WandaVision: Costumes and First Impressions

August 23rd just passed, so you know what that means…it’s WandaVision time! Now brace yourself because this may come as a shock, but I must confess that I’ve never seen WandaVision. I know it’s a shame. Even my little 6-year-old cousin has watched it and talks about how great it is. So I decided to turn my embarrassment into a fun article!

For context, WandaVision is a sitcom-style show centered around two Avengers: Wanda Maximoff (played by Elizabeth Olsen), also known as Scarlet Witch, and Vision (played by Paul Bettany). After getting married, Wanda and Vision move to a suburban area where they attempt to conceal their superhero identity and blend in with the rest of the “normal” community — or so they think. In this premiere episode that we’ll be talking about, titled “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience,” Wanda and Vision see that their calendar is marked with a heart for August 23rd. Wanda and Vision can’t remember what special event is happening, and they continue throughout their day trying to figure out what it is.

WandaVision has been nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes, specifically for this episode, so I thought it’d be cool to share my first thoughts and impressions of some of the costumes and, after further research, see if it connected to costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo’s actual thought process while creating them.

Wanda’s Costumes

It’s important to note that this episode takes place all in one day. First impression: The first costume that Wanda is seen wearing is a stunning wedding gown as she and Vision are moving into their new home. It’s also in black and white, so it’s hard to tell what exact color each costume is, but I tried to imagine what color they were, and for this one, I came up with white. As soon as I saw this dress, I couldn’t help but notice the shape. It has your typical voluminous skirt, but from the waist up, the silhouette resembles a trapezoid, reminding me of the style of clothes from the 1950s. Combined with her tight curls and pearl necklace, I believe that the 1950s inspired Rubeo.  

Wanda has the most outfits in this episode, sporting three more costumes I call: the kitchen dress, the lingerie gown, and the fancy bow dress. Wanda wears the kitchen dress for a while, specifically around the house while Vision is at work and when their new neighbor, Agnes (played by Kathryn Hahn), comes over to welcome her. At first, I thought this dress was one entire piece, including the apron-like piece, which I assumed was attached to it. It also gave me 1950s-inspired vibes, especially with the A-line skirt and outline of the collar and sleeves. As for the color, I imagined that the main dress was pastel yellow and the apron was white.  

Now let’s step away from the 1950s for a little bit and travel back to the 1920s-1930s. That’s the period I thought of when I first saw the lingerie gown, which I also assumed was white. While Vision is at work, Agnes comes over and chats with Wanda for a while. Wanda and Agnes conclude that the day is special because it’s Wanda and Vision’s anniversary (even though they don’t have one) and decides to treat Vision to a special night.

After a classic sitcom miscommunication on the phone, Wanda comes downstairs to greet Vision in this intimate look, only to find out that it’s not their anniversary but the day where Vision’s boss Mr. Hart (played by Fred Melamed and Mr. Hart’s wife (played by Debra Jo Rupp) are coming over for dinner. Wanda is surprised by the sight of Mr. and Mrs. Hart and quickly closes the plunging neckline.

The dress has a different shape and looks from the first two dresses, stepping away from the shapely silhouette and bringing more movement and flow to the costume. It seems like it was inspired by the glamourous Old Hollywood, mainly because of the fur on her cuffs. It also looks like Marilyn Monroe had some influence on the costume, looking similar to Monroe’s infamous white dress with the plunging neckline. This revealing gown is the complete opposite of the conservative style of the 1950s, which she quickly changes to with the snap of her fingers as soon as Vision explains to her what’s going on. 

Wanda finishes off the rest of the episode wearing an off-the-shoulder dress, the same shape as the wedding and kitchen dress. It has a bow in the front, and I imagined that it’s pastel pink. This happens to be the part where I learned that the apron-like piece on the kitchen dress wasn’t attached to it because Wanda can be seen wearing the apron with this dress. This dress, along with the lingerie dress, were my top two favorite costumes of this episode!

The Truth: It turns out that the 1950s inspired Rubeo in this episode! As the show progresses, each episode takes on a different decade and pulls from popular sitcoms of each period. According to an interview with FIDM Museum Associate Joanna Abijaoude, Rubeo states that the director Matt Shakman and the creators of WandaVision already knew what sitcoms each era was going to be based on. The team was influenced by The Dick Van Dyke Show I Love Lucy, The Brady Bunch (which I watch every Sunday), and Bewitched, all of the 1950s and 60s. Rubeo grew up watching these sitcoms in Spanish, so she was already familiar with them!  

She also talks about how Wanda’s wedding dress was inspired by a late 1950s movie called Funny Face. Rubeo wanted to portray Wanda as actress Audrey Hepburn, and she did an outstanding job! Wanda’s wedding dress has the same structure and trapezoid shape as Hepburn’s.

As for the kitchen and fancy bow dress, I was incorrect about them being inspired by the 1950s. The dresses were based on the 1960s, as mentioned by Rubeo in an interview with the Gold Derby editor Rob Licuria. Rubeo talks about the process behind the kitchen and fancy bow dress and her relationship with vintage fabric, stating, “I’m a huge fan of using real vintage fabric when you’re creating a vintage costume. And that helps a lot when you’re making something with the real fabric. It’s going to fall in the same way that you imagine or stays in the same way that you imagine, like the 60s dresses for Wanda when we got the housewife dress and the dinner dress, and they were made with the wonderful vintage fabric. It makes a difference.”  

Something that I also got wrong was the color of the costumes. With the kitchen dress, it wasn’t yellow as I imagined. It’s mint-colored with a beautiful pastel yellow, green, and white apron. Rubeo mentioned to Licuria that this particular costume almost blended with the set of the show. She had to work closely with the production design team to ensure that costumes didn’t disappear in the background. For this specific dress, she ended up having to outline the collar on the dress, which is where the black outline came from.

Since the show is in black and white, Rubeo used a very creative technique to get the costume colors just right on the screen – mainly to avoid that from happening again. She would take a picture of the fabric using her phone and put it on the monochrome filter, which gave her the same shade of gray that you would see on the screen.   

Along with the kitchen dress, the party dress also isn’t what I thought it was. There wasn’t much information about the lingerie dress or if it had any exact inspiration, but I was able to confirm that it’s white! It was also mint-colored but made with a vintage taffeta fabric from India, staying true to Rubeo’s belief of using vintage materials.

Vision’s Costumes

First impression: Vision’s costumes were the complete opposite of Wanda’s. His suits looked darker, almost as if the costume designers wanted there to be a stark contrast between the two. It’s important to note that since Vision is a robot and needs to hide his identity, he transforms into a human several times throughout the episode, which is why it may seem as though two different figures are wearing the exact same outfit.

Vision wears his first suit only in the sitcom-style introduction as he and Wanda are first moving into their new home after getting married. What’s very interesting about the suit (which I assumed was gray) is the pattern. It didn’t give me a 1950s feel, but it made me believe that there was some modern influence.

The next suit, however, did remind me of the 1950s. Vision wears this suit for the rest of the episode, including while he’s at work and when he comes home for dinner. There didn’t appear to be a pattern on this suit, but I also assumed that it was gray. The tie was also unique. It had a rectangle with two dots inside and one dot outside of the rectangle on each side. I’m not sure what it represented, but I feel it was significant to him being a superhero. I also thought it was funny how Vision wears Wanda’s apron while trying to help her cook dinner. It challenged the stereotypical ideals of the 1950s. What a nice touch!

The Truth: I guessed the costume right again! Both Vision’s wedding suit and work suit were gray. And although I didn’t guess the colors of the ties, the work suit tie turned out to be burgundy. Not much has been said about the possible superhero design, but it matched the tie that the Vision POP! figure wears, and there have also been speculations about ties to Doctor Strange 2

Along with Doctor Strange, Vision’s costumes have connections to other shows as well. As mentioned with Wanda’s costumes, Rubeo was influenced by many sitcoms, including I Love Lucy. There is a significant reference from I Love Lucy where Vision cooks and wears Wanda’s apron while she’s in the main room entertaining Mr. and Mrs. Hart. In the episode of I Love Lucy titled “Job Switching,” Lucy’s husband Ricky and his best friend Fred switch roles with Lucy and her best friend Ethel after arguing over whether earning money or being a housewife is harder. In one specific scene, Ricky and Fred can both be seen wearing aprons while cooking in the kitchen, which perfectly mirrors Vision’s scene in WandaVision.  I love these references! Long with Doctor Strange,  Vision’s costumes have connections to other shows as well.

Agnes’s Costumes  

First impression: I don’t know what this dress is, but it perfectly describes Agnes’ character. Agnes is Wanda and Vision’s new neighbor. She and Wanda first meet when she comes over to welcome Wanda to the neighborhood. The bold plaid pattern perfectly aligns with her personality as she’s very outgoing, nosy, funny, and loves to gossip. She also wears what looks like a black belt. Even though this is Agnes’ only look, she doesn’t seem like a person who would wear very bright colors or anything similar to Wanda’s style.

With that, I assumed that this dress was either black and white or navy blue and white. When she returns later on the episode to deliver a pineapple for their upside-down cake, she wears what I assume is a black capelet. This dress has the same silhouette as Wanda’s wedding, lingerie, and fancy bow dress, so I felt the 1950s inspired this look.

The Truth: I was thrilled to see Rubeo’s process behind Agnes’ costume because it was very similar to what I guessed! Agnes’ dress is darker, just as I imagined. According to the same interview with Joanna Abijaoude, Rubeo states that she made Agnes have very strong contrast in comparison to Wanda and that she “made it [the contrast] in a subliminal way so when she knocks on the door, and you see this like powerful contrast, it’s ominous that this person is not going to bring out peaceful contribution.” It’s so fascinating how Rubeo conveyed the specific energy or mood just by their clothes. And the fact that she does so without the audience even being able to see the actual colors of their costumes is incredible. 

