The Addams Family started as a cartoon created in 1938 by Charles Addams. Later on, the family starred in a live-action television show for ABC from 1964 to 1966, and after a couple more productions in the ‘70s, the family hit the silver screen in 1991. For the 30th anniversary of Barry Sonnenfeld’s adaptation, we are looking back on the creative minds who brought these spooky, hilarious, and freaky characters to life and The Addams Family costume design!
Since its origin, Morticia’s black tight-fitting dress and Wednesday’s black dress with a white collar have been staples that have only gotten stronger with time. The impeccable legacy and aesthetic of the family, we owe it mainly to the incredible costume designer,Ruth Myers. She based her designs on the original illustrations by Charles Addams. By bringing together his aesthetic and combining it with stunning textiles and silhouettes, Ruth created the looks for the characters that have stayed with us for three decades. She also received an Oscar nomination for her outstanding work.
The designer thought the family of being their own kind of aristocracy with an inclination towards Eastern European fashions. Their wealth, taste, manners, and culture made them stand out from the rest and gave them these mysterious but respectable looks. The costumes incorporate Edwardian and Victorian details. Each character has a particular silhouette and texture that make them unique but at the same time look like a group. Ruth used a lot of vintage fabrics, mainly because she didn’t want the family to look contemporary. In addition, many of the pieces were built for the film, which allowed Ruth to achieve her exact designs.
Morticia’s black tight-fitting trumpet dress covered with semi-precious stones has undoubtedly become a staple, in addition to having the outstanding Anjelica Hudson play this character. Her costume included a corset, which was necessary to achieve the desired silhouette. It restrained her movement a little bit, but Huston used this in her favor for the character’s movements. Ruth ended up designing over 20 dresses for Morticia. Her costumes include jet trimmings and intricate embroidery that make her look elegant and exclusive.
“I always had this fantasy that Morticia…would have a day dress, [a] dress for the afternoon, and a dress for dinner. It was always the same silhouette, but there were slightly more subdued ones for the morning. By the afternoon, she was getting more exotic and by the evening, she was a peacock encrusted in jet and beautiful lace.”
Costume Designer Ruth Myers shared with ELLE magazine
In addition to her dresses, her jewelry and shoes were carefully designed and picked for her. The velvet cloak she wears also resembles a coronation cloak used in the Edwardian period in Russia. It was an impeccable design that made her look absolutely stunning.
On the other hand, Gomez has a very lavish and eccentric wardrobe. He has the most colorful costumes from the entire family and always mixes different patterns and textures. His elegance and fun details give the character the complete appearance of the wealthy leader of the crew. Ruth incorporated tunics, suits, robes as well as velvet, striped and floral patterns. Gomez, played by Raul Julia, balances Morticia’s black wardrobe, and together they have become a timeless couple.
“Women are beautiful props all the time. Quirky teenagers, all the time. But to have men … with that sort of male elegance, it was a very fun job.”
Costume Designer, Ruth Myers. The Rogue Runway.
Wednesday Addams, played by Christina Ricci, has indeed bewitched us all with her unique obsession for death and darkness. It is impossible not to feel the empowerment of this little girl and love her outfits. She also had different designs that she would wear throughout the day, all allusive to the same silhouette of a black patterned dress with a Barrymore collar.
The pattern of her dress gave Wednesday her own identity. Ruth didn’t want to put her in all black mainly because she was still a little girl and because there was so much black in the other characters. The only time Wednesday is wearing all black is at the ball, where she wears a mini version of Morticia’s gown. Pugsley has his own identity, too: his black and white striped t-shirt. Even though it is a relatively simple piece, we immediately recognize Jimmy Workman as Pugsley Addams when paired up with his shorts. Both the kids balance each other and undoubtedly have their unique identities.
Lastly, we have Uncle Fester and Granny. Both characters have a broad silhouette which is rather simple but complemented with a unique hairstyle look. Uncle Fester, played by Christopher Lloyd, is characterized by his black, long sleeve, collared velvet coat, and bald head. As he was playing around to pretend to be Fester, his costume is working more as a disguise. He doesn’t have many textures, or details except for the costume he wear on the ball scene: Mumushka!
Grandmama, Judith Malina, has a long black dress with tons of bits and pieces hanging from her. Since she is all the time cooking or searching for something, she certainly needed somewhere to hide it or hang it. Her dress looks hundreds of years old and with time she has added more interesting pieces that complement the costume. Finally, Lurch the sinister Butler, portrayed by Carel Struycken is always wearing a too small suit. The odd way in which the suit was fitted and styled gives him a much more weird appearance.
With the use of dark colors and timeless pieces, Ruth Myers created icons. Each costume is so well thought and tailored that it flawlessly contributes to the story and brings this freaky family to life. The costume legacy of The Addams Family has undoubtedly pushed the boundaries of time and has become a classic.
The Queen’s Gambit brought to our screens an inspiring, emotional and intimate story about a female chess prodigy. It takes place in the late 1950’s and early to mid 1960’s in The United States and around many other countries.
It has received 18 nominations, not only for the outstanding performance of Anya Taylor-Joy, as Elizabeth Harmon, but also for its production and cinematography. The costumes, of course, have not been left behind. Costume Designer Gabriele Binder won a Costume Designers Guild Award for “Excellence in Period Television” and recently won an Emmy Award in the Outstanding Period Costumes Category. With an extraordinary attention to colour, detail, silhouette and building around 80% of the costumes for the series, Gabriele portrayed this decade in a flawless way through Beth Harmon’s costumes.
The Netflix miniseries tells the story of Beth and her journey from becoming an orphan with a tragic past to a chess grandmaster. Along the series, Beth gains courage and confidence to beat anyone that comes in her way. However, she struggles with loneliness, addiction, as well as with power and love. All of this is expressed through the costumes and brings Beth Harmon to life.
At the show’s beginning, Beth is given a uniform at the orphanage and is forced to wear it for many years. This uniform, a dull grey/brown jumper dress, off-white Peter Pan collared shirt, white socks, and shoes, was a standard uniform during the 1950s. The Peter Pan collar was very popular during this period, and Gabriele used it accurately on many occasions.
Later on, in 1963, Beth wins her first chess competition, and with the cash prize, she buys herself a much more stylish plaid pinafore dress. She pairs it with a 3/4 sleeve collared shirt, white bobby socks, and black and white saddle shoes. This is the first time that Beth connects deeply with fashion and actually picks what she wants to wear. Going forward, her outfits and addiction to fashion just get better, making her look confident and empowered.
