God Style: The Costumes of “American Gods”

Posted on May 12, 2017

 

Well come on, you guys. The way we’ve been gushing about this show? And the way we have a tendency to get obsessed with the costume design of the shows we’re gushing over? This post was inevitable.

We’re only two episodes into this series, so we couldn’t possibly engage in deep semiotic analysis of every thread and button at this stage. Then again, looking over what these characters have been clothed in so far, we may never have to. There’s a simplicity to the costume design of many of the gods, to the point of bordering on cliche. Costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb has sketched the visual design of these characters in the broadest possible manner, which is fitting for beings who are primal and practically wish-based. There’s no need for gods to be complex. By their nature, they’re simple, basic and direct. 

 

Mr. Wednesday is always in tones of beige and white. The coat and occasional vest that he wears give him a sense of fading grandeur. There is never a print or pattern anywhere to be found. He’s smooth and unruffled, a dingy, fading traveler, but always rendered with an underlying sense of former greatness.

 

 

Bilquis is easily as direct and simplified in her clothing. Like Wednesday, she stays away from pattern and sticks to shades of red and brown-red consistently. Not only does it tie her to the room in which she’s worshipped, but also to the display case in which her former raiment is displayed. But more than either of those connections is the one to her own skin, which is often lit to have red undertones to it. Especially in the museum, she gives a sense of her own nakedness under the dress. The way she looks at her former costume tells you she’d much rather be wearing jewels and receiving worshippers than wandering around in a dress, which is why it’s so plain and unadorned. Basically, it’s the equivalent of a t-shirt that reads “I’D RATHER BE NAKED.”

 

 

Mad Sweeney has a similar sort of directness in that his clothes are pretty much a set barfly cliches from top to bottom. Compare him to the bar patrons in the background. He literally looks costume-y in comparison, with his cowboy shirt and suspenders. Again, there’s that sense of broad strokes.

 

The Zorya sisters are dressed in a total stereotype of how old Slavic or Polish women dress – and we’d wager you’d be hard-pressed to find any of them dressed like this in 2017. They look like illustrations in a fairy tale, which is as it should be. Note that Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman) is dressed in lace to underline her aged appearance while Zorya Utrennyaya is dressed in a slightly more romantic floral.

 

Mr. Nancy is another of the old gods who closely adheres to the cultural dress of the people who worship him – except in his case it’s a total anachronism and represents the culture of the descendants of the people who worship him. This is entirely appropriate given that his whole speech in this scene is about his vision of the future and the fate of the great-great grandchildren of the men and women on board. To accompany the jazz saxophone that underscores this scene, he’s dressed like he stepped out of a Harlem nightclub circa 1947. Note how, unlike the simple garments of Wednesday and Bilquis, or the basic cliches of Mad Sweeney and the Zoryas, Anansi is a wild clash of patterns and colors. That’s because, unlike the others, he’s at the height of his power and full of rage, answering the desperate pleas of his enraptured followers. There’s no sense of fading grandeur here.

And of course, the colors of his ensemble are all picked up in the colors of his fur when he’s in spider form.

 

Media, in her own way, is also very basic. If you’re a television god, you can’t get more primal than the original queen of the form herself. And you can’t get more basic in your depiction of Lucy Ricardo than to put her in a polka dot shirt dress. It doesn’t matter whether Lucille Ball was known to wear this exact look on the show. This is how we remember the character. What’s interesting to note is how the polka dot motif (picked up in her earrings) mimics the millions of dots that make up pre-digital television broadcasts, which is the exact topic she uses to open the conversation.

Rewatch the scene and note how her eyes follow Shadow no matter which screen she’s manifesting in. It’s disconcerting, especially when you see two versions of her opposite each other looking in opposite directions but otherwise in perfect synch. Note also that when she starts speaking, all the other people in the other sets stop speaking.

 

And finally, there’s the Technical Boy, who’s a walking cliche of every snot-nosed hypebeast tech impresario who stumbled into billionaire-hood on an app and a lot of backstabbing. Like Media, he manifests with a complicated hairstyle, a lightly patterned costume (plus-signs instead of dots), and a smoking apparatus in one hand. There’s nothing to draw from that, we think, except a broad similarity in their goals. Everything about his costume reads “obnoxious,” from the vaping to the unbuttoned shirt to the hair – and that’s exactly as it should be. As with all the gods, the message and any underlying meanings are very, very basic. “I’m an asshole and you can’t do shit about it.”

 

 

 

[Stills: Starz, Tom and Lorenzo – Image Credit: Starz]

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