One aspect of her outfit that I did completely miss, though, was Agnes’ medallion. Rubeo was asked about any hidden easter eggs or details in the costumes of WandaVision that she could tell everyone about to which she says is the medallion. Rubeo mentioned that she designed and created the medallion intending to hint into the future of Agnes’ character, stating that, “The medallion is a classic cameo medallion, and it has a figure of two ladies. Usually, this kind of medallion portrays the three graces in life. But if you look closer, these three ladies are burning. They’re at the stake, and this represents the three witches that she was burning with.”

Later in the season, Agnes turns out to be Agatha Harkness, a powerful Marvel witch.  Rubeo’s ability to provide that subtle hint and foreshadow is admirable. And what’s even more impressive is that this medallion is in almost every costume that Agnes wears throughout the show, except for an aerobic scene they did; what a well-thought-out detail! That shows how much thought was put into her look.

Ending 

My little cousin was right. This show has won me over. I’m absolutely in love with these costumes and cannot stress enough how extremely talented Mayes C. Rubeo and her team are! I am a huge lover of symbolism and storytelling, and I am in awe of how Rubeo and the entire creative team conveyed that. With television shows and films being full of vibrant colors nowadays, it’s not usual for shows to be black and white. But this was such a unique experience, and being able to imagine each costume and envision what they look like in real life opened my mind and enabled me to be even more creative. If you haven’t seen this show yet, please stream it now on Disney Plus! And for more information on the costumes throughout the entire season, please click here to listen to The Art of Costume Blogcast!


Check out these sources for more on WandaVision!

Bojalad, Alec. “Wandavision: The Sitcom Influences of Episodes 1 and 2.” WandaVision: The Sitcom Influences of Episodes 1 and 2, Den of Geek, 9 Feb. 2021, www.denofgeek.com/tv/wandavision-sitcom-influences-dick-van-dyke/

Chitwood, Adam, and Adam Chitwood (15911 Articles Published) . “See How ‘Wandavision’ Was Filmed in Front of a Live Audience in New Featurette.” See How ‘WandaVision’ Was Filmed in Front of a Live Audience in New Featurette, 15 Jan. 2021, collider.com/how-wandavision-was-filmed-in-front-of-an-audience-explained/. 

FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. Creating The Costumes of WandaVision, With Costume Designer Mayes C. RubeoYouTube, YouTube, 24 June 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZNQeTX2JRs&t=33s

Howard, Kirsten. “Wandavision May Have Already Shown Us Its Doctor Strange 2 Connection.” Den of Geek, Den of Geek, 18 Jan. 2021, http://www.denofgeek.com/tv/wandavision-doctor-strange-villain-theory/.

The Costume Designers Guild. “Design through Time: The Costumes of Mayes C. Rubeo.” YouTube, YouTube, 24 July 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSVwYS6jS5A&t=400s

A Style-ish Wedding: Contemporary Costumes of Black-ish

If I had to sum up my entire childhood in two words, it would be Michelle Cole, the talented costume designer behind many of the shows that I watched and was inspired by growing up. She worked on some of my favorites, such as Martin, The Steve Harvey Show, and The Bernie Mac Show. She even styled two of my favorite musicians: Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder. All of her hard work and dedication paid off, earning her 8 Emmy nominations in total, with 4 of those being from from the costumes of Black-ish — a show that’s been such a huge part of me and my family’s lives for so long. 

Black-ish, created by Kenya Barris, is a show that Barris’ own family inspires. It centers around the Johnsons: an upper-middle-class African American family consisting of Andre ‘Dre’ (played by Anthony Anderson), Rainbow ‘Bow’ (played by Tracee Ellis Ross) and their five children — Zoey (played by Yara Shahidi), Andre Jr ‘Junior’ (played by Marcus Scribner), twins Diane (played by Marsai Martin) and Jack (played by Miles Brown) and Devante (played by twins Berlin and August Gross). It follows the family as they navigate life while dealing with racism, work, school, relationships, and finding their identity. The entire cast is phenomenal, and I love how real the show is. Filled with much-needed life lessons, it’s not afraid to “go there” with serious topics, and it isn’t concerned about what others will think of it. 

That’s exactly why I admire Cole. Her ability to step outside of the box and try new things when it comes to her designs is what makes her so iconic. Cole demonstrates this throughout the show, especially in some of the most unforgettable episodes, such as “Purple Rain,” where she pays homage to Prince by recreating looks from his career. “Juneteenth,” where she sends the Johnson family back in time to commemorate the significant holiday, and “The Prank King,” where she helps the Johnson family win Halloween in their costume as, The Jackson 5. But she also does so in a more recent episode titled “Our Wedding Dre,” where her latest Emmy nomination for Outstanding Contemporary Costume comes from.  

This episode focuses on Dre’s mother, Rubeline “Ruby” Johnson (played by Jenifer Lewis), and father Earl “Pops” Johnson (played by Laurence Fishburne), who is getting remarried after their rekindled romance. Pop’s brother, Uncle Norman (played by Danny Glover), makes an unexpected appearance with his family before the wedding, stirring problems between the two. But after some emotional talks and reconciliations, the families come together at the end for a stylish and heartwarming, socially distanced wedding.

I am fascinated by the colors and patterns in the wedding scene. Black-ish always manages to make their episodes visually appealing, especially with its radiant and eye-catching costumes. Cole makes a complete 180 from typical wedding color palettes and creates something new and exciting. Because of all the time and effort that she’s put in to bring this show to life, it’s a must that we applaud her and her work in this episode, as well as appreciate how much work goes into contemporary costume design. 

Contemporary costumes can be overlooked and forgotten in the fashion industry. Because they’re not typical period pieces, connecting to them can be more challenging for people. Some people may view them as simple or boring, and they may not be able to bring out as many memories or feelings of nostalgia as period pieces would. But there’s more to contemporary design than we think. Cole describes the entire behind-the-scenes process in an interview with Kevin Jacobsen from Gold Derby, stating that, “It’s a very fast-moving show” and “We have a lot of fun doing it, but it is a lot of work and you really have to concentrate.”

She also walks through each step, starting with the script where she and her team, including her talented ACD (assistant costume designer) Stanley Hudson, whom she never fails to mention, break it down to figure out what each character is going through to wear. Next, the team goes through the actors’ closets, and once they’re finished, they go shopping before the scenes are shot so that when it’s time to start filming, they can pull from what they already have. While the show is filming, Cole continues to shop with her crew, where they set off in search of fabrics and later move into colors and textures. And this is all done within five days or even less!

A fascinating approach that Cole talks about is how she attempts to dress Tracee Ellis Ross first and then has everyone else’s costume be based on hers! And each character is said to have about 6-8 outfit changes or more per show, which adds to the intensity of the process. Now keep in mind that this episode was aired during the pandemic, so not only did the crew have to be super cautious while working, but they also had to get super creative. There weren’t many clothes in the stores, so they didn’t have many options to choose from. But they still managed to work with what they had and did a stellar job! And to top that all off, Cole was working on two other shows: #BlackAF and Grown-ish at the same time. Talk about a superwoman!

Now that we’ve been backstage let’s talk about the final looks onscreen! Ruby’s wedding dress — or should I say work of art — immediately caught my eye. Even Jenifer Lewis herself talked about how excited she was about the dress more than anything else. It’s not a traditional, white wedding gown that most people are used to. Cole and Hudson completely reinvented this classic attire, adding vibrant colors, multiple pieces, and a striking pattern – which perfectly matched Ruby’s powerful personality. And they did so in 2 weeks!

A big part of making the costume was getting input from Lewis herself, which is such a great practice, especially since it makes the actors feel more comfortable and connected to their costumes. Hudson came up with some drawings of their designs for the dress and showed them to Lewis, noting that she loves pants and loves to cover her elbows. Cole and Hudson incorporated those features into the outfit, with the off-the-shoulder peplum pantsuit shaping Lewis perfectly and emphasizing her beauty and grace. The ruffled sleeves at her elbows and the train on the skirt add volume to the look, creating a dramatic effect and accentuating her. The skirt is detachable, too, allowing Ruby to dance freely for the reception.

And both Cole and Hudson made sure to tie in African culture as well, using African Kente cloth fabric alongside the other African references in the episode, including “Jumping the Broom” and the “Money Dance” tradition. The fabric came from an African clothing store, Ashanti Fabrics, that Cole and her team found in downtown Los Angeles. Ruby wears a matching Kente cloth headwrap as well, which she personally requested.

A little black-ish lesson on Kente cloth: it actually has a mythological background. It’s said that two young men stumbled upon Anansi the Spider (also known as Ananse) and were captivated by the beautiful web that he had spun. After completing a few favors, Anansi taught the men how to weave like him, and the men brought their knowledge back to the village of Bonwire in Ghana – where Kente weaving most notably originated. At first, the cloth was reserved for the royals of the Ashanti people (a major tribe of the Akans who are an ethnic group in West Africa).

Still, it eventually spread out, being used worldwide from HBCU (Historically Black College/University) graduations to huge movies such as Black Panther. The colors of Kente cloth have significant meanings as well. The ones in Ruby’s dress represent peace and love (blue), purity (white), royalty (gold), and ancestral spirituality (black), which perfectly sum up the elements of marriage. Along with orange, which is seen throughout the dress, there’s also a stunning orange lining in the dress, with the fabric being from Mood Fabrics in New York.  

Alongside Ruby is her groom, Earl. Earl is a pretty straightforward man who is never afraid to share his opinion. He’s been through a lot and puts up a tough front, but deep inside, he has a soft spot, and we’re able to see him put his guard down at the wedding. The contrast between Ruby’s flamboyant outfit and Earl’s solid suit also shows his love for Ruby, in which he was willing to take a step back and let her shine on their special day. But this African-inspired, navy-blue suit with silk pockets still speaks volumes, portraying Pops as an African King. The well-tailored suit captures Pops stature perfectly, and the asymmetrical design gives it the right amount of uniqueness.

The two costumes complement each other so well, even much so that Lewis herself commented on her impression of the suit with The Root, stating that “When I saw Laurence in his groom attire, we both teared up. It was as if we were getting married. As if Jenifer Lewis and Laurence Fishburne were getting married.” That is how much of an effect Cole, Hudson, and the entire team had on the actors — and the audience too! 