At this moment, we witness a glimpse of Beth’s wardrobe’s connection to the chessboard: checks, plaids, and geometrical or linear prints. These patterns were also a trend during the 1960s, known as op-art. In most scenes, the background characters’ costumes also include a subtle checkered or plaid pattern—a brilliant and accurate detail from Gabriele that works perfectly for storytelling purposes.
“Beth Harmon should have felt more confident in a checkered outfit. Thecontrast of thecheck print also mirrors the nuances of the game itself—it’s decisive, it’s win or lose” -Gabriele Binder, Costume Designer.
As Beth starts gaining confidence in her life and in chess, she starts to experiment with fashion and discovers her real style. In Mexico City, 1966, the costumes are just astonishing. She is using warmer colours and often has an A line silhouette that allures more to the 1950’s fashions. As a teenage girl that comes from a small town in USA, this is what was available to her. So, not only her costumes are cohesive with time period and geography, but also make her look secure and professional.
One really interesting point about Beth’s costumes is Gabriele’s attention to detail in necklines and torso. Since Beth is most of the time sitting at the chessboard, she needed to look elegant, interesting and professional. Without the use of any cleavage or jewellery because that could cause distraction. The use of Peter Pan collars (right photo) and checkered details, the buttons on her dress (left photo), are still clever and work perfectly.
By 1967, Beth goes to Ohio and New York City before heading to Paris. Her costumes are slowly jumping to the ‘60s, with more interesting prints and mini skirts, making her look more confident and comfortable in her environment. One of the designer’s favorite looks is a casual white and black t-shirt flared jeans. This outfit is a rather repetitive look through the episodes, and it’s what she wears when feeling comfortable. Her headbands add an interesting touch to her feminine looks and make her hair look amazing.
“We wanted Beth Harmon’s late 1950s, early 1960s look to be a little bit backwards on purpose—that way we could clearly show the moment when she catches up with the modern day in New York where she discovers how young people in her generation are living.” -Gabriele Binder, Costume Designer shares with Vogue
In Paris, Beth’s love for fashion becomes more evident. Being now in the world’s Fashion Capital, her looks are more elegant, structural, and linear. The so popular 1960’s minidress, which we first see on Cleo, makes her look older and like a true fashion icon. For these episodes, Costume Designer Gabriele Binder incorporated references from Pierre Cardin. The mint green bow dress (the one she wore on her match with Borgov) resembled the pill colors and was made from a light crepe. The colors and fabric contributed to show how unstable and fragile she was at this particular moment, which at the same time symbolized the way she was slowly destroying herself with her addictions.
When Beth encounters total loneliness and failure, she jumps into a self-destructive spiral. She feels lost and insecure, which transforms her appearance entirely, and we see her for the first time wearing pastel colors. The choice of this pink cardigan and baby blue camisole can be a way of grieving her late Mother, Alma, because these were colors she (Alma) ordinarily worn. In addition to this, we see her copying the style and makeup of a singer that she sees on TV. Impeccable detail in this costume is her hat. This is the first time we see Beth wearing a hat, probably trying to hide her red hair, which has always made her stand out from the crowd.
Gabriele’s attention to color was a huge point during the creation of these costumes. Beth’s costumes centered on one particular color, pale green. This color is the one she is wearing in Episode 1 when she first arrives at the orphanage. It symbolized “home” but made her look weak and fragile. By the end of the show, at her final match with Borvog, Beth is wearing a wool collared dress in the exact same color. It makes her look so strong and sophisticated that we can see how the color transformed with her and how she is once again “home.” Also, it is a color that contrasts but extraordinarily compliments her red hair.
“We wanted to use this colour to show that she finally feels confident and that her mother is with her. At this moment, she is not afraid of the man she has been most afraid of. In the beginning, it’s a colour that makes her really fragile, but in the end, the same colour is a sign of her strength; it is symbolic of a homecoming.” -Gabriele Binder, Costume Designer shares with Vogue
Vintage pieces from the decade inspire the final coats that we see her wearing in Moscow. The checkered coat, which Bindercalled “Beth’s Pride Coat,” is what she wears to leave the tournament in Moscow. “It was a beautiful vintage piece that we found, which I believe was designed by André Courrèges for an American designer as part of a collaboration. This was a very self-confident piece; we wanted the visuals of a strong decision referenced by the checks”. Courrèges was one of the first to use op-art aesthetics in his collections, so it is evident how his stamp was used throughout the whole show as an accurate reference. Also, these final outfits have inspiration from Jaqueline Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn, two icons from the era.
By the end, Beth Harmon is The White Queen of the chess world. She has conquered what she came looking for and has demonstrated how strong, determined, intelligent, and talented she can be. This final look is also referencing the work of André Courrèges. She is wearing a black long-sleeve turtleneck, white straight trousers, white leather ankle boots, knee-length white wool coat with stand collar, white cap, and leather gloves. Her elegance and simplicity make her look absolutely stunning. This final look is the perfect way to finish the story of Beth’s character. It summarizes her whole path, her style, her strength, and her symbolism with chess.
Gabriele Binder and her talented crew brought together an impeccable wardrobe for a Netflix limited series that we will never forget. They were able to bring together pieces from chess, fashion, addiction, empowerment, and the beautiful and iconic ‘50s and 60’s to our screens. They told the story of a strong and out-of-the-ordinary chess player and made her the Beth Harmon that we will never forget. Thank you for reviving this decade and perfectly telling such a good story.
Spencer: Hey Team! Thank you so much for being here. There is SO much great costume design in the Outstanding Period Costumes category this year. I also think it is safe to say Period Costumes is the favorite here at The Art of Costume, so I know you all have many thoughts! Let’s go around and talk about your favorites and why! Let’s start with Mariana, a big fan of period costumes!
Mariana: Hi everyone! Well, where to begin? I am a fan of period pieces, and this year’s nominees filled my heart with pure joy. One of my favorites will be The Queen’s Gambit, designed byGabriele Binder. There is so much drama and passion in these costumes, which at the same time are accurate to the time period and work brilliantly for storytelling purposes. I love how Beth’s style transforms through the years and cities she visits and tells us who she really is!
Spencer: Two brilliant choices Mariana! Let’s hear from Candice next.
Candice: I will say typically, Regency-era costumes are not my favorite. However, I was hooked on Bridgerton when the first trailer was released.Ellen Mirojnick and John W. Glaser’s take and designs on the era have made me reconsider my previous opinions on the time frame. I am a HUGE fan of the Featherington Family and their costumes in particular. The bright, bold colors and embellishments drew me in. A close second would be the costumes designed for the Queen.
Speaking of Queens, The Queen’s Gambit’s costumes were beyond words. The subtle nods to chess within the costumes were brilliant while conveying the complicated character’s nuances.
