Part One is here! Now let’s get into Part Two.
Ryan Gosling in BARBIE
Costumes Designed by Jacqueline Durran
Could there possibly be any other choices? The slightly sad irony of the Barbie movie is that Ken wound up stealing a considerable amount of thunder from the lead character, but it’s hard to argue with director/co-screenwriter Greta Gerwig’s choice to give Ryan Gosling so much screen and story time. Ken went on just as transformative a journey as Barbie did in the film. It’s just that when you reveal the patriarchy to a man for the first time, he’s going to have a completely different reaction than that of a woman experiencing it for the first time. As we noted in our essay about the film’s use of pink, “Kens in Barbie Land are essentially living a version of how the real world tends to treat women and queer people, as people who exist in the margins, expected to uphold and be happy with an order that was designed to prevent them from having any power or identity of their own.” While Barbie herself may be seen as a world-class fashionista, Ken was always simply the guy who wears the outfits that match hers. He has almost no identity outside of being Barbie’s man-shaped accessory. Most of his costumes in the film rather slyly mimic ‘90s boy band styles and ‘90s gay porn styles, landing a bullseye on the point at which the film’s primary audiences (Millennial women and gay men) are situated. After returning from the real world, flush with excitement at the possibilities of a world dominated by men, he “does a patriarchy” and remakes Barbie Land in his image. As king of the Kendom, he sports a look that reeks of hypebeasts and bro culture, looking like a cross between an overpaid athlete and a white guy trying to launch a rap career. It’s hard to pick our favorite element. Is it the lightning head band? The Ken-branded fanny pack? The horse lining on that coat? The diamond horse pendant? There’s just so much to take in and every single aspect of this look sums up Ken’s whole story. It’s anxious masculinity rendered in clothing.
Jacob Elordi in SALTBURN
Costumes Designed by Sophie Canale
Director Emerald Fennell is not particularly subtle in her work and Saltburn is a film nearly devoid of nuance. We don’t say that to put it down. It’s a film meant to provoke and shock and induce giggles and gasps, but it’s not necessarily the kind of work that you need to unpack or do a close read in order to understand it. So when beautiful golden boy Felix Catton meets up with obsessor Oliver Quick for the final time during a costume gala and he’s wearing a pair of golden wings, we don’t need to spend too much time discussing why. He’s perfect, angelic, like something out of Greek mythology; a cherub, a cupid, Ganymede or Icarus, a beautiful golden youth about to be devoured by a minotaur (Oliver shows up in antlers). It’s not that deep. It is, however, extremely effective as costume design. Note how Felix barely even tries to put together a costume. He doesn’t have to. He’s rich and gorgeous and everyone wants him. All he needs is a cheap pair of gold wings to complete the picture of himself.
Emma Stone in POOR THINGS
Costumes Designed by Holly Waddington
Literally every single costume worn by every character in every scene of Poor Things is worthy of some spotlight attention, but if we had to pick the one costume that sums up the film, the character of Bella Baxter, and the approach of costume designer Holly Waddington, it would have to be this one. A female Frankenstein’s monster, Bella is a grown woman implanted with the brain of a baby who slowly reaches a level of maturity and sexual awakening by going out into the world on her own. Absolutely none of the film’s production design is accurate to its Victorian setting, so while it’s pretty much impossible to believe that any woman could go around dressed like this in the 19th Century and not be arrested, it doesn’t really matter. The entire film has the same dreamlike, unsettling and unbalanced feeling as this costume, which has three distinct undertones to it. The bodice evokes the styles of the period and the types of grand lady fashions of the age, the hair is pure horror character hair, and everything from the waist down looks like something a 4-year-old would choose to wear to daycare that day if given the option. As Waddington noted, it gives her a childlike sense, like when a toddler loses interest in getting dressed halfway through it.
Cillian Murphy in OPPENHEIMER
Costumes Designed by Ellen Mirojnick
It’s not an easy thing to explain why a basic men’s suit works on multiple levels as a movie costume, but it’s even harder for the costume design to imbue such a simple and ubiquitous outfit with any meaning at all. It’s even harder when you’re essentially recreating a real person’s somewhat iconic and well-recognized look. Cillian Murphy resembles the real Robert Oppenheimer enough that all anyone really needed to do was get the shape of the hat right to make him look convincing. But costume designer Ellen Mirojnick was very smart and sensitive in her choices here. Knowing he’d be dressed this way as he took charge of the burgeoning Manhattan Project out in the desert, she dressed him in shades of dust and sky, fully aware that director Christopher Nolan (who loves himself a Great Man story) would be shooting him with as much of that sweeping background behind him as he could fit in the frame. He is one with his surroundings, as eternally bound to the decisions he will make here as if he were one and the same with them. Note the silver and turquoise belt buckle; a little bit of sartorial whimsy in the midst of all this seriousness, a tip of the hat (pun intended) to Oppenheimer’s love of the Southwest as much as it’s a subtle signal that he’s the king of this particular kingdom at the moment.
Lily Gladstone in KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON
Costumes Designed by Jacqueline West
Much like Barbie (we bet you didn’t expect that opener), Killers of the Flower Moon had so much beautiful, intricate, character-revealing and theme-supporting costume design that it became nearly impossible for us to settle on one. But when we sat down to rewatch it, we stopped at the wedding scene and said to each other “That’s it. That has to be it.” It’s not for us to say whether director Martin Scorsese did right by the Osage nation in taking on the task of telling the story of the infamous reign of terror against it, but we do think he was correct in his decision to dress Molly (Lily Gladstone) in a traditional Osage wedding “gown” for the scene where she marries Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio). As pointed out in an excellent New York Times piece about these costumes, even though it would have been unlikely for this type of finery to be brought for an Osage woman marring a white man, Scorsese insisted on it because it supports the story and themes of the film. As the Times noted:
“The coats came into the Osage world entwined with American history. In the early 1800s, Osage leaders visited President Thomas Jefferson in the White House. It was part of a U.S. government effort to ingratiate itself with tribes along the path that the explorers Lewis and Clark would travel, and the leaders were greeted with military demonstrations that showcased the new country’s military might. The story goes that an Osage chief was taken with the coats worn by his Washington, D.C., counterparts, so they gave him one. It didn’t fit — Osage were exceptionally tall — and he passed it onto his daughter, who wore it to her wedding, a tradition that persisted for more than a century. (The top hats had a similar lineage — from headwear for infantry officers to party chapeaux.)”
As costume designer Jacqueline Durran notes, there’s something “beautifully rebellious” about taking something from your oppressors and turning it into a beautiful expression of your own culture and beliefs. But in the context of the story, as Scorsese knew, these costumes also come tinged with a sad irony, as the white men from whom they took these styles did everything in their power to wipe out their community and the wealth they had acquired.
[Photo Credits: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures, Todd Williamson, Laura Ahmed, Universal Pictures, Courtesy of Apple TV+, Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures, Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures, Courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios]
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