Following Ruby and Earl, are Dre and Bow, who never let me down in the fashion department. Dre wears a custom-made classic suit similar in color to his father’s. His striped button-up shirt, patterned tie, and handkerchief add variety to the outfit. I also love the double pocket detail on the right side, which you don’t usually see on suits.  And just as Ruby and Earl’s costumes match their personalities, Dre’s does too with his white sneakers. He’s known to be a sneakerhead, owning an impressive shoe collection that’s displayed in his closet. So it was very fitting that he’s not wearing Oxfords.

This is another factor that costumers have to think about when it comes to contemporary costume design. You have to know each character well and keep up with their life, ensuring that their style is consistent with their personalities and development, even if they’re already adults. Cole and Hudson do a great job of this, making sure that each character’s costume stays true to their identity. This is shown with Bow as well. She has always been fashionable, displaying a classy and timeless style with high-end pieces from brands such as Balenciaga and Zara. And this wedding wasn’t an exception. Not only did she serve as the wedding officiant, but she served looks in this Rachel Comey outfit featuring a metallic Mirar Jacquard tie-knot top and matching pleated pants along with a fuchsia-colored, marble print blazer. 

The Johnson kids on the set of Black-ish – Courtesy of ABC

Just like their parents, the Johnson kids are always in style. What’s so fascinating about them is how each of their personalities is so similar yet so different at the same time. It’s almost as if each character is influenced by at least one other family member’s style while also trying to find their own fashion sense. For example, the eldest siblings Zoey and Junior.

Zoey is very sophisticated, laid-back, and independent. She mirrors her mother in her wear, trying out different prints and patterns while also maintaining a business look full of button-up shirts and blouses. This style continues through her spin-off show, Grown-ish, along with some experimenting, where Zoey is actually a stylist herself. Zoey returns home to celebrate the special day in this episode, wearing a green, A.L.C, long-sleeve Tavi pleated dress with a black belt and gold buckle. This dress is so beautiful, sleek, and elegant, perfectly matching Zoey’s poise. 

On the other hand, Junior is very quirky, nerdy, and at times uptight, making him the butt of the family jokes. But he’s matured a lot throughout the years: taking care of his siblings, standing up for himself, and even handling being in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend, Olivia Lockhart (played by Katlyn Nichol). And although Junior is a mama’s boy, his style is close to Dre’s, where he tends to wear a lot of hoodies, polos, and button-up shirts as well as floral and graphic prints. Here, Junior wears a well-fitted bright red suit, representing his lively nature. He also wears an abstract button-up shirt. And just like his dad, Junior swaps out dress shoes for multicolored Nikes – which look fantastic with the whole ensemble. This is something I’d wear.  

Reflecting both Zoey and Junior, the twins Diane and Jack are also complete opposites. Just like Zoey, Diane is very independent – so much so that you forget she’s among the youngest. She’s also intelligent, blunt, and eccentric to the point that it’s a little scary. She wears many hoodies, sweaters, long sleeve tops, and jumpsuits filled with bright colors, stripes, camouflage, and animal prints. In this scene, Diane wears a Valeria floral silk wrap dress by All Things Mochi. The dress resembles Ruby’s costume with its ruffled sleeves and hem, which is interesting considering that Diane has a similar personality to Ruby’s. 

Jack is similar to Junior in a way. They’re both sweet, sensitive, and gullible at times. They also both wear the same types of garments and prints. But Jack has another side to him. He’s a great dancer, which boosts self-confidence, turning him into a more outgoing version of himself who’s not afraid of what other people might think about him. And nothing says confidence like this suit. This conversation starter is covered entirely in pink palm trees, standing out against the white button-up shirt underneath. It’s gorgeous, and I’m absolutely in love with it and want one for myself! And for the Johnson men, a suit is never complete without sneakers. Cole pairs multicolored white sneakers with this look.

The last thing I wanted to touch on regarding the Johnson kids is an interview with the wonderful costume designer, Mandi Line, where Cole and Hudson talk about working with the cast. When it comes to contemporary costumes, sometimes designers will have to work with younger actors. And because you’re spending most of your day on set, the cast and crew become a family. It’s so important to recognize that not only are these designers making the cast look good, but they’re also making them feel good. They’ve seen the actors grow up, hit milestones, and face new challenges, and as a result, they play the role of a parental figure in their lives.

Hudson talks more on this, applauding Cole and her relationship with both Yara and Marsai, who both have “such a love for her and respect for her that you don’t see a lot of.” He also talks about Instagram, body image, and how Cole “has managed to sort of lead her [Marsai] and guide her in a way where it’s been sort of seamless in her growth as a young woman, as a producer, as a young black woman.” I think it’s so essential that Cole was able to establish that connection with the cast because it builds trust and, in today’s society, can really help people gain a healthier self-image. And what better way to hype yourself up than with a fabulous outfit?

Overall, I am genuinely blown away by Michelle, Stanley, and the entire costume team, along with the cast and crew behind Black-ish. They have done such a great job bringing Barris’ vision to life. There are specific ways that black families are portrayed in the entertainment field, and it’s not always done in a positive light, nor is it a correct representation of our lives. We come from very diverse backgrounds, and we must recognize that.

This show has helped so many people by teaching us valuable life lessons, bringing laughter into our lives, and tackling taboo and challenging topics that many avoid talking about. As a result, it’s opened up a discussion that will allow us to better the world and make it a safe space for everyone, no matter our differences. I wish you all the best! Thank you so much for everything you’ve done, and congratulations again for the well-earned Emmy nomination.


Sources:

Bell, Chloe. “Poppy Cardigans, Printed Sweaters – We ID’d All These Clothes from Black-Ish Season 7.” POPSUGAR Fashion, 10 Mar. 2021, www.popsugar.com/fashion/black-ish-fashion-season-7-48206838.  

“Black-Ish Outfits & Fashion.” WornOnTV, wornontv.net/black-ish/. 

Hoo, Fawnia Soo. “Exclusive: How Ruby’s Kente Cloth Wedding Dress Came Together in Just 2 Weeks on ‘Black-Ish’.” Brides, Dotdash, 18 Nov. 2020, www.brides.com/blackish-kente-cloth-wedding-dress-exclusive-5088224

Hoo, Fawnia Soo. “How Michelle Cole Went from Studying Costume Design to Actually Doing It – on Multiple Shows at Once.” Fashionista, Breaking Media, 15 June 2020, fashionista.com/2020/06/michelle-cole-costume-designer-career. 

Jacobsen, Kevin. “’Black-Ish’ Costume DESIGNER Michelle R. Cole on Working for a ‘Very FAST-MOVING Show’ [Exclusive VIDEO INTERVIEW].” GoldDerby, Penske Media Corporation, 12 June 2020, 1:30pm, www.goldderby.com/article/2020/black-ish-costume-designer-michelle-cole-video-interview/

LaBarrie, Ariana. “Jumping the Broom: Everything You Need to Know about the Tradition.” Brides, Dotdash, 27 July 2020, www.brides.com/jumping-the-broom-5071336

Lee, Esther. “Exclusive Photos and Details from the ‘Black-Ish’ Wedding.” The Knot, Xo Group, 18 Nov. 2020, www.theknot.com/content/blackish-tv-show-wedding

Micots, Dr. Courtnay. “Kente Cloth (Asante and Ewe Peoples).” Khan Academy, Khan Academy, www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-africa/west-africa/ghana/a/kente-cloth

Sanders, Shamika. “A Family That Slays Together, Stays Together: ‘Black-Ish’ Costume Designer Michelle R. Cole On Creating The Looks We Love.” HelloBeautiful, Interactive One, 17 June 2021, hellobeautiful.com/3391309/michelle-cole-costume-director-blackish-tracee-ellis-ross/. 

Legally Blonde, Legally Fashionable: The Evolution of Elle Woods

It’s been 20 years since Elle Woods (played by Reese Witherspoon) graced the big screen. Even though I didn’t know what movies were when this came out, I’ll never forget how much I fell in love with Legally Blonde – especially after seeing it for the first time, many years later in my government class.  

Legally Blonde is a film for the underdogs. It’s also a feminist classic, representing the many women fighting for a voice and the chance to get the same opportunities as their male counterparts. And Elle does just that, but with clothing! We’re going to look at Wood’s outfits by the talented costume designer Sophie de Rakoff and see how they not only impacted her life but paved her way to success! You may not have realized it, but fashion played a massive role in Woods’ story.

The L.A Sorority Girl  

We’re first introduced to Elle Woods in an amusing and playful opening scene. Elle is preparing for a very special date with her boyfriend Warner Huntington III (played by Matthew Davis). She’s wearing a hot pink, cloud-patterned, fitted halter dress with a tie around her waist. The dress is paired with pink heart heels. She’s the President of CULA’s (California University of Los Angeles) Delta Nu sorority, so she proudly wears a gold pin on her dress.

For accessories, she has a bright sunflower pin in her hair and three significant reoccurring pieces of her costumes: silver studded earrings, a silver chain heart pendant necklace, and a matching silver chain heart pendant bracelet. I call this her “3-piece signature set”. This is the first outfit that Elle wears in the film. It’s established that Elle absolutely LOVES pink and is a very happy, bubbly, and lovable person. She also LOVES her adorable Chihuahua, Bruiser Woods (played by the late Moonie), who has various matching outfits with Elle throughout the movie. 

Here’s a fun game: Count how many times you see the 3-piece signature set throughout the article! 

Low Viscosity Rayon 

In the next scene, Elle heads to the store with her two best friends to pick out a special outfit for the date — in hopes that it ends in an engagement! She tries on this gorgeous, blue sequin dress with straps and a silver chain belt. Elle also has on pink heels. Assuming that she’s unintelligent, the store employee walks over to Elle with a stunning, one-shoulder red gown and tries to scam her by claiming that it’s new and one-of-a-kind.

