14 Tiny Costume Details That Reveal the Hidden Meaning of Famous Movies
Sometimes, costumes in movies and TV series can tell a lot more about characters than even their actions can. But costumes don’t reveal their secrets immediately. As the story unfolds, we often don’t notice what the characters are wearing. That is why it can be a good idea to watch your favorite movie again and pay more attention to the details that you missed at first.
At Bright Side, we watched 14 iconic movies and series again and found revealing elements from costumes that we missed during the first viewing.
The Queen’s Gambit
According to costume designer Gabriele Binder, the main character’s nature is emphasized by fabrics with geometric patterns, like a vintage plaid coat that the heroine wears at the end of the story which was designed specifically for the series, or the dress that Beth wears during the tournament in Paris which was inspired by the elegant models of Pierre Cardin.
With the help of costumes, the designers managed to loop the storyline. At the beginning of the story, when the heroine only chooses her path in life, we can see her most precious piece of clothing — a dress with embroidery made by her mother. For the final tournament, which sums up the story, the heroine chooses a similar outfit in the same color.
Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland had to re-read the script 3 or 4 times to figure out where the events took place — in reality or at some dream level. This was supposed to be reflected in the clothes of the heroes: the designer wanted to preserve the unique style of each character, but the style had to be transformed when the action moved from dream to reality and vice versa.
The looks of the character of Leonardo DiCaprio, for example, become more formal as he got deeper into the dream levels. In the real world, he wears a button-down shirt. At the first dream level, he gets a jacket and tie, but overall his look remains quite relaxed. In the second dream level, he appears in a very well-fitting 2-piece suit. This is pretty symbolic given the fate of this character.
The main difficulty for the costume designers was the fact that all the main characters had to be dressed in suits, but they had to look different. “You have grey suits, blue suits, black suits. You’ve got a peak lapel, a notch lapel, you might have a shawl lapel, but that’s it. There isn’t much choice,” Jeffrey Kurland said.
Nevertheless, the task was solved. For example, unlike DiCaprio’s character, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character wears a 3-piece suit. At the same time, Tom Hardy’s character was put in the spotlight with the help of red socks which he casually showed on camera.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Dolores Umbridge’s costume has a revealing detail that says a lot about her character and inclinations. Her scarf, which seems to be made in the form of a cat, looks almost exactly like a snake — it has a narrow head and a long tail. Thus, the costume designer gives us a hint that Umbridge secretly worships Lord Voldemort.
Wild at Heart
For the movie from 1990, Nicolas Cage specifically bought a snakeskin jacket at a thrift store and asked director David Lynch to make it a part of the outfit of his character, along with black clothes and boots. In an interview with Marilyn Manson, the actor said that this way he wanted to pay tribute to Marlon Brando, who wore a similar outfit in the 1960 movie The Fugitive Kind.
In Wild at Heart, the jacket played an amusing role. When another character said the piece looked like a stupid clown jacket, Sailor (the character played by Nicolas Cage) responded: “This is a snakeskin jacket! And for me, it’s a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom.”
For costume designer Jacqueline Durran, the film became a great opportunity to experiment with luxurious hats, veils, and jewelry. The heroine of Keira Knightley appears in Chanel necklaces and earrings, and even the feathers are attached to her hat with a diamond. All these details are a symbol of luxury that surrounds the heroine.
And thanks to the headdress with a veil, the director managed to create a very bright look emphasizing the character. When Anna returns from seeing her son, she cries without removing her veil. This is a symbol of a mother’s despair which overshadows everyday inconveniences (after all, crying behind a veil is not very comfortable).
Ryan Gosling chose the famous jacket from Drive himself. According to Nicolas Winding Refn, when a director deals with very good actors, they often let them figure out their wardrobe themselves because that’s very much how they build their characters, through wardrobe.