This is such a hard category, Ratched was awe-inspiring, and the show with their costume contest saved Halloween during a pandemic while many were unable to be creative with friends. Halloween is my favorite holiday and the costumes that fans re-created during October last year were a testament to Lou Eyrichs’s talent and storytelling through clothes.
Spencer: Ah yes, Ratched was such a great show. I need it to come back like now… Elizabeth I would love to hear your picks.
Elizabeth: Hello everyone! There were so many good period pieces this year, but I really loved Bridgeton, and the costumes immediately grabbed my attention. The Regency era is a particular favorite of mine, and I loved how Ellen Mirojnick and John W. Glaser truly brought the costumes to life. While the overall style and silhouettes of the costumes remain faithful to the Regency era, the designers fill them with color and embellishments that bring a modern, energetic flare to Bridgeton.
Spencer: Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit seem quit popular here! Thank you Elizabeth, now I would love to hear from Csilla!
Csilla: Hey Everyone! It is tough to choose just one from this category; all the shows and their costume designers were terrific! But if I had to choose one, my favorite has to be Ratched. That show had such a brilliant color palette, and the costumes from Lou Eyrich were just stunning. I love the end of the 40s, the beginning of the 50s era, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, so I was excited to see the back story of Nurse Ratched. The aesthetic of the whole show was beautiful but dangerous and scary, and these mixed feelings about the characters were present in every silhouette, even in the uniforms.
My close second favorite is the Queen’s Gambit. I agree with the rest of the team on that completely. Such wonderful designs from Gabriele Binder.
Spencer: Thank you so much Csilla. Well, I guess it’s my turn!
My favorite costumes within this category are easily to Netflix’s Halston, with costumes designed byJeriana San Juan. I fell in love with this show, primarily because of the costuming. She had so much ground to cover, so many decades of research, and brought it all together perfectly. The tie-dye collection, ultra-suede shirt dresses, The Battle of Versailles, Studio 54, Martha Graham’sPersephone – there was so much, and every single costume stood strong. On top of all of the brilliant costuming, Jeriana also worked alongside actor Ewan McGregor to teach him the ways of the designer, coaching him through the process of becoming Halston.
This is Jeriana’s year in my opinion, but I am still in love with every other nominated show in this category – literally, all of them were amazing. It’s a tough call!
Thank you all so much for joining me! I can’t wait to see how this all plays out!
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.
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.
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.
Spencer: On April 17, 2011, the very first episode of Game of Thrones premiered. We are gathered here today to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Game of Thrones, The Iron Anniversary. Game of Thrones has won numerous awards throughout its run, including 59 Emmy Awards, eight Screen Actors Guild Awards, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody Award. Game of Thrones has the most Emmy nominations for a drama series with 161 nominations. Still on the topic of Emmys, Game of Thrones was also nominated for seven Emmys within the costume design category, with four wins. The costumes of Game of Thrones remain LEGENDARY!
Elizabeth: Hello everyone! This is so exciting. I can’t wait to get started and talk Game of Thrones with you two.
Mariana: Hi Spencer and Elizabeth! I am so happy to join you for this Game of Thrones piece!
Spencer: So let’s jump right into it. It’s been ten years since the premiere of Game of Thrones. My first question for each of you, what are your thoughts when you hear the phrase… “10th Anniversary”?
Elizabeth: It feels weird because it seems like I just saw the pilot for the first time yesterday. When I started watching this in high school with my family, it was the show we watched together every week as it aired. Then I went to college, and it became the show I watched with my friends; we bonded over it. Looking back on it, I feel like I grew up with the show and the person who watched the finale is not the same person who watched the pilot.
Mariana: It feels so long ago. I watched it in different places, with different people, at different times of my life. I’m picturing myself here in Toronto two years ago with a friend, running through themed bars so we could watch the live episodes… It’s also amazing how we have grown with the characters and watching them back in Season 1. Arya and Bran were so young! It’s kind of a similar feeling that I had with Harry Potter, but with Game of Thrones, it is way stronger.
Spencer: It’s like each episode brings back a particular memory. Oh, I remember where I was or what I was eating when that happened. It takes you back; I miss it! Game of Thrones is like family to me. I feel like all of my best friends in life were made over a connection to Game of Thrones.
The costumes for Game of Thrones, in my opinion, are some of the best TV costumes of all time. As a whole, what are your thoughts on the costumes?
Mariana: Actually, the costumes of Game of Thrones were the ones that clicked; I wanted to do costumes for Film and TV. When I was in fashion school, one of my friends was surveying your favorite fashion designer, and my answer was Michele Clapton. Of course, my friends were like, “who the hell is this woman?” hahaha… So, yeah, this was when I realized that this was a job, that she did this for a living. I was like, “Oh my goodness, she’s perfect. I want to do whatever she’s doing”. So, working on this article was very inspiring. It felt like going back to the roots of how all this crazy costume design dream began; it is significant for me.
Elizabeth: I love that they build a whole different world with distinct cultures and costumes that don’t exist, but they make them feel so real. It reminds me a lot of what The Lord of the Rings did to bring interest into the fantasy genre. However, they did that not by creating these extravagant or ethereal designs that are something out of this world like a lot of fantasy does. They grounded it in the realities of everyday life; you never see anything impractical. Every piece has a purpose, and all the costumes mean something to show and create the cultures and world they’re meant to inhabit.
Spencer: I almost feel the same as Mariana. I won’t say Game of Thrones brought me into costumes, but I think it laid the foundation the whole time, and I didn’t know it. I remember back in the day when those crazy news articles were coming out about the use of IKEA rugs. It blew my mind; Michele Clapton’s work on this show is just brilliant. I feel like the whole time, the show was setting a foundation for me to move into costumes before I knew it, but Game of Thrones knew it. Cersei Lannister was serving looks that would inspire me for the rest of my life.
It’s time to get started; as I mentioned, there’s a lot of great costuming in Game of Thrones. Let’s celebrate the 10th anniversary by discussing our favorite costumes. In preparation for this article, I asked you both to think of your favorite costume from each season. Let’s take turns and go season by season and talk about our favorite looks.
Elizabeth: I’m so excited about this. I had so many options it was hard to choose just one each season.
Spencer: I’ll start us off with season one, the pilot season. This is the season where we meet each of the three primary houses. We meet the Stark children for the first time and the shocking relationship between the Lannisters.
I love Cersei’s looks in season one because, if you notice, when she starts, she was wearing pastel, bleached colors. While the silhouettes were extravagant, her colors were relatively muted. This first look I picked is one of her brighter outfits. When you first meet her, Cersei is just King Robert Baratheon’s wife. Cersei looks uncomfortable, like she is trapped in a life she doesn’t want. She wears green and blue, which is just not the Cersei that we all know. Once Robert dies, that is when the red starts to kick in. It kind of starts as this bleached red, but as we get into the later seasons, it becomes full crimson and gold. As soon as she breaks free from Roberts’s stranglehold, color comes back to her clothing as she gets closer to world domination.
