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Woman Inherits the Earth: Femininity in Jurassic World

There has been an insane amount of discussion online about Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Claire Dearing, since the release of Jurassic World (2015, costume designed Daniel Orlandi), mostly concerning the ‘running in heels’ sequences. I felt it would be interesting to take a broader look at the costumes of the female leads in both the original Jurassic Park (1993, costume supervised by Sue Moore) and Jurassic World and contrast in the characters.

Dr Ellie Sattler the Paleobotanist as played by Laura Dern in the original movie is a hugely underrated feminist action hero. She is allowed to be clever, brave, practical and physical yet display ‘feminine’ traits at the same time, such as fear, compassion and a nurturing nature. These are characteristics infrequently seen together in Hollywood blockbuster movies. For the bulk of the film, she wears one practical outfit: chino shorts and a baggy salmon-coloured shirt knotted at the waist with a blue high necked vest-top underneath. Hiking boots and rolled-down socks complete the costume. It is completely practical but not frumpy: the colours suit her hair and skin tone and show off her fantastic legs. She certainly attracts the attention of Dr Malcolm, who is quickly seen off by her partner Dr Grant.

Bryce Dallas Howard as operations manager Claire Dearing wearing those infamous high heels in Jurassic World. She apparently went through dozens of pairs during filming.
Bryce Dallas Howard as operations manager Claire Dearing in Jurassic World wearing those infamous high heels. She apparently went through dozens of pairs during filming.

Claire Dearing, Operations Manager for Jurassic World is introduced with a shot panning from her skin-tone stiletto pumps upwards and is repeatedly shown this way, the camera focussing on her heels. No wonder it is all anyone can talk about. She wears an all-white outfit (John Hammond is dressed all in white in the first film…coincidence?) with a blouse belted at the waist and an A-line skirt. Her big costume moment comes when she commits to rescuing her missing nephews lost in a dinosaur-infested jungle. She tears open her blouse to reveal the vest underneath (wardrobe staple of female action heroes), knots it at the waist and rolls up her sleeves in a call-back to Ellie Sattler’s outfit. She then gradually gets more dishevelled as the film moves on. Although strangely her heavy eye makeup gradually disappears rather than sliding down her face to resemble a panda. Despite her displaying much more ‘flesh’ than Ellie Sattler, nobody is shown being attracted to her: even her love interest Owen does not seem that interested in her physically, apart from one scene at his house.

Her costume doesn’t just refer back to Jurassic Park: there is another obvious reference to a classic action heroine. Career girl Joan Wilder played by Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone (1984) also finds herself in a South American jungle and ill-equipped for her adventures in a beige blouse and knee-length A-line skirt which even gets ripped up the left thigh in the same way as Claire’s does. The only thing missing is that her reluctant companion Owen doesn’t machete off her high heels as Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) does. Maybe now they wish he had?

Contrast Claire in heels with Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Sattler in her more practical filed attire.
Contrast Claire in heels with Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Sattler in her more practical filed attire.

Now this is just my opinion: I do not really have a problem with the heels. It is not very realistic that she would be able to run that fast and stay upright on all those tricky surfaces, but nor are genetically-engineered dinosaurs, reptile eggs that hatch claws-first or chameleons that eat with their hands amongst other things. But this is Hollywood, so realism isn’t high on the agenda. I can buy the line given by Howard and the director that the character of Claire would not necessarily change her shoes. As she is portrayed to us, we do not even get to see her being a particularly competent manager. The only thing we do see her accomplishing is being an expert saleswoman. Her appearance would naturally be part of her sales pitch. And I do not think Claire believes she’s in much danger until it is too late to worry about the availability of hiking boots. I do feel that her character is unsympathetic, and that the lack of depth in the role means we are obsessing about superficial elements instead of meaningful development. I think the makers of Jurassic World believed that showing a woman capable of running in heels was the same as showing us a capable woman, and that is why I’ll never love Claire the way I love Dr Ellie Sattler.

By Lesley Holmes

Lesley likes movies with space and dinosaurs, and B&W screwball comedies. She is fascinated by fashion history and particularly obsessed by underwear. She sells repro 1940s style knickers at her site Dorothy May Lingerie; she also conducts fashion talks on various topics.

Jurassic World is currently on general release.

© 2015 – 2017, Lord Christopher Laverty.