One of the biggest cultural phenomena that influences fashion today and in the past is film and television. Character design and styling to a character’s personality is an art, and has the ability to create iconic moments and figures in cinema. Think Cher from Clueless with a nineties-yellow-plaid, or the old Hollywood glamour of a Givenchy-adorned Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A well-known factoid of fashion in film was the use of carefully selected designer garments by Dan Levy for the cast of characters on Schitt’s Creek. Lest we forget how well the rarified shrieks of Moira Rose about living in a rural motel pairs with a strange and chic assortment of hats and dresses.
The combination of a strong personality and an outfit to go along is an excellent tool in visual storytelling as well as pushes us deeper into the world that the film is building. A notable reference of this is Ruth E. Carter’s repeated Oscar wins for both Black Panther and its recent sequel. It has been noted that Carter designed over 2,100 costumes for the film series. Her highly imaginative superhero-inspired silhouettes combined with detailing and use of distinctly African prints presents another angle for the audience to view, and pulls us even further into the world of Wakanda. Carter also designed for many of Spike Lee’s early films, including Do The Right Thing, and alludes to the then-current everyday street styles in Brooklyn.
The emphasis of specific costuming in film is completely dependent on the type of story being told. If you’re thinking of a low-stakes classic sitcom like The Golden Girls or Seinfeld, the costumes are very lowkey. They are likely easily purchased, resemble the era that a show takes place in, and only really makes a statement when the show’s writing uses costume as a device to further the plot (think of any episode of Seinfeld vs. the “Pirate Shirt Episode” of Seinfeld). For shows like these, costume design takes a backseat.
Now, let’s take Euphoria as an example of the opposite. Euphoria places a large amount of emphasis on not only their costume design, but how it is used to reflect the personalities of specific characters. Jules, played by Hunter Schafer, has an ethereal and more Y2K-inspired wardrobe. Kat, played by Barbie Ferreira, has a distinct edge to her character’s costumes with bold makeup choices and leather corsetry. From these visuals, we might assume that Jules’s personality is more soft-spoken, and Kat gives off a fiercely independent and grungy vibe.
These curated wardrobe choices for the Euphoria characters resulted in massive success for the show in the fashion world. We saw countless trends pop up as many young viewers found the styles and personalities on the show relatable, or outfit inspiration that they hadn’t seen on a highly-syndicated show before. This exploded with Vogue editorials with the actors, runway show appearances, and a sea of articles on “How To Dress Like a Euphoria Character”. And how can we disagree? It’s incredible to witness the give-and-take inspiration of fashion and film in real time!
Fashion has the ability to transform a character, or create unforgettable moments on the screen. The moment Diana Ross steps out in a silky pink gown with bell sleeves in Mahogany, or Edith Head’s array of showstopping holiday choir gowns in White Christmas both have this moment where it’s all that: head to toe fashion.
The history of film is littered with timeless moments like these, and lots of the old Hollywood films we remember the most have carefully chosen costume design. For many of us working in creative fields, these moments in cinema have had a profound impact on our desire to be in the world of design and art. Costuming is an art all of its own, with hidden references and getting those angles and details for the camera to pick up perfectly.
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