character sports a fitted top, while Drew Barrymore’s character opts for a vest. Eve’s character even goes strapless. This variation, in conjunction with different shades of green and the laissez faire approach to tights, creates what can only loosely be called a uniform. Instead, Thomas’ work is more like a collection in a fashion show tradition.

Thomas extends this approach across other team’s uniforms as well. One of the other spotlighted team in Whip It is called The Holy Rollers. Working with a Catholic school girl theme, Thomas started with three key elements: plaid skirt, sleeveless deep-V white top, and loosely-tied ruby/navy neckties. The variations within The Holy Rollers uniforms, however, is more subtle. Some skirts sport a lace hem while others don’t. Some shirts are tied in the front, while others use buttons. Tights are solid colours, stripes, or even absent. Yet the base design cues make it very clear that, despite all the variation between uniforms, these players are clearly part of the same team.

In effect, Thomas goes beyond the costume design requirements of many movies, and creates a sort of roller derby couture for Whip It. Yet it is this very sense of freedom associated with real roller derby uniforms that allows for a sense of creativity that is often not possible with other movies.

In as much as this is Drew Barrymore’s movie, it is also Catherine Marie Thomas’ runway to showcase a wide range of creativity – that same creativity that has already garnered her two Costume Designers Guild Awards for feature film in her career. That’s just how she rolls.

Whip It was released in the US on 2nd December and will be released in UK on 7th April 2010.

Brenda Hineman is a costume aficionado. She writes about Halloween costumes at the indispensable StarCostumes.com.

© 2010 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.

  • Carol

    Nice piece. The costumery & creativity of the non-uniform uniforms of roller derby is 1/2 the attraction.