The Queen’s Gambit brought to our screens an inspiring, emotional and intimate story about a female chess prodigy. It takes place in the late 1950’s and early to mid 1960’s in The United States and around many other countries.
It has received 18 nominations, not only for the outstanding performance of Anya Taylor-Joy, as Elizabeth Harmon, but also for its production and cinematography. The costumes, of course, have not been left behind. Costume Designer Gabriele Binder won a Costume Designers Guild Award for “Excellence in Period Television” and recently won an Emmy Award in the Outstanding Period Costumes Category. With an extraordinary attention to colour, detail, silhouette and building around 80% of the costumes for the series, Gabriele portrayed this decade in a flawless way through Beth Harmon’s costumes.
The Netflix miniseries tells the story of Beth and her journey from becoming an orphan with a tragic past to a chess grandmaster. Along the series, Beth gains courage and confidence to beat anyone that comes in her way. However, she struggles with loneliness, addiction, as well as with power and love. All of this is expressed through the costumes and brings Beth Harmon to life.
Right: Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix
At the show’s beginning, Beth is given a uniform at the orphanage and is forced to wear it for many years. This uniform, a dull grey/brown jumper dress, off-white Peter Pan collared shirt, white socks, and shoes, was a standard uniform during the 1950s. The Peter Pan collar was very popular during this period, and Gabriele used it accurately on many occasions.
Left to right: 1. Isla Johnston as Beth Harmon and Christiane Seidel as Miss Deardoff. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix 2. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix
Later on, in 1963, Beth wins her first chess competition, and with the cash prize, she buys herself a much more stylish plaid pinafore dress. She pairs it with a 3/4 sleeve collared shirt, white bobby socks, and black and white saddle shoes. This is the first time that Beth connects deeply with fashion and actually picks what she wants to wear. Going forward, her outfits and addiction to fashion just get better, making her look confident and empowered.
At this moment, we witness a glimpse of Beth’s wardrobe’s connection to the chessboard: checks, plaids, and geometrical or linear prints. These patterns were also a trend during the 1960s, known as op-art. In most scenes, the background characters’ costumes also include a subtle checkered or plaid pattern—a brilliant and accurate detail from Gabriele that works perfectly for storytelling purposes.
Left to right: 1. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing plaid pinafore dress. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix 2. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing checkered dress, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as Townes. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix
“Beth Harmon should have felt more confident in a checkered outfit. The contrast of the check print also mirrors the nuances of the game itself—it’s decisive, it’s win or lose” -Gabriele Binder, Costume Designer.
As Beth starts gaining confidence in her life and in chess, she starts to experiment with fashion and discovers her real style. In Mexico City, 1966, the costumes are just astonishing. She is using warmer colours and often has an A line silhouette that allures more to the 1950’s fashions. As a teenage girl that comes from a small town in USA, this is what was available to her. So, not only her costumes are cohesive with time period and geography, but also make her look secure and professional.
One really interesting point about Beth’s costumes is Gabriele’s attention to detail in necklines and torso. Since Beth is most of the time sitting at the chessboard, she needed to look elegant, interesting and professional. Without the use of any cleavage or jewellery because that could cause distraction. The use of Peter Pan collars (right photo) and checkered details, the buttons on her dress (left photo), are still clever and work perfectly.
Left to right: 1. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing dress with checkered buttons. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix 2. Mathew Dennis-Lewis as Matt, Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon, Russell Dennis-Lewis as Mike. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix
By 1967, Beth goes to Ohio and New York City before heading to Paris. Her costumes are slowly jumping to the ‘60s, with more interesting prints and mini skirts, making her look more confident and comfortable in her environment. One of the designer’s favorite looks is a casual white and black t-shirt flared jeans. This outfit is a rather repetitive look through the episodes, and it’s what she wears when feeling comfortable. Her headbands add an interesting touch to her feminine looks and make her hair look amazing.