Elle’s knowledge pays off, though, when she stumps the employee with a fashion-related *question, letting her know that the dress was in the June edition of Vogue a year ago. Elle makes it very clear in this scene that she’s into fashion. She also has extensive knowledge of it and can use it to her advantage—this is an important detail to note. You’ll see why! 

*Note to self: You can’t use half-loop top stitching on the hem of a low viscosity rayon dress. It will snag the fabric! 

The Breakup  

Later that night, while on a date with Warner, Elle shows her love of pink (and halter dresses) by wearing another fitted, hot pink halter dress with a black pattern across it. The high-low dress has a beautiful ruffled hemline that falls almost to the floor as it meets Woods’ black, backless open-toe heels. You’re able to see the entire outfit later on in the date, but unfortunately, it’s as Elle stomps away, upset because Warner broke up with her. 

Post Break-Up Makeover

After Elle’s breakup with Warner, this is where we start to see a slight change in Elle’s style. Elle steps away from hot pink halter dresses and turns to a more casual style. Because Elle has been in her room all day torturing herself with romantic movies and chocolate, her friends decide to take her out to the spa to get manicures and pedicures. Elle can be seen wearing a rainbow tie-dye spaghetti strap top with light pink pants, a red belt, and blue high heels. While at the spa, Elle gets an idea! To win Warner back, she decides that she should become a Harvard Law School student.

Elle meets with the Admissions Advisor at CULA, wearing a blue tank top, silver belt, and bright red pants. This look is similar to what she wore at the spa: a sleeveless top, belt, and pants. Because Elle is majoring in Fashion Merchandising, the advisor tells Elle that she’s not the best candidate for Harvard. But due to Elle’s persistence, the advisor gives her information anyways on how to get in. When she gets back to her dorm, Elle starts to return to her cheery self. She’s sitting on the floor studying for the LSATS wearing a blue, gray, and white striped tank, red and white belt, and black jeans. She continues to model the style of the last two outfits. 

Welcome to Harvard

After telling her parents about her new plan while wearing a blue sequin bikini, Elle creates an admissions video essay for Harvard. Elle’s original style of wearing hot pink starts coming back as well. In the introduction of the video, Elle wears a hot pink, sequin, halter bikini top in her backyard pool. She wears another sequin dress in the next scene, but this time it’s gold. She’s explaining her strengths to Harvard, noting how she’s “skilled at commanding the attention of a room,” which she certainly does while wearing this gorgeous dress. To me, it looks very 1920s-inspired.

While in the pool again, Elle wears a green, sequin, halter top bikini, the same as the pink and blue one. These first four sequin looks remind me of the blue sequin dress that Elle tried on earlier for her date. But what truly reminds me of her original style is a hot pink halter dress that she wears. It gives me 70’s vibes, especially with its deep V-neck. The outfits in this admissions essay tend to be shiny and attention-grabbing, which most of her outfits are.

This last outfit isn’t in the admission’s video, but it appears in the scene where Elle is opening up her final LSAT scores. She’s wearing a hot pink shirt with dark wash blue jeans. This gives a hint that Elle is returning to her happy self. She’s no longer in a funk and feels more optimistic, especially since she’s one step closer to getting Warner back. Now I won’t say her final LSAT score but let’s just say Elle’s heading to Harvard!  

The Gemini Vegetarian 

People don’t take too kindly to Elle when she first arrives at Harvard. She’s way different from everyone else, and it clearly shows through her clothes. While the other students and faculty are wearing neutral and monotone colors, Elle shines through — literally. Elle arrives, with Bruiser, of course, in an all-pink outfit. It consists of a pink long sleeve jacket with faux fur and a matching pink pencil skirt with a front slit. She has brown, pointed high-heeled boots and carries a red purse with a patterned scarf tied around the strap. Like the 3-piece signature set, this purse also becomes an essential staple in many of Elle’s outfits and her habit of tying scarves around bag straps.

It’s evident, though, that Elle’s outfits have impacted the way people view her. A student describes her as a “Malibu Barbie” as she enters the school. She’s not taken seriously and gives off a vibe to everyone that she’s unintelligent and only cares about clothes. This idea continues in the next scene, where Elle is checking in for her class materials. She walks up to the desk wearing a very bright outfit. She has an off-the-shoulder, purple, dark blue, and pink striped shirt with a pink newsboy hat and pink pants. She’s wearing a silver belt and is carrying around two bags: A red purse with a scarf tied around the strap and a tan and brown purse that she takes Bruiser in.

The student who is at the desk looks her up and down, giving her a strange look. He also makes a rude, sarcastic remark when she asks about Warner, telling her she should “check with the cruise director on the lido deck.” Despite his comment, my favorite outfit in this scene is where Elle sits around with the other Harvard students. You can clearly see the contrast between their outfits. While the students wear solids and darker colors, Elle’s outfit is the complete opposite, filled with patterns and exciting color choices.

Fresh[wo]man Woods 

After her unsuccessful welcoming, Elle attempts to fit in with the rest of the students by toning down her style and wearing an outfit that will make her “look the part” of a Harvard law student.  She wears a long, teal, black sweater that reminds me of a mix between a Hogwarts uniform and a mermaid. Elle also wears a teal and black pencil skirt and brown boots. She carries her signature red purse with a scarf tied around it and black glasses to finish the Harvard student look.

Elle attends her first law class that day in this outfit. Still, she gets a reality check from Professor Stromwell (played by Holland Taylor) and fellow student Vivian Kensington (played by Selma Blair) when asked to leave due to not being prepared for an assignment. After class, Elle meets up with Warner, who introduces her to his fiancé, Vivian! Elle is speechless and storms off. We later see the pink button-up shirt and entire purple, blue, and yellow plaid tie that’s underneath Elle’s sweater when she breaks down and rants to nail technician Paulette Bonafonte (played by Jennifer Coolidge) at Neptune’s Beauty Nook Hair and Nails.

Third Time’s A Charm? 

After her talk with Paulette, Elle is inspired to win Warner back from Vivian. She starts wearing more pink again, similar to the beginning of the movie. Trying to get Warner’s attention, Elle shows up to one of Warner’s football practices in an eye-catching outfit. Her pink, cropped faux fur coat stands out the most, along with her pink, sequin, halter bikini top that she wore earlier in her Harvard admissions video essay. She also wears pink pants that are secured with a pink belt and beautiful silver wedges.

For her second attempt, Elle wears pink again while trying to win Warner’s heart (and tummy) at the library. She brings a basket full of muffins to his study session, wearing a sleeveless cheetah V-neck top that pairs nicely with her pink pencil skirt. But it’s not enough — at least for Vivian — and she’s turned away. Attempting one last time to impress Warner, Elle accepts a “costume” party invitation from Vivian. Elle arrives in a playboy bunny-like costume with a pink lace corset, and a strapless bodysuit with pink faux fur lining. The bodysuit is paired with hot pink fishnet tights and pink metallic heels. She wears a thin, hot pink choker, a huge bunny ears headband, and a light, fluffy bunny tail. To finish off the look, she carries a small pink handbag with a fluffy pink lining.

The outfit is cute, but everyone’s reactions aren’t. As soon as Elle steps into the room, she’s met with a surprise – she’s been lied to. No one else is wearing a costume. Elle confronts Vivian then finally meets up with Warner. But after he offends her, telling her that she can do something more valuable with her time instead of law school, Elle realizes that she’s never going to be enough for him. She sets off to prove him wrong. 

I’ll Show You 

Elle gets more serious about law after her revelation with Warner. Her other professor, Callahan (played by Victor Garber), has mentioned that not only will the class be competing for the highest grade, but for an internship spot at one of his firms, where they’ll get to assist on actual cases. Determined to prove her worth, Elle starts studying more. She also begins to wear less pink and more purple, orange, blue, and red.

She briskly walks past Warner, Vivian, and their friends on her way to the library. She’s wearing this dark blue velvet jacket with a long-sleeved purple sweater underneath and dark blue jeans. Around her neck is a long, purple, red, and pink fringe-edged scarf. She also wears a lavender beanie with a white stripe across it and a big purple flower on the side. And, of course, she’s carrying around her signature red purse with a scarf tied around it. This color scheme continues in the next few scenes. She wears a lavender top in class, an orange top while working out, a red top while she’s at the salon, and a 70’s inspired red, pink, and purple dress shirt with a red sweater over top of it while she’s in class again.

Lastly, Elle ends up taking on her small case. Paulette’s ex-husband has her dog, so Elle tags along with her to get the dog back. Elle wears a very similar outfit to the one that she wore in the library. Her outfit consists of a long, purple fuzzy coat, black pants, a red turtle neck with a pink design, and the same lavender cap with a flower and white stripe across it. Elle adds black glasses this time, though, to create a “lawyer” look. 

Lawyer-In-Training 

After all of Elle’s hard work, she earns one out of the four spots for the internship at Callahan’s firm! She’s even going to be working on one of the most prominent cases at the time. With significant milestones come big changes as Elle starts to switch up her style again, making it look more professional. She continues to wear button-ups but incorporates blazers and darker colors into her outfits. This time though, her outfits are less forced and more Elle! It’s almost as if she’s reverting to her “Harvard law student” outfit that she wore earlier when trying to blend in with the other students. 

Elle showcases her new style on the first day of the case. She struts down the hall wearing a black, button-up quarter-sleeve dress. Underneath, she wears a white polka-dotted shirt that has ruffles falling from the collar and a red flower in the center. The dress also has a gold and black striped, ruffled bottom, and Elle adds black stockings along with black heels. She carries a black briefcase that isn’t as colorful as her purses but still maintains her tied scarf tradition.

Elle wears a black V-neck sweater and skirt with a pop of color on her shirt in the next scene. It’s red, black and white with a swirl design. This is when Elle meets the defendant, Brooke Taylor-Windham (played by Ali Larter), who’s on trial for the death of her husband. Elle knows Brooke and believes that she’s innocent, but her fellow interns disagree. Elle’s outfits are primarily black at this time which is an extreme contrast from her previous looks. It seems as though her color palette changes throughout her emotions. She’s in a more serious mood now, so her outfits tend to be on the darker side.   

