The Umbrella Academy – Modern Superheroes Adapting To The 1960s

When the Emmy nominations came up, I immediately searched for The Umbrella Academy, hoping it got nominated, which it did. I was looking forward to this show as a massive My Chemical Romance fan who admires Gerard Way, his work, and the comic book he created with Gabriel Bá. I was also delighted to know that the costume designer of Hannibal, the amazing Christopher Hargadon, would take care of the comic book adaptation.

In the second season of The Umbrella Academy, we follow the beloved family of dysfunctional modern-day superheroes scattered across time in the 1960s in America, more specifically in Dallas. For him, only a few days have passed in this era while the others have already spent years there, moved on to a new life. But as of 1963, the Apocalypse comes for our heroes for the second time. And just before the annihilation would come, Number Five is rescued, with only ten days left to prevent the end of the world. Again.

In a brilliant interview that was conducted with Christopher Hargadon by the Costume CO YouTube channel, he mentions that how each of these characters handles the new circumstances of a different era, and how each one of them gets hold of their clothing, to blend in or stand out in the 1960s.

Following this thought, I wanted to approach this article by focusing on the adaptability of the characters shown through their costumes in The Umbrella Academy.

Klaus

Our first subject is Klaus, who can speak with the dead, played by the wonderful Robert Sheehan. He’s just survived the original apocalypse when he finds himself in an alleyway in 1960, wearing his torn vest, feminine jeans, and striped shirt. We already see the people’s disparaging reactions to him, that two episodes later culminate in him getting thrown out of a restaurant.

He ends up lying on the street, seeing nothing else but the perfect black and white shoes of an older gentlewoman. Klaus cries out “Chanel,” recognizing the signature two-toned shoes of the fashion house and the opportunity in the stylish and probably very wealthy American lady. With her two-piece floral print skirt suit and pearl necklaces, she comes to the help of the attractive but unfortunate man.

Klaus recognizes the wealthy patron’s openness towards his lavish lifestyle, and soon, he takes advantage of her and becomes a gurus-inspired cult leader. He is dressed in an Indian-inspired coat for the part he plays, a sort of sherwani dress jacket that Hargadon and his team made lighter for mobility’s sake. And, of course, to fit Klaus’ unique way of life.

Photo by CHRISTOS KALOHORIDIS/NETFLIX – © 2020 Netflix, Inc.

In season one, he already spent a year in 1968 in the Vietnam War, and maybe this motivates him to bring about the hippie era a few years earlier with his feminine style and long hair. Klaus could have been the perfect hippie if he was born in that era; his sense of fashion and ideology aligned with the hippies. They delved into Eastern religions, and hair was one of the main elements that young men in the late 1960s used to protest against the Vietnam War and become less conforming to the rigid gender roles of the time, which Klaus embodies wearing both male and female shirts. As Sarah Pruitt writes:

The vast majority of hippies were young, white, middle-class men and women who felt alienated from mainstream middle-class society and resented the pressure to conform to the “normal” standards of appearance, employment or lifestyle. By wearing their hair long and growing beards (for the men), taking drugs and exploring spirituality outside of the confines of the Judeo-Christian tradition, hippies sought to find more meaning in life—or at least have a good time.

How the Vietnam War Empowered the Hippie Movement

Allison

Klaus is not the only one who actively participates in the events of the 1960s. Allison, aka The Rumor, arrives in 1961. Her first destination is a white-only café, and soon she realizes this is a different world. Allison comes in a peplum shirt, jeans, and a black leather jacket—quite like an alien. Allison has to become a different person from the glamorous celebrity she was in 2019, so the trauma of losing her voice—thus her powers of controlling people’s actions—and being a black woman in the 1960s presents her a chance to rebuild herself.

She starts from the bottom in a hair salon, and through her struggles, she becomes a respected member of her new community, the first time without the help of her superpowers. This builds her confidence, which then shines through her authentic wardrobe the most.

She rocks the 1960s colors and patterns almost like a natural. In the first scenes of her established second life, she wears a yellow and white halter skirt, an original 1960s piece from Dallas, Hargadon managed to find. She feels home here, and perhaps nothing remarks this more than her short-sleeved lace wedding dress, with a cinched waist, accessorized with delicate lace gloves. She embodies the perfect 1960s bride, and just by a glance, we can already see a small and intimate wedding ceremony, bright and happy. Out of all her siblings, she embraced this age the most.

Luther

Luther is the next to arrive in 1962. Considering his unique physique of, well, being half a gorilla—bolstered by a muscle suit from the costume department—it must have been a struggle for him to find anything fitting in this new era. Luther is a lovely big boy, wearing blue in almost every scene apart from when he is fighting in a boxing ring sporting a white “wifebeater.” He becomes a bodyguard and the boxing champion of Jack Ruby, a classic gangster in fashionable suits running a burlesque bar, who also happens to be a real-life figure who killed Lee Harvey Oswald—the real assassin of JFK.

