CONSTRUCTION AND PURPOSE
THE COSTUME DESIGNER'S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FILM CREW AND CAST
INTERNATIONAL HISTORY OF
Costume design is as crucial to the creation of a film as direction, acting, art design, and cinematography. The audience, if it notes costume design at all, sees "fashion" or "period" dress, not realizing that a costume is never "fashion," "period" or even "clothes" and that the designer must achieve these categories without revealing any tricks. The costume itself is a trick, crafted for a single film moment, and despite its brief appearance, can have taken twenty people two weeks to prepare. It may be built for a special purpose: to bring light to the actor's face, show color, act as a symbol, or hide a body flaw. It may have to conform to a novel or an era, suit an auteur's mise-en-scène, endure strenuous stunts, function in extreme weather, or appear worn out or pristine. Equally, the clothes must satisfy the public's lust for hyperrealism and glamour, something Cecil B. DeMille recognized when he said that a film's success was made from "sex, sets and costume."
A costume can be "built" (made), purchased, altered, or rented. Often a designer will employ all four methods. A designer always uses a crew. Some crew members, such as pattern cutters, seamstresses, and tailors, are essential to any project. Others are film-specific, such as specialists in beads, embroidery, lace, feathers, leather, plastic, rubber, straw, elastic, or netting; shirt, shoe, hat, and accessory makers; as well as blacksmiths, armorers, jewelers, weavers, knitters, dyers, or furriers. Cloth may even have to be made from scratch. A designer decides whether to use vintage material, re-create the look, or blend old and new fabrics. For example, Marilyn Vance, for The Untouchables (1987), re-tailored 1980s leather clothing into a 1930s style. A garment might be burned, beaten, stained, washed, or cut to make it look genuine. Designers must know how to achieve authenticity and have observed everyday wear appropriate to period fabric (which may stress differently than contemporary material). They must know how a hem frays on a floor, how weight wears on a shirt's shoulder, how sweat affects Lycra™, or a how a sword cuts brocade.
Attention at every level of detail is essential; a loose thread will ruin a close-up. The gun holster shine rubbed on trousers such as Colleen Atwood (b. 1950) made for Wyatt Earp (1994), for example, will convey realism. As importantly, the designer must make the costume unobtrusive even in movies like Working Girl (1988), Jungle Fever (1991), or Spider-Man (2002) that rely on dress explicitly to reveal the character's sense of self. Gabriella Pescucci, whose work ranges from the riotous imagination of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) to the historical accuracy of The Age of Innocence (1993, Academy Award®) and who trained with the great Italian costume designer Piero Tosi (b. 1927) (who worked primarily with Luchino Visconti) throughout the 1970s, declared this plainly: "My greatest satisfaction comes from having my work disappear in the film" (Landis, p. 91). But the costume is a subliminal vehicle and it is the designer's job, as Albert Wolsky (b. 1930), Academy Award®–winner for All That Jazz (1979), said, to "identify, through elimination and simplification, who somebody is" (Landis, p. 168). Years before, Adrian (1903–1959), Head of Costume at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) from 1928 to 1942, revealed this interior structure of costume design with his statement that "one could line up all the gowns and tell the screen story."
The costume designer liaises with the actor, director, cinematographer, art director, hair and make-up stylists, and even the writer and stunt coordinator. On the set daily and/or nightly, until shooting wraps, for fittings, alterations, accidents, or additions, the costume designer is involved from a film's earliest pre-production and must do exhaustive research, even for a modern movie, regarding location, climate, class, age, taste, and fads. But, the designer must be always inventive. Historical clothing must be both accurate and believable for today's eyes. Truth, at times, must be sacrificed to ensure that an actor will look correct and the designer must determine how to make departures from strict historical accuracy appropriate both to the period and to the actor's physique. For example, the narrow shoulder lines of a nineteenth-century cowboy jacket could make a twenty-first-century actor look pinched, and so must be adjusted. This is a difficult and intuitive process because the designer must know the history well enough to tweak it, if necessary, without losing an accurate feel for the time. After research, a designer will usually make sketches, some quite artistic, and attach swatches of cloth to the paper. This becomes the prototype of the final costume.
The ingenuity of costume designers is legendary. For the Italian neorealist film Bellissima (1951), Piero Tosi asked people in the street to give him the clothes they were wearing, which, once told it was for "cinema" and "Anna Magnani," they eagerly did. For the Mafia film Casino (1995), Rita Ryack looked through the closets of Brooklyn gangsters in their homes. For the little-documented slave incident dramatized in Amistad (1997), Ruth Carter examined period American and European paintings and African cloth. For Lagaan (2001), a nineteenth-century Indian story, Bhanu Athaiya studied the climate and landscape of Bhuj, the film's locale. To bring evocative movements to the flying or fighting characters in Ying xiong (Hero, Zhang Yimou, 2002), Emi Wada followed ancient Chinese dance costumes' cutting patterns. And to dress a cast of 10,000 in clothes from 1903 to 1969 for The Last Emperor (1987, Academy Award®), James Acheson studied the history of twentieth-century China for six months.