The Bend and Snap 

Elle steps out of her internship role for a moment as she meets with Paulette again. In this infamous scene, Elle performs “The Bend and Snap” move to get Paulette and everyone else at the salon to gain more confidence and learn how to grab other’s attention. Even though she’s wearing darker-colored pants, Elle adds brighter colors to this look by pairing it with a hot pink spaghetti strap top and a yellow, floral-patterned, see-through top. Elle is in a more relaxed state at this time, and her outfit perfectly blends in with the vibe and color scheme of Neptune’s Beauty Nook Hair and Nails. 

On The Case 

Elle returns to work in her business outfits. She’s been spending a lot of time on the case, talking to and interviewing witnesses. Throughout the following few scenes, Elle wears a lot of gray, black, and white. Bright colors have disappeared from her outfits, but she still does manage to feature many patterns. She wears a gray top with a white collar while discussing the case with her colleagues, a gray blazer with a black design on it while meeting with Brooke, and a long black velvet coat with a black velvet skirt, a black belt, and a G-patterned white blouse while she’s out with her colleague Emmett Richmond (played by Luke Wilson).

The Trial   

It’s the first day of the trial, and Elle is ready to take on the world. She’s still wearing business clothes but starts to add subtle hints of color. She shows up with a dark blue jean blazer with a white button-up shirt. On the second day of the trial, she returns with a black blazer, loose black skirt, large fishnet stockings, and black high heels.

She also wears a black, red, and white dress shirt with hints of pink on it. Yes pink! Is this a sign that hot pink Elle is coming back? Well, Elle happens to find out a critical piece of information that will turn this entire case around. But unfortunately, Elle is left with no choice but to leave after Callahan hits on her and tries to take advantage of her. Elle is disgusted at how she was used for her looks and attempts to return to Los Angeles.

Lawyer Woods  

After some wise words from Professor Stromwell, Elle returns to the courtroom, but this time as Brooke’s lawyer! The hot pink Elle is back and ready for justice. Elle catches everyone’s eye as she walks down the courtroom in a hot pink dress with a light pink collar and cuffs. Her hot pink heels shine with their glittery buckles. She also wears a glittery belt that ties around her waist and hangs off to the side. And goodbye briefcase, because Elle is back with a matching hot pink purse.

Elle has always been an optimistic and bright person, but here it seems she’s her true happy self, just as she was in the beginning. I love how Elle maintains her love of pink in this outfit and displays a more mature version of herself. And just as she did earlier in the movie, Elle uses her knowledge of glam and fashion to win the case! 

What, Like It’s Hard? 

Elle Woods speaking at her Harvard graduation. Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Elle graduates from Harvard two years later and will be joining one of Boston’s most prestigious law firms. This is the first time that we see Elle wearing the same thing as everyone else, haha! But we all know that she’s special. Everyone is! And if there’s one thing that this movie has taught me, it’s that you should flaunt your differences and be who you are. Even though Elle was treated a certain way because of how she looked, dressed, and acted, she found a way to turn it into a positive and ended up proving everyone wrong. It’s cool to see how her style went on a journey with her as she found her way back to her roots. Thank you, Sophie de Rakoff, for bringing us this massive collection of costumes that we can cherish forever. You have inspired so many people!

Please check out the Art of Costume Blogcast if you love Legally Blonde and want more of it. There’s a super fun Legally Blonde episode! And I have some great news. Not only is there a Legally Blonde 2, but a Legally Blonde 3 in the works set for May 2022! I can’t wait to see the brilliant costumes.


Sources:

Legally Blonde | Netflix

Guillaume, Jenna. “Every Outfit In ‘Legally Blonde’, Ranked From Good To Goddamn Iconic.” BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed, 1 July 2021, http://www.buzzfeed.com/jennaguillaume/every-outfit-in-legally-blonde-ranked-from-good-to-iconic.

It’s Cruella’s Costumes, Darling!

Mariana: We are gathered here today to review Cruella’s costumes, darling! More specifically, the costumes of Disney’s most recent film: Cruella. Hello Jada, thank you for joining me in this great piece; I am so glad to review this film together! 

Jada: Hi Mariana! We’re going to have so much fun! I’m excited to be reviewing this with you too.

Mariana: Let’s get started by sharing our overall thoughts on the film. What did you think about the movie?

Jada: I loved the movie! I thought it would be more similar to the original story we saw in older Cruella movies, but then once I really looked into it, I learned that it was supposed to be Cruella’s backstory, so it started to make more sense. But everything from the fashion to the plot to the entire cast. It was just fantastic!

Mariana: Yeah, same here! First of all, I am a huge Disney fan, so as soon as I saw that Disney was making this film, I was like OMG! I was not expecting the plot to turn out like that! And then I saw that Jenny Beavan would be the costume designer: OH MY GOD x 200!! Also, I really enjoyed how they referenced the animated movie, which I love, and the whole production was flawless. Every single character was so well casted, and the way they tell the story through fashion was just fascinating…

Jada: Yes, there were plot twists at every turn!

Mariana: What a great movie. I could watch it again and again! So let’s start our review with Cruella’s costumes; which one was your favorite one?

Jada: There were a few costumes that really stood out to me. This one in particular, which I’m pretty sure is everyone’s favorite, is the dress from the garbage truck scene. It’s so amazing! It’s made with pieces of newspaper articles about her. I thought that was such great detail. And I was reading that the train on the dress is 40 feet long. That’s insane! It was very heavy, of course, so it wasn’t attached to the dress and was added on at the last minute, but I thought it was just so pretty. Her costumes are really out there, and her style is so…in your face!

Mariana: This dress was mind-blowing! It shows the character at its climax: arriving on a garbage truck to a gala, what an entrance! And speaking of the dress itself, the bodice is so perfectly tailored as well, so beautiful! 

Jada: It is beautiful! And I like how they presented a lot of the dresses in this movie. Like with this one, the way that she falls out of the truck was perfect. The dress was revealed as trash, but in reality, it’s the complete opposite. 

Mariana: Yes! The way she appears from under the dresses is so great, so magical. And I would like to add something insane about this creation, the 40 feet long train was actually a patchwork made from one of the Baroness’s old, outdated collections! “One woman’s trash is another’s a treasure.”

Jada: Oh wow, it literally is another woman’s treasure! haha

Mariana: Something similar happened with the red flame dress, which we had a glimpse of in the trailer. It was a Baroness’ old design, but she transformed it and made it 100 times more stunning.

Jada: I also loved how they revealed this dress. It shows how innovative she is. Cruella truly made a statement. I call this next dress the military petal dress. It has a military-style jacket with a long ombre skirt. My favorite part of the costume is the hidden decorations. If you zoom in super close to the coat, you’ll see that on the epaulets (shoulder pieces), there are mini horses and carriage pieces. It’s a very royal look. And even if you look at her hair, it’s styled into a crown. I absolutely love that!

Mariana: Oh my God! I didn’t see that before; I love it! There’s also a lot of punk in her style, and this one is the perfect blend between Punk and Royalty. I really love how Jenny incorporated many John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, and even Alexander McQueen in Cruella’s costumes. And this is also an extremely long skirt, so dramatic! 

Jada: I couldn’t find the exact length, but I know that it was apparently one of the most challenging looks to make, and it involved so many people. Mariana: It had over 5,000 hand-sewn flowers. Unbelievable and highly fantastic! Can you imagine how much time it took?

“I think at one point I saw 12 people sitting around the table — students and trainees — hand-stitching petals,” says Beavan referring to the “Military Petal Dress

Jada: 5,000 hand-sewn flowers!? That must have taken forever. I wonder how long it took to make next this next look which I absolutely love! It’s the “Dalmatian fur” coat. It’s a high-low asymmetrical coat with faux leather and a “Dalmation fur” print. I loved how this was the only dalmatian look in the movie. It was like an ode to 101 Dalmations while still staying true to the plot of this one.

Mariana: Absolutely, it’s like she’s coming to what we know as Cruella with this stunning coat! And here’s an important quote: “please rest assured: No animals were harmed in or during the making of this movie.”

Jada: Yes! That is very important to note!  And the last costume on my list that really stood out to me also happens to be the very last costume in the film. It was a simple all-black look: A black tweed blazer with pointed shoulder pads and cape sleeves that attach in the back. I LOVE cape sleeves. Anything with cape sleeves on them I’ll fall in love with, haha. The blazer is also paired with black fitted pants and faux leather gloves. I really liked how sleek it was. The costume was significantly toned down compared to her other looks, but something about it was so bold and fierce. I was just so captivated by it.

Left to right: 1. Emma Stone as Cruella De Vil in Disney’s Cruella wearing the Motorcycle outfit. Photo: © Disney. 2. Emma Stone as Cruella De Vil in Disney’s Cruella wearing the Leather Suit. Photo: © Disney. 3. Pictured in centre, the Butterfly Dress in Disney’s Cruella. Photo: © Disney

Mariana: I feel that moment when she’s walking into the mansion with such determination is so powerful, and her costume is just enhancing that. I will just add two more to Cruella’s list, first the motorcycle costume. The leather jacket and sparkly gold pants look from out of this planet! The texture from the leather jacket is imitating the motorcycle tires, kind of going back to the concept with the garbage dress; she can make an outfit out of anything! And also, her broad shoulders presented here definitely give her more authority. It just bothered me that it only appeared on screen for a couple of minutes!

Jada: I wish there were more time to take in all of the costumes. 

Mariana: Yeah! And the last one I liked was the leather skirt and suit. The leather was actually a checkered pattern, which is incredible, and both pieces are so well-tailored. Also, this is her second appearance as Cruella, so without causing too much drama, she looks elegant, powerful but subtle at the same time since I think it has a little bit of Estella. 

Jada: I remember a scene in the movie where she walked down the street with Dalmatians in that outfit, and it was so cool. There was so much power in one scene.

Mariana: And to finish our Cruella’s round, although this is actually an Estella creation: The butterfly dress. What a masterpiece! Imagine the people who made that for the film, such a talented crew. 