Elizabeth: So my first design is going to be Sansa.
Spencer: I knew it!
Elizabeth: Yes, it’s the dress that she wears to her first tournament in the show.
When she’s just getting to the south but is still wearing all of her dresses from home in the North, she clearly hasn’t gotten a new wardrobe that’s up to date with the capital’s fashion. I like this because it starts her whole character journey from a very innocent place. She’s just little Sansa, who wants to be pretty and marry a rich prince; that’s all she wants. She is innocent, and this gown reflects that with the rosettes along the front and lavender color. I also love this because, as I was saying before, they add those details specific to the North’s culture that you don’t see anywhere else in the series.
The flowers are these chunky appliques that look like they’re made out of a heavier material like wool or something because they need to keep themselves warm in the North. So obviously any decoration on their clothes will also be heavy; I thought that was interesting. I missed it as the series went on because it’s only northern ladies dressing this way. That’s one of my favorite looks just because it’s like, oh, this is the North, their culture and little sense of being obnoxious but innocent. I like the floor because it’s almost like it reminds me of a rose that’s covered in snow, almost like it’s this quilting kind of rose. It has little beads falling off it, almost like rain; that’s beautiful. I’m astonished by the detail because that doesn’t even show up on the screen; you don’t see that in the show.
Mariana: Okay, so I’ll say that one of my favorites is Joffrey Baratheon’s costume in the scene when Ned Stark is going to be beheaded. There’s a lot of power in his character, and his costume is fully supporting that. There is a clear relation between his costume and Cersei’s; they have the same embroidered lion on the sides as a Lannister symbol. Also, he has an antler’s pin as the Baratheon staple.
In a lot of the men’s costumes, we see doublets and armors, so Michele created a doublet much more modern as a cape with straight lines that make him look elegant and empowered, as the young king he is. I also loved the textile they used. So, from the men’s costumes from this season, I think this one is a winner, also because I know we will be talking a lot about the costumes worn by the ladies, so I just wanted to point out this one as a great costume.
Spencer: I never really got a closer look at this costume before. Looking at the shape of this, it’s crazy good. Obviously, this is a chaotic scene where the presumed main character gets his head chopped off so it’s kind of hard to focus on the costumes so I am glad you picked this one.
Elizabeth: I know, I love that.
Mariana: I also love how Cersei is just like putting the Lannister stamp all over him. When we see them both standing together, you can tell that something will happen with these evil characters, haha.
Spencer: What do you call what he is wearing? I mean, it’s a cape, but what’s the accurate term for it?
Mariana: Well, yeah, I think I would call it a cape. As I mentioned before, it looks like it evolved from a doublet. And in the medieval fashions, they used kirtles which were kind of long vests with openings on the sides, and then underneath, you will have a shirt. Back then, when people showed the garments they wore underneath, it was a synonym of wealth, so I think that’s what Michele was trying to do with this garment.
Spencer: You are such an expert, Mariana!
The Costumes of Season 2
Images Courtesy of HBO – Game of Thrones
Elizabeth: In Season 2, we introduce more of the families and their complex lives, and witness the beginning of the conflict of houses along with the crazy lengths they’re going to in order to grab power. So I have to go with Melisandre.
Spencer: I just have to say, Melisandre is who I associate Elizabeth with… always!
Elizabeth: That’s because of that one dress I have, that’s all.
Spencer: For the audience, one time we went out, and Elizabeth was wearing all red… Red dress, red heels, red lipstick. Elizabeth knew the night was dark and full of terrors. I’m a fan.
Elizabeth: Yeah yeah, so I love Melisandre. She’s just so different from everyone else because everyone else is trying to fit into their house or region of the world, like ‘I’m a fine lady of the South.’ Melisandre is like, I have a mission, my goal is set. I’m just like every single woman when she’s just gorgeous and ready to stand out. I always loved her dress, but I’ve never really liked her necklace. I feel like it’s just kind of out of place, which they explain later on, obviously. But she’s so bold, but then there’s this thing choking her around her neck. I guess that’s because she has this weird destiny.
Spencer: They made it so it’d be more muted so they wouldn’t see it as much because initially, they would use this large diamond but instead went with a more raw type of crystal so it wouldn’t stand out. That being said, it’s pretty noticeable!
Elizabeth: I am a big fan of literally everything else!
Mariana: Okay, so from season two, I’m also going to pick a man; it is Tyrion Lannister. This costume is when he was named Hand of the King. It is basically a doublet with a belt, trousers, and boots. But two things caught my attention, first the intricate detail of the fabric. I guess that’s like leather with a laser-cut pattern, and once again, we can see his undershirt in a burgundy tone. I just loved it so much. And second, this is when his character starts to transform, from being the drunk uncle that no one likes or cares about to the Hand of the King. He starts wearing more “Lannister costumes,” where wealth and power are evident all the time.
Elizabeth: Yeah, I love seeing these because, honestly, it’s something I never noticed before. With the lighting and the way they shoot it, that detail just kind of fades into the rest of what he’s wearing, but it’s crazy because I’m sure it does make such an impact. And it’s so beautiful; I wish you could see more of it in the show.
Spencer: For season two, I picked Brienne of Tarth. You all thought I was going to pick Cersei, but I didn’t, so… HA! I am a big Brienne fan. I love many of her different armors, but I tried to pick just one, so I went with season two. This is the part of the show where we just barely met Brienne. This is a character who is a lady from the island of Tarth. But Brienne does not pretend to be a noblewoman like, let’s say, Cersei. Her entire storyline builds up to her becoming commander of the Kingsguard.
So she’s wearing armor typically built for a man, but I love how Michele Clapton did it. She didn’t want her to have a breastplate that emphasized her body. Instead, she wore male-suited armor, but she created these triangles in the design. The triangle shapes give a more feminine look which I thought was cool. I love the hints of sapphire blue in the armor. Sapphire is the color of the Island of Tarth. As we go further into the show, her armor starts to get bluer and bluer until we get to the very end, when it’s gold once again.
Elizabeth: Yeah, she’s a great character. She’s always true to herself in every single season. But I love that one because I feel like there she is the most herself before the end. She’s like; I’m here to serve my man or whoever; I guess she’s probably serving Catlin by that point. But she’s very focused and driven.
Spencer: I feel like that comes across because Brienne has a very “no-nonsense” state of mind. She’s here because she has a job to do, and she’s not worried about being in a fashion show for flashiest or sexiest armor. Brienne wears her armor to protect herself while she’s killing anyone that challenges her or her loved ones.