The costume designer's primary relationship is with the actor, who often feels in character once in costume but also expects the designer to exalt good features and diminish bad ones. To do this, the designer will ingeniously pad, tailor, dye, and cut minutia such as sleeves, waists, buttons, collars, and hems. During Hollywood's studio era, costume designers often built an enduring collaboration with the actors they dressed and were associated with a "look": Adrian with Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, Travis Banton (1894–1958) with Marlene Dietrich and Mae West, Jean Louis (1907–1997) with Rita Hayworth, Orry-Kelly (1897–1964) with Bette Davis, William Travilla (1920–1990) with Marilyn Monroe, Howard Greer (1896–1974) with Jane Russell, Irene Sharaff (1910–1993) with Elizabeth Taylor. Widely copied film outfits became, in some cases, a signature such as Rita Hayworth's infamous strapless Gilda gown (1946, Jean Louis), Elizabeth Taylor's slip in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958, Helen Rose), the tight cap-sleeved undershirt Lucinda Ballard (1906–1993) provided for Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Marilyn Monroe's pleated halter-top dress in The Seven Year Itch (1955, William Travilla). The designer dresses actors of every type and shape in films of every genre and must work out contradictions such as Walter Plunkett's (1902–1982) task in making a twenty-two year old, pregnant Joan Bennett look ten in Little Women (1933), Irene Sharaff's in dressing sex siren Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) as a desirable frump, or Lizzie Gardiner's in turning cool bad boy Terence Stamp in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) into a dowdy transsexual. The American Edith Head (1897–1981) and the Italian Piero Tosi, two of cinema's best-known, most prolific and most admired designers, well exemplify these abilities.
For over sixty years, Edith Head dressed actors from Montgomery Clift and Elvis Presley to Sophia Loren and Doris Day. She started working at Paramount in 1923 under Howard Greer, took over from Travis Banton in 1938, and ran the department until 1967 when she went to Universal for ten years. Nominated thirty-three times and winner of eight Oscars®, Head costumed films as various as Wings (William Wellman, 1927) and Sweet Charity (Bob Fosse, 1969). Her costumes consistently sparked lasting fashion trends including the T-shirt and jeans look she established for Paul Newman in Hud (1963).
Piero Tosi describes the "essence of costume design" as "the willingness and humility to accept each project as a new venture" (Landis, p. 149). Known for his thoroughness and acute aesthetic sense, Tosi's ability to bring realism to the narrative, no matter what the epoch, is almost unparalleled, even for working class, post–World War II Italian life (Rocco and His Brothers, 1960), nineteenth-century German royalty (Ludwig, 1972), or Sicilian aristocrats (Il Gattopardo [The Leopard, 1963, Academy Award® nomination]). For the mythic Medea (Pier Palo Pasolini, 1969), Tosi took inspiration from North African, Micronesian, Greek, and Bedouin fabrics and headdresses. Terence Stamp praised Tosi's designs for him in the surreal "Toby Dammit" sequence in Histoires extraordinaires (Spirits of the Dead, Federico Fellini, 1968) as vital in helping him play the part. Tosi's versatility has extended to creating hair, makeup or sets for some films, including the dreamlike makeup for Fellini's ancient Rome extravaganza, Satyricon (Fellini Satyricon, 1969).
The costume designer must work closely with the cinematographer's needs. To handle a dark nocturnal fight scene in Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers, 1960), Tosi used a white line in Alain Delon's sweater to highlight his head. In Shanghai Express (1932), the milliner John Frederics (d. 1964) similarly buoyed Marlene Dietrich's face in a night shot by using egret feathers formed into a V. Film stock itself also posed obstacles. Until color was introduced into features in the late 1930s, it was conveyed by shading and designers had to use whatever fabrics best suggested it. A famous example is Bette Davis's dress in Jezebel (1938), which had to be perceived as red. After many experiments with blacks, blues, and reds, Warner Bros. designer Orry-Kelly used a reddish brown, high-sheen satin, which, in monochrome, gave an illusion of scarlet. More complex problems occurred with color film. Designers had to work with the color spectrum as it appeared on celluloid, not as it really was. A gorgeous blue might translate to poor gray on film, requiring the designer to screen-test every garment. Other technical advancements necessitated adaptations: the talkies exaggerated the sound of noisy fabrics like taffeta or beaded materials, and Cinemascope's vast detail showed machine stitching, forcing some clothes to be hand-sewn. These difficulties were so notable that the Academy Award® for costume, begun in 1948, was originally divided into two awards, one for black and white and one for color. Starting in 1967 the category incorporated both. New color problems have arisen for the costume designer with the green screen backdrop necessary for digital projection.