“We wanted Beth Harmon’s late 1950s, early 1960s look to be a little bit backwards on purpose—that way we could clearly show the moment when she catches up with the modern day in New York where she discovers how young people in her generation are living.” -Gabriele Binder, Costume Designer shares with Vogue
In three pictures: Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix
In Paris, Beth’s love for fashion becomes more evident. Being now in the world’s Fashion Capital, her looks are more elegant, structural, and linear. The so popular 1960’s minidress, which we first see on Cleo, makes her look older and like a true fashion icon. For these episodes, Costume Designer Gabriele Binder incorporated references from Pierre Cardin. The mint green bow dress (the one she wore on her match with Borgov) resembled the pill colors and was made from a light crepe. The colors and fabric contributed to show how unstable and fragile she was at this particular moment, which at the same time symbolized the way she was slowly destroying herself with her addictions.
Left to right: Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing Pierre Cardin inspiration dress. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing her “pill” dress. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix.
When Beth encounters total loneliness and failure, she jumps into a self-destructive spiral. She feels lost and insecure, which transforms her appearance entirely, and we see her for the first time wearing pastel colors. The choice of this pink cardigan and baby blue camisole can be a way of grieving her late Mother, Alma, because these were colors she (Alma) ordinarily worn. In addition to this, we see her copying the style and makeup of a singer that she sees on TV. Impeccable detail in this costume is her hat. This is the first time we see Beth wearing a hat, probably trying to hide her red hair, which has always made her stand out from the crowd.
Left to right: Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing her pastel look. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing her rebel look. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix.
Gabriele’s attention to color was a huge point during the creation of these costumes. Beth’s costumes centered on one particular color, pale green. This color is the one she is wearing in Episode 1 when she first arrives at the orphanage. It symbolized “home” but made her look weak and fragile. By the end of the show, at her final match with Borvog, Beth is wearing a wool collared dress in the exact same color. It makes her look so strong and sophisticated that we can see how the color transformed with her and how she is once again “home.” Also, it is a color that contrasts but extraordinarily compliments her red hair.
“We wanted to use this colour to show that she finally feels confident and that her mother is with her. At this moment, she is not afraid of the man she has been most afraid of. In the beginning, it’s a colour that makes her really fragile, but in the end, the same colour is a sign of her strength; it is symbolic of a homecoming.” -Gabriele Binder, Costume Designer shares with Vogue
Left to right: 1. Beth’s embroidered dress. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix 2. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing wool collared dress. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix
Vintage pieces from the decade inspire the final coats that we see her wearing in Moscow. The checkered coat, which Binder called “Beth’s Pride Coat,” is what she wears to leave the tournament in Moscow. “It was a beautiful vintage piece that we found, which I believe was designed by André Courrèges for an American designer as part of a collaboration. This was a very self-confident piece; we wanted the visuals of a strong decision referenced by the checks”. Courrèges was one of the first to use op-art aesthetics in his collections, so it is evident how his stamp was used throughout the whole show as an accurate reference. Also, these final outfits have inspiration from Jaqueline Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn, two icons from the era.
By the end, Beth Harmon is The White Queen of the chess world. She has conquered what she came looking for and has demonstrated how strong, determined, intelligent, and talented she can be. This final look is also referencing the work of André Courrèges. She is wearing a black long-sleeve turtleneck, white straight trousers, white leather ankle boots, knee-length white wool coat with stand collar, white cap, and leather gloves. Her elegance and simplicity make her look absolutely stunning. This final look is the perfect way to finish the story of Beth’s character. It summarizes her whole path, her style, her strength, and her symbolism with chess.
Left to right: Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing checkered coat. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing The White Queen outfit. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix
Gabriele Binder and her talented crew brought together an impeccable wardrobe for a Netflix limited series that we will never forget. They were able to bring together pieces from chess, fashion, addiction, empowerment, and the beautiful and iconic ‘50s and 60’s to our screens. They told the story of a strong and out-of-the-ordinary chess player and made her the Beth Harmon that we will never forget. Thank you for reviving this decade and perfectly telling such a good story.
If you would like to hear more about The Queen’s Gambit’s costumes, go and check The Art of Costume Blogcast.
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