The Costumes of Season 3
Images Courtesy of HBO – Game of Thrones
Mariana: Season three showed us not to get attached to any character, and we saw the beginning of the rise of Daenerys Targaryen, which is the character I chose. In this season, she’s conquering and bringing freedom to all these different places. She owns her shit, and she knows how powerful she is and how much good she can do for the world. Daenerys starts wearing trousers and boots mainly to move around and ride her dragons easily, and also, she is wearing long bodices that all have a dragon scale texture. She will carry this along until the end, and I find it so beautiful and thoughtful for storytelling purposes.
I once made something similar in a costume, and I was impressed by how time-costuming but astonishing it ended up looking. To think that she has this textile transformation spread all over her costumes is impressive. She is wearing this costume most of the time with its cape, and it makes her and Missandei look kind of similar in terms of silhouette. They both look stunning.
Elizabeth: I was looking at that the other day; it’s a good one and very her. She’s like, I know what I’m doing. I’m here to free everybody, and I’m the Mother of Dragons, so let’s do this.
Spencer: I love the texture, as you said, the kind of dragon scale type texture up close, which I never really noticed on this particular one, so that’s pretty awesome. Wow, I feel like I’m learning so much today! I’m impressed. For season three, don’t act surprised. I HAVE to go with Cersei one more time.
Elizabeth: It’s who you are, that’s okay…
Spencer: This is one of my favorite looks of the entire series. Cersei Lannister is now basically in control. Joffrey is the king, but Cersei will always be the queen. She’s running this thing, and she looks fantastic. I love this red Crimson color. She’s full Cersei now. She’s got rid of all those dumb Baratheon hairstyles and silly dressed. She now has this metal corset with that matching necklace. Cersei is the boss now.
Elizabeth: I love that you choose this one because it’s kind of like a progression of her paranoia. In the second season, she just wears the armor because they’re under siege, and she has to. In the third season, technically, everything’s fine. Like they’re not under siege anymore, the wars all but over; however, now she’s just so paranoid she has to wear it.
Spencer: Yeah, she can’t let it go. She’s built up these walls. I don’t think Cersei trusts literally anyone. Not even her child who becomes the king.
Elizabeth: So my season three pick is Sansa’s wedding gown when she’s forced to marry Tyrion. This is the height of her being trapped by the Lanisters, and there’s so much symbolism in it. First off, it’s got like this cross pattern around her chest where it’s like, yeah, you’re not getting out. This is it. But then the detail around it is just so beautiful and brilliant because the embroidery tells her family lineage. First off, she’s a Stark, so there’s a wolf. Then her mother was a Tully, so there’s a little fish. And it goes on all the way around it to the back of her neck where there’s the Lannister lion. It’s the biggest one; they’re basically branding her for everyone to see and say, we own you now because we only want you for your baby so that we can take the North.
Spencer: Sansa is a sucker for some symbolism in her garments; she loves it. What do you think about the armor? She has this metallic piece on her hips.
Elizabeth: Yeah, I feel like again that’s probably Cersei’s input of her paranoia because clearly, Sansa did not design this herself; she didn’t ask for it. Everything was just kind of done for her, and she showed up on the day. I feel like that’s just more Cersei being like, yeah, you’re trapped here, so you better armor up because they will be coming after you. But it’s almost a tool for Cersei to be like, look, we’re bringing together all these kingdoms. The Lannister one is prominent because it’s like Cersei has their hands around Sansa.
The Costumes of Season 4
Images Courtesy of HBO – Game of Thrones
Spencer: In season four, the plot thickens as the dangers of politics come to a head. I am very excited about season four because my pick is probably unexpected. So, I picked Oberyn Martell, people probably don’t know, but he’s one of my favorite characters. I also have to do a special shout-out to Ellaria Sand because their costumes work together in a pair. Ellaria is an underrated character, by far!
Oberyn is known as “The Red Viper.” So if you zoom in on the texture of his brown leather, Michele Clapton uses this black stamping to make it look like a reptilian scale because he’s the Viper. My favorite part, he has a hand shield. It’s made to look like a snake coming down his arm.
Mariana: Oh, that’s so cool. I never noticed that!
Elizabeth: Yeah, it’s good. I love these.
Spencer: Then, when it comes to Ellaria, she and Oberyn are always matching. Ellaria brands herself with this signature pointy shoulder piece, which in this show represents power and strength. Ellaria also has that reptilian kind of texture in her costume. So overall, this is one of my all-time favorite costume moments. It’s a shame that this is the final costume we see Oberyn in. I was so crushed when he got…. crushed. I’ll see myself out.
Elizabeth: Good one. All right, my pick for season four it’s kind of like a whole character, Lady Olenna. She is just a badass in her own right, and I find it fascinating because she’s the only older noble lady we ever get to see. She’s the only widow who actually acts like a widow in this kind of world, so it’s really interesting to see how they handle that. For example, you never see her hair. She’s always completely covered, but she always looks so good it’s like, oh, that’s where Margaery gets it from.
She’s house Tyrell through and through with the blue in the gold. And she’s a lot like Brienne where everything is no-nonsense, yes I look good, but you never see anything frilly it’s just beautiful fabric with an excellent cut to it. The rose belts are the most intricate thing you ever see on her, so I just always felt like she was one of the most interesting, dressed because there’s no other like there’s no other old widow, in the show like come on women either die in childbirth or like, go into seclusion after their husbands passing she’s just like no I have family business take care of, I don’t know what you’re worried about
Spencer: Lady Olenna Tyrell is just the best. Unfortunately, Dame Diana Rigg passed away this past September, and we miss her. She was wonderful. The Queen of Thorns was a legend, and she always looked good.
Elizabeth: She was terrific and also, the way she and her grandchildren always have matching fabrics and colors, they look so good. The three of them always represent House Tyrell and knew how to show a united front as a family.
Mariana: My favorite for this season is Margaery Tyrell’s wedding dress. This dress is just so stunning; she looks absolutely gorgeous like she’s coming from an enchanted forest with her power and ambition. It suits her character and her body perfectly; it is basically a haute couture gown. The roses, which are a staple to the Tyrells, were made by hand, one by one, and attached to her skirt and train, creating this gorgeous cascade. It’s so delicate but at the same time powerful and determined, just like Margaery. She has roses and thorns, like as she was saying “keep out because I am beautiful but dangerous.”
I actually found a quote from Michele Clapton explaining the concept behind this design:
“I wanted it to be sort of quite traditional dress in a funny way. But then again, roses can be so pretty, and I didn’t want her to be pretty. I wanted her to be slightly dangerous; hence the metal rose vines running along her dress which subtly are spiked with metal thorns if you look closely, showing her danger underneath”.
