Bright Side

11 Times When the Costumes Were Just As Important As the Actors in Movies

As a rule, the Oscar award for the best costume design goes to the artists who manage to accurately recreate a costume in accordance with its historical time period. But only one movie team gets a reward, while 5 teams are nominated. And everyone knows the movie that won the Oscar, but few people remember the nominees. However, these films are also worth spending a couple of evenings watching. The costumes in these movies are not only pleasant to look at, but they often hide a secret meaning.

We at Bright Side want to restore justice, so please, meet 11 Oscar nominees for the best costume design from the last decade.

11. Bright Star, 2009

Costume designer — Janet Patterson

The designer paid special attention to the costumes of Fanny Brawne, the main character of this movie. Patterson tried to express not only the character’s personality through her clothes, but also show her emotions and feelings.

For example, in the scene where Fanny and her lover John get caught in the rain, the girl is wearing a pink dress. The costume designer was looking for the right fabric for this dress for a long time because she wanted to find a fabric that would be completely ruined by water. It would help to create an additional dramatic effect, because the scene was about betrayal. As a result, Fanny’s fresh and beautiful dress turns into a wet piece of unattractive fabric in the rain.

10. The King’s Speech, 2010

Costume designer — Jenny Beavan

This film tells a story that happened more than 70 years ago, so the actors, in most cases, were dressed in vintage clothing from that period. Historic costumes were rented and repaired because most of them were very worn out.

Beavan revealed that they tried to use the original vintage clothes as much as possible because they wanted the actors to feel comfortable in these clothes, so the audience would perceive them as real people and the whole movie didn’t seem too staged. But some actors didn’t really feel comfortable in these clothes and they still felt like they were wearing costumes. As a result, their acting didn’t seem natural, so costume designers had to adjust or make new costumes for them (instead of using vintage clothes). For example, the character of Helena Bonham Carter preferred colorful dresses in real life, but the actress looked uncomfortable in these costumes. So costume designers chose more calm colors for her clothes, to make the audience believe her as she played her character.

9. Jane Eyre, 2011

Costume designer — Michael O’Connor

The main character’s style is simple and unpretentious, which radically differs from the carefully thought-out costumes that O’Connor usually creates, like for example in The Duchess. But the designer decided that Jane’s dresses should reflect her inner essence which couldn’t be revealed by the lush and densely decorated, but impersonalized costumes of the past.

Mia Wasikowska’s character even had special undergarments (stockings and corsets) designed especially for her. This was extremely important for the director because he wanted to show Jane without any clothes on, but if she wasn’t wearing the underwear that people used to wear during that time period, it would ruin the impression.

8. Les Misérables, 2012

Costume designer — Paco Delgado

Paco Delgado’s first reaction when he was asked to head up costume design for this movie was, “My God, this is such a huge job!” And he wasn’t exaggerating, even for a bit, because designers had to create costumes from scratch for almost every character of this musical. Besides, the team that consisted of 50 people had to pay attention to historical details as well, because this movie covers a pretty long time period, from 1815 and up to 1848. And the clothes of the characters had to be stylistically different in different scenes.

Since the history of that time was very dark, Delgado’s first desire was to dress all the characters in black costumes. However, the director needed color on the screen, so the designer chose a bright color scheme with saturated blue elements.

7. The Invisible Woman, 2013

Costume designer — Michael O’Connor

The designer thoughtfully studied the fashion of that time (the middle of the 19th century) using paintings created back then and photographs. One of the distinguishing features of this film is that the characters don’t change costumes in different scenes. Instead, they just add new details to their looks. This was done for the sake of historical accuracy. In the middle of the 19th century, people couldn’t afford to have hundreds of dresses and suits, so every time they went to a public gathering, they added a new detail or accessory to their old outfit, so it would look new.

