God Style: The Costumes of “American Gods,” Part Three

Posted on June 21, 2017

It’s been a while since American Gods has given us a reason to put together another costume design recap, but since they saved the best episode for last, it’s perhaps not a surprise that costume designeer Suttirat Larlarb also saved a massive pile of some of the most eye-popping looks of the series for last as well. This post is only scratching the surface of the finale from a costume design perspective. It’ll take two more to catalogue and analyze them all, so grab a cuppa and settle in.

 

Mr. Nancy/Anansi

Mr. Nancy is at one with his realm, which is kind of a thing with the gods. Not only does his gold and floral-on-black costume tie him directly to his surroundings, but it ties him even more strongly to the antique black and gold sewing maching he’s using while he spins his tale. We’ve seen this sort of marriage of god and realm play out before, when Technical Boy first appeared in his metaphysical limo, the angles of his clothes reflected in the angles of the interior, or when Bilquis wore red in her red room, or how Anubis’ white linen robe evoked the clothing of desert nomads and ancient priests. Later in this episode, Ostara’s costume and house are so closely tied it becomes difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Since Anansi is a storyteller by nature, it stands to reason that his storytelling would be at its most powerful in his seat of power and that would be reflected in the regalness and richness of his raiment. Note the subtle touches of (presumably) West African folk design in his jewelry. Note the unexpected use of natural themes, such as a moiré (because of course it’s a silk suit) that looks like wood grain for his suit and flowers at night for his shirt, evoking the kinds of places one would commonly find spiders.

 

Technical Boy

As we’ve noted before, Technical Boy’s style brief is very narrow and simple, like that of so many of the gods in this tale. Take the worst example of a vaping, raving douchebag and turn the style dials up to eleven. Just as Mad Sweeney’s costume is almost a parody of the hard-drinking Irishman or Mr. World’s is the Quintessential Businessman. Many of the gods, new and old, have looks that could almost serve an archetypal function. You need an obnoxious club kid from central casting? This is the look, ramped way up. Note the digital vampire skull clown on his shirt – a perfect metaphor for Technical Boy himself and a bit of a callback to what the gods look like when they’re in their godflesh forms (think of the glitchy Mr. World later in this episode).

Attention must also be paid to Technical Boy’s hair. So many of the gods tell a story through their hair, as we’ve seen with Bilquis, with Zorya Utrennyaya brushing her beautiful white mane as she allows Wednesday to seduce her, and with Ostara, whose hairstyle metamorphosis revolves around a major plot turn. But even among all that amazing hairstyle storytelling, Tech Boy’s hair stands out just for being some of the most amazing white boy hair ever seen by man.

 

Here, he’s serving up a little bit of hip hop-tinged Klaus Nomi realness. As one does. Again, there’s that almost archetypal sense of style elements, even if they all look more than a little silly on him.

 

Bilquis/Queen of Sheba

Like Anansi, the use of gold in Bilquis’ costume ties her directly to the golden surroundings of her temple. Note that she’s wearing the same body jewelry she saw in the museum case in episode one. Note that her hair is sculpted into the shape of Nefertiti’s crown, a brilliant bit of afro-Egyptianist costume design that makes a direct statement about female beauty – and especially how the beauty of women of color was subsumed and tamed by western culture. Nefertiti wasn’t a light-skinned woman with Euro features, this scene is saying, but a dark-skinned goddess of immense power. This is not the only time Bilquis has served as something of a stand-in for all great women of color in history and myth. The museum scene in episode 1 positions her as Ishtar, while a later scene in this episode makes direct reference to the Queen of Sheba.

 

Just as her hair is sculpted to evoke Nefertiti in the ancient scenes, in 1979, her afro makes direct reference to that most persistent of ancient mythical symbols, the moon, as well as its modern counterpart, the disco ball.

This is, of course, an insanely fabulous scene that had us clapping in delight. Bilquis’ bodysuit here is a direct homage to an iconic (and mildly NSFW) Grace Jones look from the disco era. Another example of her costumes as homages or references to some of the great dark-skinned women of power and beauty in history.

 

Later, she’ll evoke something of an Angela Davis vibe. To be honest, this hippy-inspired look wouldn’t have been seen as of-the-moment fashion in 1979. It’s much more clearly of the Summer of Love era, which may be a reference to her power, but we tend to think it’s more about checking one more powerful and iconic black woman off the list of homages. It’s the last time we’ll see her do such a thing.

 

At the height of the AIDS crisis, note how demure, covered up, and colorless she is in her style choices. She’s still beautiful, but the gold and the sparkle are gone; the power is fading, the hair is being tamed.

Until finally, when almost all her power is gone and she’s at her lowest point…

She covers her hair almost completely. Note how the MRSA infections on her face mimic the placement of the facial jewelry in the disco scene – which is a witty choice, but also a fucking dark one. Note how the scarf on her head is metallic and the print has an ancient, primal quality to it; both references to her power and origins. Note the Sheba image in the restaurant’s logo and how it mimics her with her hand up to the glass.

 

In case you missed it, this is the same setting – now shifted to a modern museum – in which her orgy took place and she vagina-vacuumed all the attendees.

Note how, in all her appearances since making the deal with Technical Boy, Bilquis has sported straightened hair and minimalist, solid, dark colors. We hesitate to make this connection, since the discussion of black women’s hair choices is a real thing out in the real world, but it would seem to us that whatever power she has right now is illusory and totally dependent on the Technical Boy, which is reflected in her hair, which has been used to make so many other statements about her in the story so far. She has youth and beauty restored to her, but modern, western versions of them; glossy straight hair and minimalist-chic dresses. An old power repackaged by a new one, the old world colonized by the new. She’s surviving, but she’s not thriving. She’s nothing like the goddess we saw earlier.

 

And so she finds herself in transit once again, at the mercy of the whims and agendas of men. Note how she’s wearing a wild, dark print very similar to the one she wore when she fled Tehran. On one level, it’s a simple bit of costume design meant to subtly highlight the parallels between the two scenes. But we like to see the sudden re-adoption of prints into her wardrobe as a way of noting how much of a wild card she may yet be.

MUCH more to come, darlings, including the showdown between the goddess of spring, Ostara, and the one-time goddess of the MGM lot, Judy Garland and a catalogue of the various Jesi in attendance.

 

 

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

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