Michele Clapton, Costume Designer
Spencer: What a contrast compared to Sansa’s wedding dress that Elizabeth just showed us. It’s so interesting that we have these images one after the other because Sansa was very covered up; Margaery is free to wear seemingly whatever she wants.
Mariana: This is the point in the season where Margaery is in control, and Cersei is kind of losing her power to Margaery, which is, you know, a lot of tension and build-up, so I love that. Oh, and I also wanted to add a little thing to this, Joffrey’s crown and Margaery’s tiara both have the Baratheon’s antlers with some roses wrapped around, merging the two families Baratheon and Tyrell.
The Costumes of Season 5
Images Courtesy of HBO – Game of Thrones
Elizabeth: We are now in season five, where new and old threats reveal themselves, putting our strongest characters in challenging positions. Well, surprise, surprise, I choose Sansa’s wedding dress for her wedding with Ramsay Bolton.
Mariana: Okay, I almost picked this one too; it’s gorgeous.
Elizabeth: It’s yet another wedding dress for Sansa because she’s trapped, again by the Boltons, but this time she’s home in the North. But she can’t be home because the people who killed her family are keeping her here. Unlike the Lannisters who are shouting to the world, this is Sansa Stark, and she’s ours; the Boltons are trying to erase who she is while still leveraging her position as the ‘last Stark,’ but that’s all people need to know.
The gown is completely white with very little detail. Because the Boltons don’t want to deal with the fact that they destroyed House Stark or the possible legal situation with her marriage to Tyrion, they are just like, nope, and with the white, she is the perfect virgin, and nothing’s ever happened here. They just don’t want anybody looking into it. They need people to know she’s a Stark to strengthen their claim to the North but also… don’t think about that.
Spencer: Yeah, I love this; it’s so beautiful. Such beauty, found in such a horrible series of scenes.
Mariana: I think those buttons or pins that she has in the front are fish, symbolizing the Tully family, her mother.
Elizabeth: I wondered about that; that’s not like the flayed man. It’s so tiny.
Spencer: I have an excerpt from Michele Clapton about this dress,
Mariana: Okay, so my favorite for season five will be Arya Stark as the Oyster Girl. In the past seasons she’s been running away, she looks like a little boy, so dirty and messed up, and she’s just struggling so much. So, when she gets to this part of the season, she transforms into this other character: the Oyster Girl, which is kind of her most feminine look from the entire series, I believe, and it’s beautiful. The colors are perfectly picked for her, and the different textures are all working so well. She still has the same silhouette from past costumes, the broad, round shoulders and cinched waist. It doesn’t show her as powerful as she can be, but that’s the point. She’s disguising herself in this town.
Spencer: Oysters, Clams, and Cockles!!!! I just had to say it… I feel like she’s happy because this is the first time she’s not Arya Stark. Arya’s not worried about what the Lannister’s are doing, or really anything at all. She’s just out here selling oysters, clams, and cockles. I love the textile she’s wearing because it’s like she’s one with the harbor at this point, so she almost looks like she’s wearing netting, which is brilliant.
Elizabeth: I was going to say, she never has color except for this, and I feel like this is the first time she’s kind of happy since her family died. I feel like she shows it when she’s like the oyster girl.
Spencer: Okay, I actually almost didn’t pick this look because I thought everyone else would pick this one. I am shocked no one else picked it. I love this look. This is from the Dance of the Dragons episode. Daenerys Targaryen just looks so good in white. However, I find it hilarious that she is wearing white because this a very dusty area. White probably wouldn’t be my first pick. I love the cape and the low kind of cut neckline she has going on. The simple lines in this dress are beautiful. Of course, we have to talk about her jewelry with the dragon wrapped around her neck. It was intended to look like she has a dragon resting on her shoulder, which I think is so cool.
She gives me Cate Blanchett as Galadriel vibes, you know, because she’s wearing bright white, in this really kind of sad town riddled with slavery and brutal arena games. To me, I feel like Daenerys is trying to give off this angel energy, even though she is nowhere close to an angel. Most people buy into this pureness; that’s the kind of the story of Game of Thrones. This evil side of Daenerys comes out toward the end, and many people didn’t see it coming because she was selling this stuff like this, where she’s wearing all white looking like a cute little angel in this arena full of killers. The signs were all there, people!
The Costumes of Season 6
Images Courtesy of HBO – Game of Thrones
Mariana: In Season 6, the war between the great kingdoms starts to take some main characters off the map. I’m going to choose Dany for this one. By the end of this season, we have her again in this Greek/Roman-style draped gown, like she used to wear on her very first costumes from the series. At this point, it’s her time to settle a little bit and go back to where she came from before heading to Westeros to claim her throne.
Daenerys is wearing dark colors again, and it is such a contrast coming from the white she was wearing in the past season. This costume is simple, yet powerful and bold. It is the side of her that we were missing for a while, the simplicity and sensitivity underneath it all. Also, in this scene, when she names Tyrion as Hand of the Queen, she looks trustful and faithful. Right after this point, everything’s going to collapse, so it’s an excellent point to start again.
Spencer: All right, so this next one is going to be a surprise to no one. Season six, I’m all about this Cersei Lannister look. It was the first costume I thought of, and no one can change my mind. This is one of the greatest costumes of all time. Cersei just had the entire Sept of Baelor blown up with a majority of her enemies inside, all with a glass of wine in her hand. Consequently, her last living child just jumped out a window. Things are going south. At this point, Cersei is out of, well, for lack of a better word, f***s to give. Instantly it’s like she takes all the red in her closet and packs it all into a cardboard box, and takes it to Goodwill. Suddenly Cersei is all about black and this black leather that she has going on.
I just love this dark look, and it’s all about armor. Cersei is just trying to protect herself at this point and protect Jamie and the throne; she doesn’t care about anything else at this point. Cersei is in a constant state of mourning and wears black leather and silk brocade.
One last thing that’s interesting, Cersei is dressed very conservatively at this point, and she’s done showing skin. Cersei is just completely covered from the ground up, which as we mentioned earlier, at this point in the show you’re going to notice the powerful women will always be completely covered up at this point. This is one of my favorites. I guess I should mention that the piano music from this episode, The Light of the Seven, is actually my ringtone.
Elizabeth: Okay, season six… Sansa. Sorry, but I was going through it, and the character development for her and how they show it is amazing. In the Battle of the Bastards, Sansa finally gets to be her own person, she ignores everything John says, and she takes control of the situation and little fingers army to do what she knows is right. She’s very much done with listening to everyone else because that’s what got her in this mess in the first place.
