A popular trend on TikTok has creators showing off their fashionable closets by assembling outfits based on their favorite director’s iconic aesthetic. An exciting part of this trend is seeing TikTokers calling attention to the lack of diversity in a director’s work, while showing what it would look like if more people of color were cast.
Tim Burton’s film’s aesthetic has inspired many TikTok videos that led me to realize most of his fans have a misunderstanding of the fashion in his films. Even though his casting lacks color his costume design definitely does not. An element TikTokers are getting right is Burton’s “pale” black and white gothic aesthetic highly criticized because it is supposedly used as an excuse for him to continue casting pale actors who “look that part”.
These Burton-inspired TikTok videos are not completely off the mark. Many of the creators have been inspired by A Corpse Bride, set in the Victorian era. Burton IS known for using Victorian and Gothic influence in many of his films.
Women’s fashion changed throughout the Victorian period. The beginning was marked by high necks, long skirts/dresses, and bonnets — very prudish and modest. Tiktokers that take inspiration from Corpse Bride choose the easy route of wearing a wedding dress like the iconic corpse bride, Emily. However, I would love to see a TikToker more inspired by Victoria or Victor’s classic Victorian costumes, but with a modern twist on the modest Victorian silhouette style .
Modern Gothic fashion is generally dark and gloomy clothing that contrasts with pale makeup. Think black lace, layered chain belts or necklaces, and influences from the occult — perfect attire to wear to a picnic at a graveyard or a meeting with a coven. Some TikTokers attempt to add their own elements of this in their fashion choices for this trend, but they tend to end up looking more like they work at HotTopic and not the star of a Burton film.
Although Burton has Victorian and Gothic elements in his costume and set designs, TikTokers often forget that his aesthetic is largely Camp. Camp fashion is deliberately exaggerated and avante garde, typically for humorous effect. Can’t picture Camp? Remember Lady Gaga’s four spectacular costume changes at the 2019 Met Gala? She epitomized Camp.
How do these different fashion styles fit together for Burton’s filming style? Let’s take a walk down a “Film Studies 101” glossary through the lens of German Expressionism as characterized by highly stylized sets that dramatize a character’s internal state of mind.
Imagine the cobweb-filled, ruinous Gothic castle where Edward from Edward Scissorhands resided. The neglected setting was a reflection of Edward’s empty and lonely life without his creator.
Using modern Gothic elements, the iconic costume designer, Colleen Atwood, dresses Edward in a leather one piece accented by belts and loops. These design choices represent how physically constrained and constricted he is with his scissor hands. This also makes his Scissorhand character stand out among the regular suburbanites who reject him based on how he looks and dresses.
Another subtlety in design is Edward’s hair. When his creator was alive, Edward’s hair was smooth and combed through. When his creator died, his hair became wildly unkempt. How could someone with scissor hands comb their hair by themselves? To the outside world, his hair is a sign of his otherness and neglect.
In contrast, when Edward begins to be accepted by his neighbors, he gives them wacky, zany haircuts. These hairdos are an important detail for TikTokers to replicate because many of them style their hair messy like Edward’s. They should be reminded to pull more inspiration from the creative hairstyles donned by other characters.
As with Edward Scissorhands, utilizing costume choices to represent the inner world of a character is an element TikTokers should incorporate more — if they decide to stick with a gloomier aesthetic. They could even create a backstory for why their character wears a particular outfit — one that reflects that character’s inner-turmoil.
Burton uses highly stylized archaic Gothic and Victorian aesthetics to contrast with modern-day, ridiculously bright and colorful, Campy worlds. This is where the TikTok trend goes off course. In Burton’s world, dark and gloomy cannot exist without Campy costumes and colors.
The mundane suburbia outside of Edward’s castle in Edward Scissorhands perfectly contrasts with his costume design. This heightens society’s distaste for him and their feeble attempts at transitioning him to their “normal” world. This point is exaggerated with his new family dressing him up in “regular” men’s dress attire — making Edward look more ridiculous.
I am not asking TikTokers to create an elaborate backdrop or background characters to contrast with their outfit. But if they decide to do something that lacks prominent colors, they should not create a design that is equally bland and simple. Choose that funky, outdated sweater with the hole in the collar. Not the chiffon top that reminds one of the Changeling.
Because of his heavy Goth and Victorian influences, the misconception of Burton’s costume design is understandable. However, his movie’s plots often surround ”strange and peculiar” characters dressing for an out-of-the-ordinary occasion. Hopefully, this is a long-lasting TikTok trend that evolves to a more accurate portrayal of Tim Burton’s iconic aesthetic. Looking tired and pale while posing to Danny Elfman music does not mean one has got it right. Either way, showcasing more diverse fashionistas and their wicked Burtonesque outfits is a trend that I’ll never get bored of.
Edward Scissorhands is a drop in the bucket for all of the colorful examples that can be pulled from Burton’s filmography. I’ll return with Batman Returns in the second installment of this series!