Production design or art direction and costume often contain such an essential aesthetic link that many designers, such as Piero Gherardi (1909–1971), Mitchell Leisen (1898–1972), Natacha Rambova (1897–1966), Carlo Simi, Piero Tosi, Patrizia von Brandenstein, and Tony Walton (b. 1934) have done both. Rambova's sets and costumes were especially attuned and her interpretations of Aubrey Beardsley's drawing for Salome (1923) are some of cinema's most extraordinary examples of this homogeneity.
Directors can assign great importance to costume. The designer Anthony Powell (b. 1935) revealed that George Cukor, with whom he worked on Travels with My Aunt (1972), often would re-block or re-light a scene to accommodate an unexpectedly striking outfit. Many designers work continually, or for a cycle of films, with one director, creating well-known partnerships, some through choice, others through the serendipity of a studio-formed relationship. Some key ones have been between Natacha Rambova and Alla Nazimova, Travis Banton and Josef von Sternberg (through Paramount), Edith Head and Alfred Hitchcock (through Paramount), Bill Thomas (1921–2000) and Douglas Sirk (through Universal), Piero Tosi and Luchino Visconti, Piero Gherardi and Federico Fellini, Shirley Russell and Ken Russell, Carlo Simi and Sergio Leone, Emi Wada and Peter Greenaway, Jeffery Kurland and Woody Allen, Ruth Carter and Spike Lee. These collaborations often orchestrate a total look that can promote an auteurist agenda. In Jungle Fever (1991), for example, Lee and Carter made unusual use of such a collaboration when he and Carter conceived an overall color scheme through the costumes' vivid colors and a persistent bath of golden light, trying to effect a harmonious tonality as a counterbalance to the story's racist-inspired anger.
Another collaborator is the costume house. Western Costume Company in Los Angeles (founded in 1912, originally for cowboy films) and Sartoria Tirelli in Rome (established in 1964) are two of the most notable. These businesses typically have huge stocks of period costume as well as research libraries and facilities for making accessories or clothes.
While it is sometimes difficult to be sure of costume design information because the silent-film period gave designers no screen credits and, during the 1950s, the studios disposed of many records, four elements can be said to form the foundation of film costume design as it is in the early twenty-first century: the establishment of its own studio department; the freedom given to designers to create extravagantly; the influx of, and competition with, international influence; and the recognition of design as a force on fashion. Though built by émigrés who had worked in the garment business (Carl Laemmle was a haberdasher, Adolph Zukor a furrier, Samuel Goldwyn a glover, and Louis B. Mayer a shoemaker), early Hollywood put little emphasis on costume. Actors used their own clothing and a woman with a better closet would get a better part. This continued well into the 1930s for men like Fred Astaire and Cary Grant who often wore their own, custom-made wardrobe. However, an initial office of costume design was inaugurated in 1915 by designer Clare West who, with two years' work on Intolerance (D. W. Griffith, 1916), attained the unprecedented credential of "studio designer," raising the status of what was formerly known as "head of wardrobe." At that time, "wardrobe" was a division of the "drapery department," which bought or rented clothes or basted them together because, during the quick film productions of the 1910s, a movie outfit could be discarded after a day. As early as 1921 The Woman's Home Companion cited the "studio designer" as an important asset and urged stars, who still regularly wore their own clothes on screen, to tap into it. A design contract was also probably given to Peggy Hamilton who, by 1918, costumed at Triangle (D. W. Griffith's studio) and was the first to outfit Gloria Swanson. But, as with many designers of the era, she moved on within a year or so.
Cecil B. DeMille was one of the first to realize that audiences wanted extreme couture and would pay to see their fantasies on a sexy star. In 1918, knowing that her talent would "make people gasp," he hired West to oversee Famous Players-Lasky's costumes. She stayed until 1925, through at least ten DeMille pictures. He encouraged lavish creativity and West's work, which fans and stars adored, helped film costume to gain greater artistic stature and to shift away from the pervading European sensibility. In the teens, dazzled producers brought in foreign artistes such as Paul Iribe (1883–1935) and Erté (1892–1990) to work with in-studio designers like Rambova, West, and Adrian, once the French couturier Paul Poiret's (1879–1944) outfits for France's production of Queen Elizabeth (1912) with Sarah Bernhardt, which was distributed by Paramount, opened the floodgates for "art" in Hollywood design. But by the 1920s, as costume design became a major component of the film industry with an expanding department and huge budgets, the Parisians lost out to the success of artistically wild, barely wearable, or eminently practical, super-styled clothing made by American costume designers, marking the beginning of an American fashion autonomy. The "costume department" was not truly established until the late 1920s, after which all studios had one, inevitably headed—often for decades—by a legendary designer. Some departments had different designers for female or male roles; others had a single overseer. After the 1950s' costume design renaissance with musicals, especially at MGM, the design department disappeared with the demise of the studio system, taking with it many in-house craftspeople.