It’s hard to find a picture of the entire dress, but all of the detail is at the top of it so you can see what’s important. The dress is gorgeous velvet, and she has the Stark wolf embroidered across her chest. I am Sansa Stark, and nobody’s taking that away. She’s wearing a cloak draped over her shoulders with a full wolf hide as the trim at the top like her father used to because she’s also ready to rule. As I was looking through photos of the dress, it was funny. One of the captions said, this is Sansa clapping back, and it’s true. She’s taking control of the situation because she’s literally watching John drive the army into the ground at this point, and she’s like, I’m going to fix this.
The Costumes of Season 7
Images Courtesy of HBO – Game of Thrones
Spencer: In season seven, during the most unusual circumstances, characters from all over Westeros must band together to survive. This was kind of a hard one for me to pick, but I settled on Daenerys Targaryen’s initial costume that she wears as she arrived at Dragon Stone. Dany is dressed very conservatively. This is her first step into Westeros.
This costume is all about intent. Daenerys is here on a mission at this point, and she’s not playing around. Her eyes are back on the prize, and she’s just full of intent. If you zoom in, as Mariana said earlier, you’ll see a dragon-scale-looking textile. This look also has a burnt appearance to me, representative of the trauma she’s gone through as we’re nearing the end. Dany has many great looks in this season, and I really could have picked any one of them. Also, you know I love a good cape; this is a good cape.
Elizabeth: Yeah, I love this one because she never wears armor, but with this, she’s like, I’m ready for battle, and I don’t believe we ever see her in a gown again. I think it’s all pants, and long tunics, because she’s here to get things started. Even in the Battle of Winterfell, she was running around and something kind of like this.
Spencer: Yeah, if I were a Game of Thrones character, this would probably be close to what I would be wearing if we are honest here.
Elizabeth: So mine is also going to be Daenerys.
Mariana: You might pick the one I want. I also have Daenerys.
Elizabeth: She has a lot of great costumes this season. In every scene, it feels like she’s wearing something new. I guess because she’s got that Esos money now, she can afford it. This is what I like to call her “Commander Dany” look because this is what she wears at all the war meetings. She’s got her long tunic and pants combo in charcoal grey trimmed in fur now that they’re in the North, But her accessories make this look. She’s got some sort of chain across herself like a lot of commanders in the show have. But it’s very unique. The chain has been made to look like the vertebrae of a dragon’s spine, and then at the top by her shoulder the three-headed dragon brooch. Attached to the broach is a beautiful deep burgundy cape with a dragon scale pattern.
Spencer: Is this the look you picked, Mariana?
Mariana: No, I chose another one!
Spencer: Wow, we got three different Daenerys looks. This is the season of Daenerys looks!
Mariana: Good! So my pick is, I think it’s the last one from the season: Dany’s white fur coat. This is the costume she is wearing when she saves Jon Snow from the White Walkers and loses her dragon in the battle. So, it’s very emotional, powerful, and bold. This coat is pretty much her armor, and it keeps the silhouette she’s been wearing the entire season, which is that of a warrior queen. The texture on the back of the coat, simulating a dragon-scaled vertebrate, is absolutely astonishing. Not only the intricate work put into it but also how much power it brings to her character.
The total evolution of how the dragon scale texture I mentioned some seasons before has evolved fully to the Mother of Dragons. An essential part of the costume is her silver dragon chain that she also uses with the previous costume. Also, the vertical lines on the fur coat, besides the technicality behind its construction, make her look more empowered. As a design choice, vertical lines will always imply superiority, so I think that was a clever choice. In addition, Emilia Clark is a short person, so that detail worked brilliantly for her.
“I can’t think of another time she’s gone to the aid of someone who is also, to some extent, a rival. It had to be a real statement piece. It looks very warrior queen, she’s a vision when Jon looks up and sees her arriving”.
Michele clapton – costume designer
Spencer: I’m so glad that we picked the three essential Daenerys Targaryen looks, that wasn’t even planned!
Mariana: Yeah, every single costume Dany wears is a piece of art.
The Costumes of Season 8
Images Courtesy of HBO – Game of Thrones
Spencer: Okay, so, Elizabeth, you get to lead us through your favorite season of all time. Okay, to be fair, it’s not my favorite season either, but I still liked it. Your point is taken. We can save it for a podcast.
Elizabeth: Yeah, no, I just, I wish they had taken a couple more seasons, and I don’t like how Dany dies. Anyway, Season 8 brings us to the conclusion of Game of Thrones. Let’s get back to Sansa.
Throughout the whole series, Sansa goes from a sweet innocent lady to The Queen of the North. Her coronation dress is so beautiful and so powerful. You see, she takes a little advice from Cersei always to be wearing some armor; however, she incorporates it a little better. It’s not solid armor, it’s more like a cage, and you can see her gown underneath it.
The weirwood tree inspires the gown itself. It’s a whitish-grey color with a pattern mimicking leaves or bark and is full of details. It’s got the red leaves of the weirwood tree cascading down the back, which reminds me of Margaery’s first wedding gown with the roses and is a reminder of how much she influenced Sansa. She’s got her Wolf’s fur to reference back to her father. Also, there’s a very subtle fish scale pattern on the fur and sleeve for the Tully’s and her mother at the top.
Spencer: I also picked this look! Since you brought up what I was going to say, I’ll just read you a quote from Michele Clapton about this stunning gown.
Now THAT is some good quality costuming right there.
Mariana: My favorite one for this season is Arya. I love this costume, everything that she was achieving throughout the entire series comes to one single moment, and it’s this one. She is powerful, strong, fearless, and determined. Arya is finally wearing something that she’s comfortable with, and she is finally showing herself as a warrior and a smart girl.
She is also wearing the “commander cape” across her body, which gives her that power and authority. In addition, we can see some accurate details from medieval/renaissance costumes, like the sleeves, which were not sewn into the garment but tied with a cord. Also, I heard in an interview with Michele Clapton that armors in the north don’t have metal because it will get cold, so they are all using leather or fur, which I found to be such an interesting thing to have in mind and to keep it accurate through the whole series.
Spencer: Wow, we did it! We went through eight seasons of Game of Thrones costumes. That was a lot of fun, but now to make things really interesting… I think we should each go around and pick our favorite costume from the entire show! Cue the dramatic music!
Elizabeth: Oh no, that’s too much. I can’t decide that.
Mariana: OMG! This is going to be hard!
Images Courtesy of HBO – Game of Thrones
Spencer: Well, I’ll go first, but that is because mine is pretty straightforward. My winner is…surprise surprise, Cersei’s black gown from season 6, The Winds of Winter! I remember seeing this for the first time, and I stood up and started clapping. It’s the best. I love the textile, and I love the black leather. I love the armor on the shoulder pads and high neckline.