Luther is just here, trying to survive, struggling with a blank identity. He is the only one of the siblings who try to reach their wealthy and rather uncaring father decades before their birth. His attempts to please this stylish father speaks volumes of his relationship with costumes. First, he doesn’t care. Then he only manages to get through his father’s ignorance, failing, nonetheless.

Diego and Lila

Diego arrived in 1963, and he is almost immediately taken to a psychiatric ward in an attempt to stop the assassination of JFK. We first see him in a completely white outfit, bland, just like the rest of the other patients, but he only cares about his self-proclaimed mission, anyway. His style is utilitarian. However, his love interest, Lila, proves to be way more intriguing than him. And she is not who she shows herself to be. Her clothing slowly unravels a mystery.

Their first costume change is on the run, stealing clothes while escaping the facility. Strangely, a little bit later, she is already wearing a bit out-of-time red leather boots, hinting at her real identity.

We follow her footsteps right until a curious meeting with our favorite crazy villain from season one—The Handler. Christopher Hargadon said several times in articles how much of a pleasure it was to design this psychotic fashionista, stressing the amazing collaboration with the actress Kate Walsh.

The Handler

“Every time she walks on, I want it to be like an entrance, I want her to be making some major kind of statement because she is such a trippy off-the-wall insane character.”

Christopher Hargadon

When we meet her in season one, the Handler is a high-ranking employee of the time travel agency called the Commission. In season 2, she is about to be cremated when she suddenly comes alive again; this is the beginning of the episode, The Frankel Footage, which was nominated for an Emmy.  We follow her back to the Commission in her flaming red skirt suit with a cinched wasp waist and an elaborate black headpiece. While her silhouette is exceptionally chic, she is threatening like some sort of insect. Throughout the season, she stays elaborate on her accessories. No matter what she wears, she always has red either on her accessories or nail polish, but mainly on her iconic red high heels.

The Handler – NETFLIX © 2020

The Handler’s wardrobe is always immaculate, proper lady-like, heavily inspired by the 50s, quite the opposite of her methods against her enemies. This dissonance between her wonderful outer look and the rotten wicked side comes to the surface as spiders on her costume. Either her handbag or—most extravagantly—her coronation dress is embellished with them.

Hargadon costumed the Handler to evoke an image of Napoleon after the slaughter at the time travel agency with her purple military-style jacket. Her costumes climaxed in her coronation dress, instilling grandiosity and an over-the-top feeling with its metallic colors, the same way as Napoleon’s ceremonial dress.

Vanya and Sissy

As an absolute opposite to this vivid character stands Vanya, who arrives in 1963, merely a few weeks before the apocalypse. She is immediately hit by a car, so she loses her burdening memories. She seems a lot freer without them, anyway. We get to Sissy and her family after the accident as Vanya moves to their home, and I just loved how their soft, intimate relationship was introduced through their costumes. At first glance, Sissy is the stereotypical housewife, someone who must have read, or at least tried to read, the popular 1959 book by American fashion designer Anne Fogarty, Wife-dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife. When she presents herself in a full blue skirt and a poodle print shirt, we can almost hear this line from the book:

Remember that it’s your husband for whom you’re dressing. Keep him in mind when you shop.”

Her marriage with her husband is abusive, but she tries hard to keep it going until Vanya comes along and shows she could ask for so much more. And as they grow closer to each other, Sissy’s clothes become more comfortable, less feminine, more in alignment with Vanya. He is probably dressing from a mixture of the wardrobe of Sissy’s son and husband. She remains androgynous, something she feels to be herself, something that didn’t get lost in memory. Vanya doesn’t try to adapt to her new circumstances. She finds comfort with Sissy, and the happenings of the 1960s don’t reach them on the farm until she reunites with her siblings again.

Ending Thoughts

I, for one, can’t wait for season three and would like to congratulate Christopher Hargadon and his fantastic team on the Emmy nomination and their overall impressive work on The Umbrella Academy! Although The Umbrella Academy relies heavily on action, I love how much time we spend just with the characters, their broken sides, far from the almighty superheroes one would see from the outside. The costumes, their textures, and their colors create an authentic image of the 1960s through nuances that enrich these characters and their journey in this old new world.

Sources:

https://www.menshealth.com/entertainment/a33444166/jack-ruby-true-story-umbrella-academy/

https://digitalcommons.wku.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1814&context=stu_hon_theses

https://www.cosplaycentral.com/topics/costume-design/feature/umbrella-academy-costume-designer-interview

https://fashionista.com/2019/02/netflix-umbrella-academy-costumes-outfits

https://ph.news.yahoo.com/umbrella-academy-kate-walsh-costume-170042809.html

https://www.scribd.com/read/344120342/Art-of-Being-a-Well-Dressed-Wife#

https://www.instagram.com/christopherhargadondesign/

https://www.history.com/news/vietnam-war-hippies-counter-culture

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