Other film industries, such as those of Latin America and Asia, built their costume design on regional outfits and elaborate textile traditions. The musicals made during Mexican cinema's Golden Age (1930–1950) and the Brazilian chanchada films (1935–1959) took excessive liberties with traditional dress, which fans loved. The costumes of India's Bollywood musicals are similarly steeped in ancient tradition and equally known for adaptations. Some films are even famous for breakthrough deviations, such as Mughal-e-Azam's (1960) invention of a Rajput queen's bra-cup blouse. Typically, famous master costumers for Indian dance construct film outfits, but there are many Indian costume designers who are specific to the film industry, some of whom work internationally.
Japan's and China's costume design also emerge out of a fabric history involving high-toned color and ornate weaves and embroideries, and their films have capitalized on this tradition. From its inception, Japan's film industry has produced popular period films. The country's first color film, Jigokumon (Gate of Hell, Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1953, Academy Award®), set in feudal Japan, was exceptionally costumed by Sanzo Wada, who also acted as color consultant. Kusune Kainosho made the costumes for the classic ghost story, Ugetsu Monogatari (Tales of Ugetsu, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953; 1955 Academy Award® nomination). Ran (1985, Academy Award®), Akira Kurosowa's epic King Lear adaptation, was costumed to enormous acclaim by Emi Wada, who later worked with the English director Peter Greenaway on his color-drenched 8 ½ Women (1999), The Pillow Book (1996) and Prospero's Books (1991). Hanae Mori (b. 1926), originally a couturieré, worked for years with Yasujiro Ozu and Nagisa Oshima, both directors with strong mise-en-scène. Hanako Kurosu designed for many of Japan's Shochiku company films. Japan's samurai and yakuza (gangster) films have also mutated over the decades, with costumes changing from the 1950s realism to the late 1990s cyber-fashion.
b. Adrian Adolph Greenburg, Naugatuck, Connecticut, 3 March 1903, d. 13 September 1959
Adrian, head of MGM's costume department from 1928 to 1941, was one of the greatest influences on costume design, tailoring, and international couture that America has produced. Born in 1903 in Connecticut, of German parents, Adrian studied at Parsons in New York City and spent 1922 as a student in Paris. There he met Irving Berlin, who asked him to design special artwork for his Broadway production Music Box Revue. This brought Adrian back to New York and gave him the experience of working with legendary director Hassard Short. By 1923, Adrian had taken on the show's overall design. In 1924 production and costume designer Natacha Rambova and her husband Rudolph Valentino hired him as costume designer for A Sainted Devil (1924). Adrian accompanied them to Hollywood to costume The Hooded Falcon (never completed) and other films, including Rambova's lush What Price Beauty (1925). When Valentino signed with United Artists, Adrian costumed The Eagle (1925) for him and then accepted an offer to work for Cecil B. DeMille's studio, where he made twenty-six films.
In 1928, Adrian became MGM's Head of Costume, often working on fifteen films a year. Described by Oleg Cassini as "perhaps the only member of our profession powerful enough to impose his taste on a director," he was equally adept in every kind of fashion, be it flamboyant (Madame Satan, 1930), haute couture (Dinner at Eight, 1933), historical (Marie Antoinette, 1938) or fantastic (The Wizard of Oz, 1939). Responsible for the unique silhouettes of Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and Jean Harlow, he never lost sight of the person within. He said, "I must know what an individual thinks about, what she likes or doesn't like before I can get personality into her clothes."
Through both his tailoring expertise and his business enterprise, Adrian played a vital role in making American couture the force it is today. He was credited with inventing padded shoulders and many "firsts," and his ideas launched more trends than any other United States designer, helping to establish a quintessential "American look." He further challenged France's domination of couture by vocally championing American over European fashion, noting the former's cleaner line and riskier extravagances. The financial success of his initiation of the mass production of cinema clothes in the early 1930s (with his puff-sleeved, layered, white organza gown for Joan Crawford in Letty Lynton, 1932) made American fashion an important economic contender.