Jada: Very talented! I wonder if anyone wore the dress behind the scenes or what it would’ve been like if the Baroness or Cruella would’ve worn it in the movie. Maybe it was just too perfect for anyone to wear it.

Mariana: Too bad they didn’t get to wear it because it destroyed itself! With that, we finish Cruella’s costumes (we mentioned pretty much all of them). I want to add that I also loved Estella’s costumes. They were not as stunning, but Estella’s style is so punk, fashionista, and elegant, it’s brilliant. I love how storytelling and character creation work so well with these costumes.

Jada: Yes, you can really see her transformation from Estella to Cruella. As you said, they definitely did a great job with storytelling.  

Mariana: Let’s dive into the Baroness costumes, shall we?

Jada: Her two-toned black and white dress is stunning! I loved this dress because it reminded me of Cruella’s fake Dalmatian fur coat. It felt like they were paralleling each other where Cruella’s version was more punk and edgy, whereas the Baroness’ was more elegant and classy. And we have to talk about the collar! It was so dramatic. It looked like a sculpture! 

Mariana: A lot of drama! And how clean it looks! Of course, it’s white, but the asymmetric neckline is flawless…. She is wearing it with such elegance, and her eye mask and accessories match perfectly. The next one on my list is her “going to work outfit.” It is a brown dress with a gold jacket, and that jacket has a similar dramatic collar; although it’s more subtle, the shape and the drama are there. This is actually the costume she is wearing when she finds the talented Estella. 

Jada: Yes, that is the look! It’s one of the first times that we see the Baroness other than when Cruella was a child, so the costume establishes her character and personality very well. You can tell that she’s very into high fashion and is well respected in the fashion industry.  And I read that Jenny got a lot of inspiration from Dior, which I can definitely see in this. 

Mariana: Yes! Absolutely!

Jada: The Baroness’ red carpet look is definitely on my list. It’s a cream-colored, side gathered dress with an asymmetrical neckline. And it gave me Alexander McQueen vibes because of the fan-like piece in the back. It was just so abstract. 

Mariana: And the textile they use in that costume is so beautiful and delicate, is it jacquard? 

Jada: It appears so, but unfortunately, I could not get close enough to see the actual print. 

Mariana: It has that beautiful train falling behind her… 

Jada: It does! It creates a dramatic waterfall drape effect.

Mariana: Such a diva! Do you have ANOTHER favorite one? 

Jada: Of course! Haha. This dress was very simple, similar to how Cruella’s last look in the film was. It was an all-black, one-shoulder dress. However, it had a horn-like piece, or as you said, a spiral, attached to it. And I thought it was interesting that, if we think back to the Baroness’ two-toned dress with the asymmetrical collar, it looked like some of the dresses were trying to focus more on her face or aim towards her face rather than the actual dress. You mentioned earlier how we see many of her costumes from the waist up, which may have been their intention. 

Mariana: Emma Thompson’s facial expressions are so great, so I guess they focus a lot on her face and character creation. As much as for Cruella, it was like the long dramatic trains and broad shoulders. For the Baroness, it was more her face, neck, shoulders, and hands. Actually, the next piece that I want to point out is a turban she wears with different outfits, making her look marvelous—also, most of the time accompanied by gloves that give her that final elegant touch.

Jada: She does! That costume looked very professional. Everything about her is so organized. 

Mariana: There are many bold shapes that we don’t expect, and they worked so perfectly for her. Whenever she is not wearing the turban, her hair is made up, so it creates this column effect and gives her authority. They did a brilliant job.

Jada: They did. And this last look was a little different than most of the costumes we’ve seen. It’s a metallic blue and gray dress. It had these long draped sleeves, which I LOVE, and a silver piece on the front, too, resembling an armor plate. It looked like it was inspired by medieval times.  

Mariana: Yes, that’s what I thought! I related a lot to one of Cersei’s costumes in Game of Thrones. As soon as I saw that dress, I said: YES! This is armor because she’s protecting herself! 

Jada: Oh wow, I didn’t even make that connection!

Mariana: Yeah, she has to protect herself somehow. So, she has chains, the metallic piece, and the collar is high, which at the same time can mean that she is choking herself with her actions. There’s a lot of symbolism. Most of her costumes are black, brown, gold, and then this grey is kind of the coolest tone she wears. I think that works well for storytelling purposes because it has the same meaning; at this point, she’s doomed, and there is no way she can get out of here…

Jada: Yeah, that’s true. It’s almost as if the costumes were giving us a warning as to what was coming.

Mariana: I have to say that I think it’s my favorite movie it’s going to be one of my favorite movies for a very long time until someone else or something different 

Jada: Oh yes, that’s what I said as soon as I finished the movie!

Mariana: Both of the characters have such dramatic costumes. The Baroness had a lot of asymmetrical, avant-garde, architectural costumes stylishly. And then Cruella has a lot of out of the ordinary (also avant-garde) but with her own identity and creative vibe.

Jada: They do! I love how opposite they are; it’s almost like they incorporate each other’s personalities and styles into their costumes. For example, they both feature a lot of asymmetry in their outfits which could be seen as more disorderly and Cruella-like, but they also both wear gloves which could be seen as more delicate and the Baroness’ style. So it’s cool to see them use these elements in a unique way that fits their character. 

Mariana: Absolutely! Also, I heard in an interview with Jenny Beavan that her research was picking at her memory because she grew up in London in the seventies. So she was just going back to what was in trend, what she wore, and how people wore things. And also, she mentioned she was surprised she got picked for this film because she doesn’t have a fashion background like other costume designers. Still, since she grew up in London and is extremely talented, everything connected so well and ended up being perfect.

Bluebell the Chihuahua as Wink in Disney’s Cruella, wearing a rat disguise. Photo: © Disney

Jada: Oh wow! I’m so thankful that she was picked for this because she did fantastically! One of the best things about costume design is when you can really take inspiration from your own experiences so that must have been so great for her to do. I remember reading that Jenny’s favorite costume is the rat costume for the dog. It’s just so cute.

Mariana: OMG, that is adorable! Such a great character, that tiny dog, I loved it! I can’t imagine how it was fitting that costume though, haha… We could keep on talking about these costumes forever…

Jada: Did you have any final closing thoughts?

Mariana: I’ll say that this film fulfilled my designer spirit. All the textures, silhouettes and colors are just magical… Everything was perfect, I enjoyed every single piece of it, and I want to thank Jenny Beavan and her entire wardrobe team for giving us such amazing costumes! To be honest, I am still taking in everything that I saw in this movie.

Jada: Exactly! Now I have to go back and watch everything again and study it, haha. I don’t even have anything else to say. The movie speaks for itself! Like everyone just has to go and watch it. It’s perfect in every way!

Mariana: Well, thank you for your time! For sharing your thoughts and passion for costumes with me! I had a great time! 

Jada: Thank you so much for letting me collaborate with you!

Mariana: If we didn’t make this clear already, please go and watch this movie! You can find it on Disney+ with Premiere Access or in the theatres. And, if you are a nerd like us and need more in-depth conversation about the costumes, please go and listen to The Art of Costume Blogcast.


References:

Costuming The Mother of The Blues: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Yesterday we celebrated Mother Earth, but today we celebrate Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, ‘Mother of the Blues,’ and Ann Roth, ‘Mother of Costume Design’ (in my opinion). These three powerful figures have brought so much to this world. Mother Earth has given us nature and a home to create, discover, love, and live our lives. Ma Rainey has given us confidence, dignity, loyalty, and Blues music while representing the LGBTQ+ community as an openly bisexual woman – a bold move for the 1900s that was definitely taboo. Ann Roth has helped convey Ma Rainey’s story and so many others through her ability to express emotion and time periods through her costumes. We will be talking about costuming the Mother of The Blues and Ann Roth’s work on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottomwhich earned Roth an Academy Award nomination for “Best Costume Design.”  

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a sensational biopic filled with powerful storylines, clever characters, and much-needed reflection on America and its unsettling history. It’s based on the 1982 play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom written by August Wilson (notably known for Fences). With many of his works based in the early 1900s, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom takes place in 1927, Chicago. The story follows Blues singer Ma Rainey and her band as they meet for a reimagined recording session at a music studio up North. As the day progresses, they exchange stories and learn lessons about race, culture, relationships, religion, and the music industry.

Because the film mainly takes place on one day, each character mostly has one specific look. It’s the 1920s, meaning we can expect to see many pin-stripe suits and flapper dresses. This is Ann Roth’s specialty. Roth has done much research and works regarding the 19th and 20th centuries, having over 100 credits in Broadway and film. Her credits include The Prom, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Royal Family, The Iceman Cometh, Midnight Cowboy, The Bird Cage, and Mamma Mia! She has worked with many well-established individuals, such as Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Robin Williams, and Glenn Close.

Graduating from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now known as Carnegie Mellon University), Ann Roth began as a scenery painter for the Pittsburg Opera. She moved on to costume design after meeting costume designer Irene Sharaff. They worked on the musical Brigadoon together, and it became one of her first jobs in the movie industry. From then on, Roth fell in love with the costume side of things.   

Interestingly enough, Roth declined the offer to work on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at first. Ann Roth recently finished a project four weeks before she got the call. With the amount of work she likely had to do, she deserved a break. But after a few calls and her passion for fashion, Roth agreed. Little did she know that that decision would earn wins at the Costume Designer Guild Awards, BAFTA awards, and an Oscar nomination.

The style of dresses at this time was very straight and loose, different from the trends of today with tight-fitted, body-hugging wear. The makeup was dramatic, using heavy amounts of eyeshadow, eyeliner, and lipstick, contrarily keeping their eyebrows minimal – an overly arched thin pencil-drawn line. To keep a more masculine, curve-less look, their hair was kept short as well.

This style is well represented in the opening scene where Ma Rainey (played by Viola Davis) on stage with a square collared, jam-colored dress. The collar is aligned with many narrow beads crossing each other in a diamond-shaped pattern. A cluster of sequins comes down the center of the dress, which seems to burst out towards the middle and bottom of the dress to make it look fuller. The dress is loose and flows gently as she performs in front of the crowd. The cuffs on the sleeves are outlined in silver, and sequins continue from the dress to the sleeve but are more spread out. The long bell sleeves exaggerate movement since they fall against the dress.