But the jacket didn’t have a scorpion on the back at the beginning. Costume designers got inspired by military uniforms with the symbols of eagles and other signs, and only then did they pick out a suitable animal. Thus, the front of the jacket was fairly common, and only the back became a revealing detail. Then Ryan had the idea that the filming crew could use this design to incorporate the story about the scorpion and the frog, and it turned out really great.
The costume designers of the series had to face a difficult task — they had to transform adults into teenagers. It’s no coincidence that the looks of the characters turned out to be so bright — the designers were inspired by comics to create them. At first, the designers imagined the characters as cartoon heroes, and then figured out what their real versions would look like. This allowed them to create iconic looks, while the viewers were able to remember the characters thanks to just one distinctive detail like a jacket, shirt, hairstyle, etc.
An insignificant costume detail tells us a lot about Frank, portrayed by Chris Evans. When he meets Mary, his T-shirt is turned inside out: he was in such a hurry to save Fred and get the girl back that he simply didn’t pay attention to it. Small details like this one reveal Chris Evans’ character as much as his words and deeds.
The fact that Tyler is a figment of the narrator’s imagination is hinted at by his wardrobe. His clothes stand in contrast to his surroundings and other characters, while the narrator’s wardrobe blends into the background. This way, the costume designers seem to emphasize that this character should not be here.
Emily in Paris
The costume design consultant of this series was the legendary Patricia Field, who is best known for her work for Sex and the City. “For me, Emily in Paris in certain ways was an elongated version of Carrie in Sex and the City,” says Patricia Field. That is why there are so many similarities in the looks of the characters of both series. For example, both Sarah Jessica Parker’s character and Lily Collins’ character wear berets and look gorgeous in them.
Besides, Lily Collins’ character was inspired by an Audrey Hepburn look from Funny Face from 1957. “So, I was like, I’m gonna do an homage. In the beginning, I was wondering, ’Do you think people would take it wrong?’ But in the end, I think it worked,” says Field.
Sometimes costumes work as a cover. In The Warriors (1979), the character Mercy is suddenly seen wearing a jacket, simply claiming that she “stole it.” In reality, the actress broke her wrist during a stunt and wore it to conceal her cast.
Gone with the Wind
Scarlett O’Hara’s dresses have long become legendary. With their help, the costume designers skillfully emphasized the development of the character. At the beginning, a slightly naive and eccentric girl appears in a luxurious white dress, and white is a symbol of innocence. With the development of the heroine, her outfits also change: she becomes stronger, and at the peak of Scarlett’s growth as a character, we see her in the red dress which symbolizes passion.
Many of Django’s costume elements are references to the westerns of the past. So, film director Quentin Tarantino initially wrote in the script that the main character would be dressed in a traditional green jacket.
And to create the hat, costume designer Sharen Davis went to the hat-makers who made Michael Langdon’s hat in the Bonanza series. “Django’s hat is Little Joe’s,” Davis says. “I just put a little more swerve in it.”
It also meant digging up spaghetti-Western eyewear. “Sunglasses are usually considered props, but I was asked to find them. I started searching through films that I thought Quentin would like, because that’s what he relates to,” Davis says. “You can show him the actual history, but that won’t do it. They were Charles Bronson’s from The White Buffalo. They’re hammered metal from 1830. They’re hard to put on. They just splay! I only had one pair.”
La La Land
One of the biggest difficulties for the costume designers was the selection of shoes for the characters. We can no longer imagine Sebastian without 2-tone shoes which are reminiscent of old black-and-white movies. And it wasn’t so easy to find them. According to costume designer Mary Zophres, Ryan Gosling didn’t like the first option of the shoes she chose, because it was uncomfortable to dance in them. So she had to find shoes that looked good and danced well.
There was also a moment when Sebastian and Mia were sitting on a park bench, and their feet were going side-to-side. So Mary decided that they should wear matching shoes to emphasize the connection between the characters.
Do you think costumes can help you understand the characters better? Tell us in the comments below.