In 1948, Adrian opened salons in Los Angeles and New York, producing fashion shows as opulent as Broadway musicals. After a heart attack, he moved with his wife, the actress Janet Gaynor, to their Brazilian ranch, although he returned to costume the Broadway hit Camelot with Tony Duquette in 1957.
Adrian Papers. New York: Fashion Institute of Technology, Special Collection.
Cassini, Oleg. In My Own Fashion: An Autobiography. New York: Pocket Books, 1987.
Gutner, Howard. Gowns by Adrian: The MGM Years 1928–1941. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001.
Hong Kong's wuxia (martial arts) films show a similar mix. China's rich textile history has produced equally strikingly visual dramas, notably those of Zhang Yimou, who made Qiu Ju da guan si (The Story of Qiu Ju, 1992); Yao a yao yao dao waipo qiao (Shanghai Triad, 1995), and Wo de fu qin mu qin (The Road Home, 1999) with the designer Huamiao Tong. An unusual period look, with stylized color schemes of black, white, and red, was adapted for Yimou by designer Zhi-an Zhang in Da hong deng long gao gao gua (Raise the Red Lantern, 1991). In the late twentieth century Asian styles considerably
influenced Western costume design and fashion, as seen in films such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003), designed by New Zealander Ngila Dickson and by Richard Taylor, who devised the armor. Eiko Ishioka, who created fabrics for Issey Miyake in the 1970s and costumed Cirque du Soleil in the early 2000s, showed international blends in the science-fiction film The Cell (Tarsem Singh, 2000), Bram Stoker's Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992, Academy Award®), and the Noh-like Mishima (Paul Schrader, 1985).
Early costume designers, such as West and Adrian, recognized design as a great force in twentieth-century haute couture. Their work, crucial in the establishment of American style as a world competitor, was the first to outstrip the French, who dominated fashion commercially and artistically. By the 1910s, stars were photographed in cinema clothes for fashion magazines and Sears-Roebuck catalogues, and the word "film" was used as an advertising lure. But the public's desire for these clothes is ironic, as many are impossible to wear. Jean Harlow's form-fitting satin gowns were glued to her body and steamed off. Mae West was sewn into two identical garments for a scene, one for sitting, one for standing, because each was so tight she could not do both in either of them. Glenn Close also was unable to sit in Anthony Powell's sexy costumes for her in 101 Dalmations (1996). The pink gown Marilyn Monroe wore to sing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) was made from upholstery satin and lined with felt. Given this, it is astounding how many fashion firsts emerged from the bizarre necessities of a film set: padded shoulders (Adrian in the 1930s for Joan Crawford), the cling dress (Rambova for Salome), the strapless bodice (Jean Louis in 1946 for Gilda, anticipating Christian Dior's New Look of 1947), the pillbox hat (John Frederics and Adrian for Greta Garbo in 1932) and many others.
The provenance of style setting was debated between Europe and America but, by the mid 1930s, the couturieré Elsa Schiaparelli (1890–1973) acceded, "What Hollywood designs today, you will be wearing tomorrow" (Mulvagh, p. 123). Though some of these firsts appeared simultaneously (Schiaparelli and Adrian both introduced padded shoulders), a film spreads a "look" faster than any other medium and credit usually sits with the costume designer. In 1918, the simple black velvet suit, white blouse, ribbon tie, and beret designed by the director Louis Gasnier and worn by Pearl White in The Mysteries of New York (1914, aka The Exploits of Elaine) became de rigueur among working women. In 1932, Adrian's ruffled gown for Joan Crawford in Letty Lynton was the first to be mass marketed and Head's evening dress with flowered bustiere for Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951) became a 1950s prototype. Even fabrics, such as Adrian's gingham dress for Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story (1940) and Head's tropically patterned sarongs for Dorothy Lamour in Jungle Princess (1936), have started trends. Styles have been effected by war and censorship. The censorial 1930 Hays Code forced designers into ingenious uses of glamour to substitute for sheer sex and the 1930s' glamour ended with World War II's cutbacks on costume budgets.