This is an interesting detail to note because Roth had mentioned the use of movement in an interview while talking about Broadway costumes for shows set in the 1920s. She stated that “the construction is different. Also, you are aware of how they move on a stage set. If somebody is coming down the stairs, you have to worry about a train and all the technical stuff you have to worry about. You have to worry about the lights and whether dancers can put their arms up like this…a lot. The construction’s different. Very different.” Roth is right. Even though Ma Rainey’s moves weren’t as flamboyant, she still needed room to sway her hips and interact with the audience.  

With under a month’s deadline to create the entire cast’s costumes, Roth had to think quickly. She used singer/songwriter and Civil rights activist Aretha Franklin’s measurements for Davis’ rubber suit. Thank goodness Roth had plenty of experience with this, noting in an interview with W Magazine that she “probably [had] 100, 200, 300” rubber suits made throughout her entire career.

After Roth did that, Roth just had to worry about accessories and hair. That couldn’t be too hard, right? Wrong. In fact, the wig that Davis wore with the jam-colored dress was made of horsehair! In an interview with Variety, lead hair designer Mia Neal stated, “The book said her performance wigs were made from horsehair, and that was something costume designer Ann Roth had found in her research, and we decided to keep that authentic.” Roth and Neal worked together to find the wig, which came from Europe. Because of how the hair was packaged, Neal ended up having to build the wig strand by strand. The wig was decorated with a scarf tied around Davis’ head and fell down the back of her head.

Dangling from Davis’ ears were gorgeous earrings that held a stone in the middle and three leaf-like detailed dangling stems. Roth also mentioned Ma Rainey’s necklace. Ma Rainey made many fashion statements in her time, proudly boasting feathers, wigs, and much jewelry. Some of her most notable pieces were her $20 coin necklaces. Roth was able to find real 1920s coins and put those together to create such an iconic work of art. Lastly is the ombre feather fan that Davis uses to cool herself off and intrigue the audience while her large smile flashes her gold teeth and captivates the room!  

Davis also wears two other looks throughout the film. During the next performance in the movie, we see Ma Rainey wearing a blue v-neck velvet dress. Roth maintains the bell sleeve look but adds in a slit for variety. There are also shooting stars all over the dress, and one fascinating detail is that the stars towards the bottom of the dress are arranged diagonally to the left and have fringes hanging from them. Fringe is also a prevalent 1920s trend. Davis continues to wear the $20 coin necklace and scarf as she waves around the ombre feather fan.

The last look we see Davis in throughout the rest of the film during the recording studio session. She wears a golden short sleeve deep v-neck dress with very intricate brown and linen-colored detailing and matching earrings. The collar is lined with interconnecting swirls of the same color. Tied around her waist is a golden dress sash that lays against her sides. Whenever she is outside of the recording studio, she dons a fur scarf, pale yellow gloves, and a plaid newsboy hat – possibly to maintain her elite presence.  This time though, Ma Rainey’s finger wave wig is made with European hair.  

One more thing that I do have to mention is the shoes worn by Levee Green (played by the late Chadwick Boseman). Levee Green is the determined yet arrogant trumpet player in Ma Rainey’s band. Being more experienced, the other members’ Toledo (played by Glenn Turman, who reprised his role as Toledo from the 2016 Broadway version), Cutler (played by Colman Domingo), and Slow Drag (played by Michael Potts) try to guide Levee through life, offering him life lessons and advice. But Levee has other motives and disregards everything that is being told to him.

Levee’s shoes first establish this foolishness. Levee spots these eye-catching yellow, pointed-toe wingtip, Broque Oxfords, in a store window right before the recording session. He impulsively purchases the shoes, spending more than he can afford and what the shoes are worth. Now I don’t want to spoil the rest of the plot; however, I will say that these shoes finally made Levee come to his senses. They might be the line between life and death.

Roth states where she found them in an interview with The Times, “in a store on Orchard Street – or maybe just off Orchard Street,” which is in New York, where they happened to be filming.  Roth also added that she wanted the shoes to specifically be yellow, telling the Times that in the 1920s, most men had a brown pair of shoes and a black pair of shoes. Adding to the rarity of the shoes and establishing importance, yellow shoes would stand out the most. Roth also persisted in keeping the shoes one color instead of the two-toned, a usually black and white style that we commonly saw around this time. Roth believed that the visual would not be as powerful with two different colors. So thank you, Ann Roth, for being as passionate as Levee (but not TOO passionate) in creating the shoe that left everyone speechless.  

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020): (L to R) Michael Potts as Slow Drag, Chadwick Boseman as Levee and Colman Domingo as Cutler. Cr. David Lee / Netflix

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to dive into such a fantastic work of art. I wanted to give a special thanks to everyone who was a part of this wonderful movie. The cast did such a great job portraying this story; Ann Roth, Mia NealMatiki Anoff (make-up department), and Sergio Lopez-Rivera (make-up department) did an amazing job bringing these characters and the audience back to the 1920s.  The amount of work that goes into researching, fitting, shopping, and creating is incredible. I am wishing the entire team the best at the Oscars and am hoping for Roth to bring home the Oscar for Best Costume Design.  

Along with Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom‘s nomination for Costume Design, actor Chadwick Boseman and actress Viola Davis were nominated for Best Actor and Actress in a leading role. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom also received a nomination for Makeup and Hairstyling along with Production Design. That’s a total of 5 Oscar nominations! 

Like the characters in the film, we can all take a lesson from these three inspirational figures. Mother Nature’s beauty and innocence teach us how to be nurturing and protect those around us. Ma Rainey was not afraid to break barriers and stay true to who she was, even though she lived during a time that worked against her. She did not view herself as inferior, and she made sure that others viewed her the same way. Most importantly, she was also not afraid to stand up for her loved ones – a value that many of us have been demonstrating over the past year.

Last but not least, Ann Roth makes sure that she takes pride in her skill and work. Like the shoe color, she does not let anyone tell her otherwise when she believed strongly in something. As an 89-year-old costume designer, she surely proves that age doesn’t limit your abilities. I admire these values and hope that others will follow in their footsteps to make this world a better place.   

I am sending all of my love and condolences to Chadwick Boseman’s family, friends, supporters, and everyone else he has wonderfully impacted. This may have been his last work, but his legacy will continue to live on.  

Please tune in to the Oscar’s on Sunday April 25, 2021 to see who will take home best Costume designer!  And stream Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix!


Check out these sources to learn more Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and the process behind it! 

Eckardt, Stephanie. “How Viola Davis Physically Transformed Into Ma Rainey.” W Magazine, W Magazine, 22 Dec. 2020, http://www.wmagazine.com/story/ma-raineys-black-bottom-costumes-ann-roth.

Grobar, Matt. “Greasepaint And Horsehair: How ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’s Makeup & Hair Designers Captured Essence Of A Trailblazing Blues Singer And Her World.” Deadline, Penske Business Media, 15 Jan. 2021, deadline.com/tag/matiki-anoff/.

Hoo, Fawnia Soo. “’Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ Costume Designer on Dressing Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman.” Fashionista, Fashionista, 18 Dec. 2020, fashionista.com/2020/12/netflix-ma-raineys-black-bottom-costumes.

Lin, Alex. “Who Was August Wilson, The Playwright Of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom?” ScreenRant, ScreenRant, 29 Dec. 2020, screenrant.com/ma-rainey-black-bottom-august-wilson-playwright/.

Maitland, Hayley. “5 Truly Wild Details About The Costumes, Hair & Make-Up In ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’.” British Vogue, British Vogue, 8 Apr. 2021, http://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/ma-raineys-black-bottom-costumes.

Regensdorf, Laura. “Inside Viola Davis’s Swaggering Transformation Into Blues Icon Ma Rainey.” Vanity Fair, 21 Dec. 2020, http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2020/12/viola-davis-ma-raineys-black-bottom-transformation-hair-makeup.

Tangcay, Jazz. “How Costume Designer Ann Roth Helped Viola Davis Transform in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’.” Variety, Variety Media, 6 Nov. 2020, variety.com/2020/artisans/production/ma-raineys-black-bottom-costume-designer-ann-roth-1234823273/.

Tangcay, Jazz. “Why ‘Ma Rainey’s’ Creative Team Used Horsehair to Reflect Authentic Black Hairstyles of the 1920s.” Variety, Variety Media, 19 Dec. 2020, 9:36am PT, variety.com/2020/artisans/news/ma-rainey-hair-viola-davis-1234867032/.

Trojan, Judith. “Ann Roth Oscar Shoe-In for Ma Rainey’s Pitch Perfect Costumes.” FrontRowCenter, 20 Apr. 2021, judithtrojan.com/2021/04/20/ann-roth-oscar-shoe-in-for-ma-raineys-pitch-perfect-costumes/.

The Beauty And The Beast Of Costume Design

Photo 1: Disney’s 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast. Photo 2: Susan Egan as Belle (L) and Terrence Mann as Beast (R) in 1994 Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. Photo 3: Dan Stevens as Beast (left) and Emma Watson as Belle (right) in Disney’s 2017 Beauty and the Beast. Photo courtesy of Disney

Valentine’s Day flew by so fast this year but since every day is a celebration of love, let’s celebrate again by talking about one of the most heartwarming, romantic, and beautiful tales as old as time — Beauty and the Beast.

If you are not too familiar with this classic story, it follows a young French woman by the name of Belle (meaning ‘Beautiful’ in French) and a young Prince named Adam. As punishment due to Prince Adam’s selfish and superficial acts, he is turned into a beast. The Beast lives alone in a castle in the woods along with his servants but in order to be free of that curse, he must find someone to truly love him by his 21st birthday — if not he and his servants will live enchanted forever. Ironically Belle finds her way to the castle, thanks to her father, and the rest is history (well THEIRstory).