6. Mr. Turner, 2014

Costume designer — Jacqueline Durran

This film is full of historical details that needed to be taken into account by designers when they were creating costumes. A researcher was hired to gather all these little historical details before costume designers started to work,

The character of Hanna Danby, a servant who never leaves the main character’s house and slavishly serves him, deserves special attention. This woman looks poor and rude in comparison with Turner’s lovers.

Durran thought about it and decided that, in real life, this woman would own one dress and would wear it until it was completely worn out. So she decided to make 2 costumes for Hanna. One was supposed to look new, and the other one was in very bad condition. This detail shows us how the character suffered during her relationship with the main character.

5. Carol, 2015

Costume designer — Sandy Powell

The plot is built around Carol, the main character of the film. To separate her from the rest of the women, the designer used an interesting trick. The costumes of the character hide a lot of masculine details. For this reason, the audience perceives Carol as a self-sufficient woman, who can stand up for herself.

This character has another signature trait. She only paints her nails different shades of red, and her manicure is always impeccable. Meanwhile, the second main character’s hands don’t look chic at all, and it’s unlikely that she has ever worn any nail polish.

During the film, the director attracts viewers’ attention to the wrists a couple of times, and the audience understands that Carol’s hands don’t know what the real work is. They’ve never cleaned toilets, washed floors, or done laundry. Her friend, on the contrary, isn’t afraid of work.

4. Florence Foster Jenkins, 2016

Costume designer — Consolata Boyle

To recreate the atmosphere of New York at the beginning of the 20th century, in which the famous opera singer, Florence Foster Jenkins, lived, the costume designers had to work hard. In addition to studying historical documents, the team carefully examined and analyzed the pictures of Jenkins herself, and especially the photographs of her stage costumes. However, the costumes she wore in her everyday life and on stage didn’t differ very much from each other. The singer was famous for her passion for exotic fabrics and styles.

Every costume in this movie was made by the designers from scratch.

3. Victoria and Abdul, 2017

Costume designer — Consolata Boyle

The main difficulty for the designer was to preserve historical accuracy. The real queen wore clothes in very dark colors because she was mourning her deceased spouse. Nobody wanted to sacrifice the truth for the sake of color aesthetics, and the solution was elegant. Boyle kept the dark outfits but added countless textured elements that made even the darkest costume look almost festive.

To help the viewer understand how the romantic relationship between the characters was developing, the designer significantly modified the Queen’s outfits closer to the finale of the movie. If at the beginning of the film, she chose dark dresses, but by the end, she’d started to wear white and other light colors. It’s interesting that white is the traditional color to wear at the very end of mourning.

2. The Favourite, 2018

Costume designer — Sandy Powell

Every costume you see in this movie was made from scratch in 6 weeks. Because of a low budget, designers used cheap fabrics in black and white colors. The jewelry that appears onscreen didn’t cost a fortune. Some pieces were handmade by the designers, and the rest of it was made from artificial pearls.

Some fabrics were bought in thrift shops. For example, the costume of the kitchen servant that you can see in the picture above was made from a pair of old jeans that the team bought at a second-hand store.

The film doesn’t pretend to be historically accurate.

1. Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood, 2019

Costume designer — Arianne Phillips

The designer came up with special clothing for each of the main characters. They acted as some kind of good-luck charms that not only make the characters more stylish, but also help to reveal their inner world.

This medallion was created for Rick Dalton’s character. It has a Tudor rose on one side, and the letter R is engraved on the other. By the way, the character of Leonardo DiCaprio wears a belt with a buckle on which the same letter is depicted. According to Phillips, a man who wears clothing with a monogram is arrogant and loves to boast. And Rick is just like that.

Cliff Butt had a noteworthy buckle. His had the logo of the Stuntmen’s Association. In addition, the character of Brad Pitt wore a Hawaiian shirt that is one of the most famous shirts created by Tarantino.

Do you pay attention to the characters’ clothes when you watch a movie? Do their outfits reveal something about them?

Preview photo credit Jane Eyre / BBC Films