The mid-1960s, with the lifting of censorship laws, saw design return to extremes. Some costumes, such as Piero Gherardi's for Juliet of the Spirits (1965, Academy Award® nomination), Milena Canonero's for AClockwork Orange (1971) and Danilo Donati's (1926–2001) for Il Casanova di Federico Fellini (Fellini's Casanova, 1977), were exercises in artfully wild imagination. Many generated important fashions. Theadora Van Runckle's (b. 1929) clothes for Bonnie and Clyde (1967, Academy Award® nomination) initiated 1930s gangster glamour (including a braless look). Ann Roth's (b. 1931) designs for Jane Fonda in Klute (1971) brought maxi-coats with mini-skirts into vogue. Phyllis Dalton's Dr. Zhivago (1965, Academy Award®), Piero Tosi's Death in Venice (1971, Academy Award® nomination), Theoni V. Aldredge's (b. 1932) The Great Gatsby (1974, Academy Award®), Anthea Sylbert's (b. 1939) Chinatown (1974, Academy Award ® nomination), Milena Canonero's Barry Lyndon (1975, Academy Award ®)and her Out of Africa (1985, Academy Award ® nomination) started romantic trends. New looks appeared with Ruth Morley's (1925–1991) louche outfits for Diane Keaton in Annie Hall (1977), Betsey Heimann's white shirt and cigarette pants for Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction (1994), Rita Ryack's matching, hot pastel suits and ties for Casino (1995) and Kym Barrett's floor-length leather coats for The Matrix (1999). After Janty Yates's designs for Gladiator (2000, Academy Award ®), a "warrior look" appeared in couture, as did elements of Ngila Dickson's Euro-Asian blends for The Last Samurai (2003).
Despite their enormously different goals, a relationship between costume design and couture has always existed. Modern audiences are accustomed to seeing stars on screen dressed by Giorgio Armani (b. 1934) or John Galliano (b. 1961) just as earlier audiences were accustomed to screen designs by Elsa Schiaparelli or Christian Dior (1905–1957). These couture outfits were made not for characterization but rather for show and served retail purposes, as exemplified by Armani's designs for Richard Gere in American Gigolo (1980), which made him a household name. But some couturiers have produced suitable costumes for narratives such as Hubert de Givenchy's (b. 1927) creation of virtually all of Audrey Hepburn's contemporary film outfits, Lilly Daché's (1898–1989) Carmen Miranda fruit turbans, and John Frederics' hats for Dietrich in her von Sternberg pictures, or his period hats for Gone with the Wind (1939).
Though many costume designers started in vaudeville and revues—such as Adrian, Bernard Newman, Charles LeMaire, and Max Ree, who worked for George White's Scandals, Greenwich Village Follies, Ziegfeld Follies, and Irving Berlin's Music Box Revue or Irene Sharaff, who built her career on Broadway—some began in couture houses. Hattie Carnegie's fostered designers Banton, Greer, Jean Louis, and Howard Shoup (1903–1987). During Hollywood's Studio era, fashion and film were linked popularly. Costume designers had large followings and many, such as Adrian, Irene, Greer, Shoup, and Banton, ran their own labels, typically designing personal clothes for stars and clients while working on as many as ten films a year. By the 1950s, with the exception of Head, who remained publicly known, this fame disappeared. Though costume design continues to initiate sweeping trends, the costume designer's name is rarely recognized. Iconic outfits such as Liza Minnelli's black halter-top, shorts, and gartered black stockings in Cabaret (1972) designed by Charlotte Flemming (1920–1993), Indiana Jones's fedora, leather jacket, and khaki pants for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) conceived by Deborah Nandoolman (b. 1952), and Patrizia Von Brandenstein's white, three-piece suit (off the rack) for John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (1977) are rarely connected to their originators.
But in the twenty-first century, the retailing of cinematic couture has come back. Some Japanese costume designers have their own clothing lines, as do some American designers such as Patricia Field. Bollywood (Indian film industry) designers regularly dress the public. But the ingenuity of the costume designer in film remains paramount. In the face of restrictions from lighting requirements to the actor's shape, it continues to revolutionize tailoring and set groundbreaking trends while addressing complex cinematic needs.
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costume, distinctive forms of clothing, including official or ceremonial attire such as ecclesiastical vestments, coronation robes, academic gowns, armor, and theatrical dress. The use of ornament preceded the use of protective garments; its purpose was to emphasize social position by a great display of trophies, charms, and other valuables and to enhance attractiveness. Superstition, caste distinction, and climatic necessity all have been influential in the evolution of dress.
The term costume also includes accessories, such as the shoe, hat, glove, corset, handkerchief, fan, umbrella, cane, and jewelry; styles of wearing the hair (see hairdressing) and beard; and primitive methods of body-marking and attaching ornaments to the body.
The ancient Egyptian costume for men was first a wrapped loincloth and later a kilt or skirt of pleated and starched white linen. Egyptian women first wore the kalasiris, a one-piece, narrow sheath of transparent linen, which was later adopted by men as the tunic. The Egyptian costume evolved into a highly decorative mode of dress characterized by the use of fluted linen, of jewelry (especially the beaded yoke collar), and of cosmetics and perfume; the wig was also worn. The basic Greek garment, noted for its simplicity and graceful draping, consisted of the chiton and girdle. Roman dress, influenced by that of the Greeks, was simple and dignified; the toga, which was worn over the tunic, was the distinctive garment of the Roman citizen.