For more insight, Beauty and the Beast was originally a fairy tale written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villenueve. An interesting fact, Villenueve was inspired by a man named Petrus Gonsalvus, who happened to have Hypertrochosis, a condition that results in excessive hair growth. The inspiration for Belle was named Catherine, who was a daughter to one of the court servants where Gonsalvus was taken in. French fairy tale writer Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont created her own version of the work which became the most well-known version to this day. Her version has inspired many different adaptations of the story, including the ones we will be talking about in this piece: The 1994 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical and the 2017 Disney live-action movie adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.

American costume designer Ann Hould-Ward pictured at Broadway show ‘A Catered Affair’ meet and greet

There are many characters and elements to the story but if there’s one thing that people will remember, it’s Belle’s elegant ball gown and Prince Adam’s bold suit. But who is behind these creations and how did they come to be? Let’s first meet Ann Hould-Ward.

Ward is an established American costume designer who has worked with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the American Ballet Theatre. She has also designed for many shows including Into the Woods, The Color Purple, and The Nutcracker. The multi-award-winning Montana native has a lot of experience in the fashion industry but she actually got her start, designing clothes for her paper dolls. She would later graduate with a degree from Mills College and the University of Virginia, eventually moving on to work for her mentor and one of her inspirations — Patricia Zipprodt whose own award, the Patricia Zipprodt Award for Innovative Costume Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology named in honor of the late legendary talented costume designer, was given to Ward in 2001.

Those paper doll clients surely paid off because just years later she would land the opportunity of a lifetime — getting to design the costumes for Disney’s 1994 Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast, just three years after the animated version had been released. This was such a huge moment for Ward because this was the first time that Disney would be taking a dive into the Broadway world.

So what was the process behind the two iconic looks? Ward repeatedly mentions a method that she uses throughout many of the shows that she has designed for. Catering to her love of drawing, she first sketches out her ideas. As mentioned in a 2018 interview with Broadway World, Ward describes the importance of sketch stating that “A truly good sketch tells the dialogue of the character with the show and enlightens the director and actor as to where the tactile world of the character exists. It is the road map to good work.” 

After sketching she then moves on to the costume shop where she brings her ideas to life. That is where the draping happens and the fabric choice is made. The fitting is next where the team makes sure that the actors can move freely and comfortably in the costumes. Lastly, it is showtime. Ward expresses that this is one of the most important moments because the costumes are now for the actors to own and for the audiences to enjoy.

Surprisingly the process was not too difficult when it came to Belle’s costume. In an article by Andrew Andler, Ward stated that she, “spent a week with the animators who created the different characters, talking with each one of them, seeing what their research was because they did massive amounts of research.” She also, “studied the initial story of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ the historical nature of the story as a French fairytale from the mid-1700s.” I admire Ward’s dedication to the original work and her determination to make sure that even though she puts her own spin on the costumes, she still stays true to the original designs that we all know and love. She even went as far as using The Leah factor, a self-made technique named after her daughter who at the time was 5 years old. 

In an interview done with the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the show’s scenic designer Stanley A. Meyer described the Leah Factor stating that it was where Leah would have to approve everything saying things such as “Oh no, Mommy, Belle’s ballgown has to be yellow. It can be gold, but it can’t be pink.” 

The Leah factor worked well because the dress is absolutely stunning. This extravagant, 30 pound, floor-length, off-the-shoulder golden and yellow gown is rounded with draped fabric to create the classic Belle look. The corset-shaped top half of the gown is filled with ribbon, bows, and flowers — with the center of the top having a corsage-looking piece. The dress has many layers of tulle making sure that the gown is as puffy and graceful as possible. On the skirt of the dress lies many golden bows. The actress Susan Egan who plays Belle in the Broadway musical wears a beaded necklace with jewel earrings and a flower hairpiece to add to the costume. Although contrasting Belle’s original yellow ones, the gown is paired with cream-colored fishnet elbow gloves to complete the look.

As for the Beasts’ costume, it took a little longer. According to an interview done with CNN Entertainment News, New York, Ward had drawn “20 different versions of the Beast” before she and the creative team decided on the final look. Terrence Mann who played the Beast in the Broadway musical underwent 27 fittings and hours of prosthetics just to make sure that the Beast look was just right. 

David H. Lawrence was the make-up artist and hair designer for the show and John Dods was the prosthetics specialist. Dods actually stated that little makeup was needed in the process since most of the Beast’s face and claws were done using prosthetics. The Beast’s jaw and monstrous teeth were very interesting since they were not dentures but prosthetics as well. Two sharp teeth stuck up from the bottom while the top teeth hung down over Mann’s actual teeth to enable him to sing while in costume. Mann wears a wig cap over his hair allowing him to display a headpiece with two large curved horns attached. The horns are fierce and appear as though they are coming straight at you. 

Lawrence collaborated with Dods in bringing the look to life. Staying true to Ward’s overall theme of wanting the costumes to look as if a human being had actually been enchanted, he was able to blend hair into the prosthetics to give it a realistic and believable look. Mann dons a baby blue bow on the back of his hair, reminding you that he is still a prince. To give Mann a more striking figure, he wore a bodysuit. The bodysuit had built-in muscles and extended his head and back out to give him a broad figure. 

As for his attire, Mann wears a blue cuffed tailcoat lined beautifully with extravagant gold and silver detailing. Under the coat lies a vertical striped vest that almost perfectly camouflages into the coat and placed directly on top is a jabot matching the lapel (flap on the tailcoat). In most of his looks, the Beast has a golden chain necklace with a large oval pendant which is also worn when the Beast wears his purple cloak. To complete the costume Mann wears black side-striped pants tucked into tall boots that also have special detailing. If this sounds like a lot, it is! It is said that it took over three hours at first to put everything together but once the team got the hang of it took less than half the time. It also took three people to help the Beast get dressed which is the literal definition of teamwork!

I really admire Ward, Dods, and Lawrence’s work when it came to bringing Beauty and the Beast to the stage. Their healthy balance between creative freedom and respect towards other artists’ works is what art is all about! Ward’s determination and hours of work paid off because she even earned a Tony award for her costume design. That led her to the opportunity to work on other versions of Beauty and the Beast. Here are a few of my favorites:

Now that we have seen Beauty and the Beast on Broadway let’s fast forward about 23 years later. Disney has just released its live-action Beauty and the Beast movie. What could have changed between the musical and the movie? How were the costume designs and processes in the movie different from the musical? In order to answer this, let’s now get to know Jacqueline Durran.

Costume designer Jacqueline Durran pictured in front of the Oscar’s sign at the Oscar’s

You may have heard Durran’s name floating around at a few award shows, or even on our website! That is because she has left such an impact on the entertainment industry. Nominated for an Academy Award for her work on Little Women and Pride and Prejudice, Durran has made her mark. Ironically the British fashion designer did not attend the Royal College of Art in London to study fashion and costume design. In fact, throughout her entire college experience and even after graduation she did not even know that costume design was a career option.

It was not until she started working at Angels, a costume store and London landmark, that she discovered her knack for vintage clothing and dating different wear. Durran stresses the idea of experience and how it has helped her navigate through the costume world. Her assignments working on several movies while at the store pushed her even further to more opportunities. Mirroring Ann Hould-Ward, Durran also assisted respected figures in costume design: Lindy Hemming (Wonder Woman 1984), Mike Leigh (Secret & Lies), and Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice). Using a combination of her mentors, experience, and interest in older styles of clothing, Durran would be the perfect candidate for Beauty and the Beast.

It fascinates me how different each experience was for the designers. Ward actually stated that Belle’s costume was not as difficult as trying to turn the rest of the cast into cookware. On the other hand, in an interview with ScreenSlam, Durran describes the process behind the yellow dress claiming that, “the yellow dress was one of the most difficult things to achieve” and in an interview with Disney Style,  Durran states that, “the yellow dress is a curious costume because it’s quite simple and quite difficult at the same time. The iconic yellow dress from the animation is so great and so well-loved that you don’t really want to change it.” 

Durran expresses her challenges with trying to live up to the expectations of not just the audience and their known interpretation of Beauty and the Beast but also trying to combine the actor’s, director’s and designer’s ideas together to reference the animation of one of the most beloved Disney princess movies. Some of Durran’s other challenges included elements in the story such as the time period, setting, and tricky scenes between the animated movie and the live-action version. 

So with all of this pressure on trying to make sure that Belle’s costume was lovable where did Durran start? Well, she actually took a very different approach when it came to Belle’s costume and character as a whole. Durran focuses on one main idea throughout the entire process which is to present Belle as an active heroine. Belle is the daughter of an inventor, so when it came to her designs she wanted to add elements of practicality and freedom. Belle’s rebellious and curious nature paired with her love of adventure was also taken into consideration when creating the dress.

Durran and the creative team endured a long design process where they tried out different looks and ways of how to interpret the gown. She already knew that the dress was going to be yellow but it was just a matter of how they were going to make it and how close it could be to the animated version. Durran and her creative team came to the conclusion that the dress just needed to flow, especially in the way that Belle was always on the move. She made sure to communicate a lot with Emma Watson, who played Belle, to get her input on the costume. 

Contrasting from the musical, Belle does not have a corset but rather a bodice to accentuate Belle’s need for motion. For even more liberation she adds boots to her wardrobe. As described by Durran, the dress had a “soft structure which was built up by many meters of silk organza that was all dyed yellow and cut broadly in a circular shape so it emphasized her movement” (ScreenSlam).  

Using the 18th century as a guide the team actually made Belle’s dress into a coatdress with a split front helping to add volume to it. The skirt of the dress was created with “petticoats and layers of satin organza” (Disney Style). To stay true to Belle’s active heroine trait, three tiers were added to the dress giving Belle the opportunity to dance as easily as she would like and to give the ruched look that the original animated film had. 

For accessories, Belle has a golden ear cuff that wraps around the sides of her ear, acting almost in an earthly manner. She wears a matching golden cuff around her bun similar to the one that Belle wears in the animated film. The last piece is a simple gold necklace that has a tree/plant-like pendant that feels organic.