The change from ancient to medieval costume began (c.400) with the disintegration of the Roman Empire. Roman attire, which had previously assimilated the elaborate features of Byzantine dress, was gradually affected by the austere costume of the barbaric invader. Both men and women wore a double tunic; the under tunic, or chemise, had long tight sleeves (a feature that remained until the 17th cent.) and a high neck; the girded wool overtunic, or robe, often had loose sleeves. A mantle, or indoor cloak, was also worn.
After 1200 a great variety of fine fabrics from the East were available as a result of the Crusades, and the elegant dress of feudal Europe was evolved. With the introduction of various ways of cutting the basic garment, fashion, or style, began. A long, girded tunic, then called the cote or cotte, continued to be worn over the chemise by both men and women; a surcote (sleeveless and with wide armholes) was often worn over it. At this time family crests, or coats of arms (see blazonry; heraldry; crest), became popular, and particolored garments came into vogue.
Proper fit was increasingly emphasized, and by 1300 tailoring had become important and buttons had become useful as well as ornamental. The belted cote-hardie, with a close-fitting body and short skirt, was worn over a tighter, long-sleeved doublet and a chemise. And, as men's legs were now exposed, hose were emphasized. The introduction (c.1350) of the houppelande, or overcoat, marked the first real appearance of the collar. Over a chemise and corset women wore a gown with a V neck and a long, flowing train; the front of the skirt was often tucked into the high-waisted belt. In its extreme, the style of the period was typified by profuse dagging (scalloped edges), exaggerated, hanging sleeves, pointed slippers, and fantastic headdresses (see headdress and veil).
After 1450 there was a reversal in fashion from the pointed Gothic look to the square look of the Renaissance. The style in its exaggerated form is best represented in Holbein's paintings of the English court of Henry VIII. Men's costume had wide, square shoulders with puffed sleeves, padded doublets, bombasted upperstocks, or trunk hose, short gowns (cloaks), and square-toed shoes. The doublet, now sleeveless, was worn over the shirt (formerly the chemise) and under the jerkin.
Women wore a square-necked gown with the bodice laced up the front and attached to the gathered skirt at the hips; the front of the skirt was often open, to reveal decorative petticoats. These, together with a preference for rich, heavy materials, especially velvet, and a fad for profuse slashing and puffing of the under material seen through the slash, created a massive and bulky appearance.
In Elizabethan England (c.1550) the costume was stiffened, and the appearance was less bulky. Both men and women wore the characteristic "shoulder wings," pointed stomacher, and starched ruff and cuffs made of lace. Materials were heavy and lustrous and considerable ornamentation was used. Men wore a short cape, and their trunk hose were unpadded, longer, and generally made in sections, or paned. Women wore exaggerated farthingales, or hoops.
The early 17th-century English costume was less formal, with a softer line created by satin and silk materials. The period of the Cavalier and Puritan is captured in the court paintings of Van Dyck and in the early work of Rembrandt. Men characteristically wore pantaloon breeches (full trunk hose), high boots, a broad, falling lace or linen collar and cuffs, and a full cloak. In women's costume, the arms began to be displayed and necklines were lower. The bodice was finished with a wide, round collar, or bertha, at the neck, and a flared, pleated, or ruffled skirtlike section, or peplum, was added at the waist. The apron was often a permanent part of the skirt.
In England after 1660 the dress of the Restoration period became extravagantly decorative, using ribbons, flounces, and feathers. The dandies of the period wore petticoat breeches, full-sleeved cambric shirts, and bolerolike doublets. Sir Peter Lely's court paintings show excellent examples of such costume.
In the 18th cent. France, under the rule of Louis XIV, became the costume center of the world, with Mme Pompadour, Mme du Barry, and Marie Antoinette successively dictating the fashions of the day. It was the age of the wig, of rococo settings, of delicate pastels and flower-patterned silks, and of embroidery. Early in the century Rousseau's ideas affected style of dress. Women's costume became graceful and pastoral; the pointed bodice, tightly laced, was finished with a triangular scarf, or fichu, at the neck, and sleeves were ruffled at the elbow. The bell-shaped hoop appeared c.1710, and c.1735 side hoops, or panniers, were popular. Women's costume, which at this period became extremely formal, was gradually softened into a romantic look (as in portraits by Gainsborough) that anticipated the Empire style.
The 18th-century man first wore a knee-length cassock that buttoned all the way down over an equally long waistcoat, and buckled knee breeches. As the century progressed, the waistcoat became shorter, the skirt of the coat began to form tails, the collar became higher, and the sleeves and breeches became tighter.
The Empire style, associated in early 19th-century France with Josephine, was an attempt to recapture classic simplicity. Women wore a thin muslin dress with a high waist, a low round neck, and puffed short sleeves. Men wore a short-waisted cutaway coat with tails, a high collar, and large lapels and military boots; plain-colored wools became predominant. The whole male appearance was strikingly military. After 1815 women, emphasizing their fragility, achieved an hourglass shape with an extremely tight corset. Their dresses had wide collars, sloping shoulders, leg-of-mutton sleeves, and full skirts. Men wore the frock coat, which was fitted and had a skirt that reached the knees, and trousers were introduced and generally adopted.
After 1840 Victorian women wore layers of decorative crinoline and after 1855 the hoop; sleeves were bell-shaped, and waist and necklines were pointed. Though men still wore the tailcoat and frock coat, the sack coat, sometimes worn without the vest, was becoming popular for everyday wear. In general, men's clothes were becoming looser and more tubular and were predominantly of somber broadcloth.
After 1865 the bustle became fashionable for women; at this time, too, women first wore a tailored jacket with collar and lapels—the forerunner of the suit. The growing emphasis on sports, especially tennis and golf, was beginning to affect costume. Knee breeches, called knickerbockers or knickers, came into fashion for men, and sweaters became popular. After 1890 women most often wore the suit or the shirtwaist with balloon sleeves and wasp waist: the dress of the Gibson girl. Men's suits had square shoulders and straight waists and were usually of serge or tweed; the tuxedo was used for formal wear.
After 1910, as women's feet and legs began to be exposed, shoes were colored to match the outfit. The nightgown, for women, gave way for a time to pajamas. The popularity of sportswear for men increased; the open-necked shirt was worn and trousers were cuffed and creased. Women's dress after 1914 was characterized by straight lines, e.g., the floor-length hobble skirt and the flapper's boyish, short-skirted costume and matching accessories were popular in the 1920s.
The following decades produced radical changes in women's wear, from the flowing skirts of the 1930s and the box-jacketed suits of the 40s to the sack dress of the early 60s. Since then the fluctuating hemline has been a predominant concern of fashion. The abbreviated miniskirt has vied for popularity with the full-length maxi and the calf-length midi in coats, skirts, and dresses. Women's clothing has become less restrictive and more casual than in previous eras. During the 1960s men's clothing underwent revolutionary changes in color and fabric, becoming flamboyant for the first time in the 20th cent. The flaring of trouser cuffs in the 1970s was a major modification in shape.
The traditional national dress of Western European countries has generally given way to standardized modes, although traditional costume is still associated with national celebrations and pageantry. The typical costume—a gathered peasant skirt, a full blouse with puffed sleeves, and a laced bodice—is colorful and picturesque, often elaborately fashioned and embroidered, and augmented by kerchief, headdress, and apron.
Costume in East Asia has until recently remained unchanged for centuries. In the Arab countries both men and women have for centuries wrapped themselves in voluminous flowing robes that indicate the tribe and status of the wearer by means of style, color, and richness. The people of Malaysia wrap themselves in a loose skirt, or sarong. Chinese dress was traditionally distinguished by the use of magnificent textiles and embroidery and of pearls and jade—all symbolic of rank and wealth. However, from the years shortly after the Communist regime began (1949) until the 1990s men and women of China wore dark-colored trouser suits; in recent years the Chinese attitude toward dress has changed somewhat, particularly in urban areas, allowing for more varied clothing styles. On Taiwan a sheath dress with mandarin collar and side slits in the skirt was traditionally characteristic of women's clothing.
Japanese men and women have widely adopted Western modes of dress, but many women retain the characteristic kimono and tabi (socks) or geta (wooden clogs). India, too, has traditional costumes dictated by religion or caste. Women in general wear the long draped fabric, or sari, sandals, and profuse jewelry. Exquisite muslins and "painted" cottons have from antiquity been notable features of Indian garments.
See J. Laver, The Concise History of Costume and Fashion (1969); G. Squire, Dress and Society (1974); V. Steele, Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion (2005).
cos·tume • n. / ˈkäsˌt(y)oōm; -təm/ a set of clothes in a style typical of a particular country or historical period. ∎ a set of clothes worn by an actor or other performer for a particular role or by someone attending a masquerade: a nun's costume. ∎ a set of clothes, esp. a woman's ensemble, for a particular occasion or purpose; an outfit. • v. / käsˈt(y)oōm; ˈkäst(y)oōm; ˈkästəm/ [tr.] dress (someone) in a particular set of clothes.
So costumier maker of costumes. XIX.