This is the best Cersei looks in the entire show; she just looks fantastic and in control. I know she’s pretty evil at this point, but she doesn’t really believe herself to be evil in her head. She sees herself doing the best for her family. That being said, her family is basically dead at this point, but you know where I’m going with this. So that’s my favorite costume. If I ever meet Michele Clapton, I want to thank her for this entire show, especially for this specific costume.
Elizabeth: I’m ready. Okay, so I’m choosing one that I didn’t already go over. I’ll explain why. So it’s Margaery in her almost her standard Tyrell dress with the flower belt blue velvet shoulder pieces, gold-embroidered roses on her bodice with an open back. This is her at her pinnacle when she’s manipulating Joffrey and climbing her way up to the top. She was my favorite character that season, and I cosplayed her later that year.
Mariana: My favorite costume will be Daenerys in her blue dress. First, because the transformation the character is going through in this particular moment is crucial for the entire series. And second, when I discovered the amount of detail going on in this dress, it blew my mind. I never thought something could be as symbolic and as perfectly done for a character. So, I’ll say this one is my favorite one, and as I mentioned before, I once tried to imitate the texture for a costume I made. It was a beautiful thing to reference, and I had lots of fun. So, yeah, this will be my favorite one.
Spencer: We did it. Thank you both for joining our first Game of Thrones roundtable. I’m sure we will do more in the future. Maybe at the 20th anniversary? Ugh, no, I can’t wait that long.
Mariana: Thank you again for this! I had a great time; it is amazing to find people who share your passion and obsession with particular series and costumes.
Elizabeth: This has been so much fun with you two, Game of Thrones is one of my favorite shows to talk about, and I hope we can talk about it more again.
Computer-animated films, just like other types of animation, don’t have an established role of a costume designer, or at least that is how it is in most cases. Creating costumes has been part of the character design process, which the animator or character designer will do. However, this is slowly changing, and costume designers are starting to gain their own spot in animated films. After all, the main purpose of a costume designer is to help bring a character to life and tell its story through costumes.
With the technological advances from the past years, computer-animated films are now as real as they have never been before. We are witnessing the most glorious moment of technology, where computer-animated films look so real you feel that you live in that same world. Textures, shapes, and colors are now so close to reality that the digital-animated world becomes almost palpable. Costumes on their own have gained a lot more importance as details are now more essential to the audience, and in the same manner, they have become a stronger part of storytelling. Each seam, trim, stitch, jewel, buckle, and button are so precise that you want to grab those costumes from the characters and put them into your wardrobe. To get these details as precise as the animation demands, costume designers must step into this process, just like we saw in the past article from this series “Costuming the Animated World: Stop-Motion Animation” with productions like LAIKA.
“The costume design is an essential part of this process: the clothes the characters wear reflect their personality and support the narrative in many ways”. -Maarit Kalmakurki
Computer animation has not always been as we know it today, it started around 25 years ago, and it is evolving at an impressive rate. Pixar Animation Studios is a pioneer and leader in this technology. Back in 1995, the company released the first computer-animated feature film: Toy Story. In those days, animating clothes was very time-consuming, so there are many hands and feet shots from a toy’s or children’s perspective. But things started to change, and from learning to animate humans, fur, hair, water, and certainly fabric, making costumes gained more importance and recognition. With time, Pixar has developed stitching, lace, leather, mesh, and veil textures. They even developed software to “sew” the garments together to achieve a real approach to costume construction.
Left to right: Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, John Lasseter, and Joe Ranft. Photo: Michael Ansell – Courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios
In Toy Story (1995), despite the main characters being toys who never change their costumes, all contribute to storytelling. Woody’s costume certainly rings a bell in all of us: a mustard checkered shirt, blue jeans, cow-print vest, hat, boots. The intricate details, such as his red handkerchief, buttons, belt, gun holster, and sheriff plaque, contribute to character creation. In terms of storytelling, his cowboy hat, for instance, is the only accessory that he can take off. Whenever he doesn’t have it, he is missing part of his identity, and it is something that he misses, but his owner does too.
“The last step is the fitting process, where we lay the garment on the character and make her walk just to see how it fits, how it lays, and then go back to the original 3D model and make any changes. At Pixar, which may or may not be different for other studios, we still flatten the meshes into 2D texture. That 2D pattern is what we send to the simulator. This way the simulator understands the grain direction of the cloth which is very important to represent sewing in real life”. Claudia Chung, Pixar (Interview: Clothes on Film, 2012)
In Brave (2012), to create the tartan kilts, which used around 8 yards of fabric, a draping process had to be implemented. This meant creating pleats manually around the character’s waist in the fitting process so that the fabric would lay properly and thus, create a real effect of a kilt.
Later on, with Coco (2017), a different challenge came along: there were many skeletons, and dressing them was certainly different from dressing humans. Besides having differences in body shapes, the costumes would often get caught between individual bones creating an irregular drape to the fabric. This was a detail that animators thought crucial to the story, and it worked so well that to the audience, it looked real.
The Incredibles 2
The Incredibles 2 (2018) brought together a group of amazing designers that contributed deeply to the film’s costumes, including the beloved character Edna Mode. The immense amount of research that involved the costume design started by researching the time period that inspired the film around the 1950s and ’60s and giving the costumes an iconic twist. Some of the things that the team did consist of analyzing sewing patterns and garments from this time and diving into magazines to learn about family customs and behaviors. This not only helped them design the main characters but also the background characters’ costumes. “I took note of the boldness of shape, and the silhouettes, the perfectly tailored fit. This was the most defining quality I found,” said Deanna Marsigliese, character designer at Pixar Animation Studios.
With a fifteen-year span between the first and second movie, the details incorporated into costumes are evident and exquisite. In the case of superhero suits, they were actually part of the character’s skin in the first movie, which made the logo stretch unusually. However, all supers have a separate costume for the sequel, which has been observed and perfected by Fran Kalal, character tailoring lead, Bryn Imagire, shading art director & costume designer, and their team. They supervise that every seam, every fabric, and texture are as close to real-life as possible. They even have some garments at the studio to imitate the textures, creases, lights, and shadows.
As mentioned before, there was an immense amount of time dedicated to background characters. They are actually the ones that enhance this 1950s decade. There was a lot of mix and match between men’s suits and women’s skirts and blouses, but that made it possible to have more than 60 unique designs for males and more than 60 unique designs for female background characters.
The Incredibles 2 had an important addition, the character Evelyn Deavor. She is not only the smart and creative mind behind the entire plot but has a bohemian and luxurious style to die for. Her entire wardrobe is a mixture between masculine and feminine details, bold prints, and faux zebra coats. Evelyn is actually the character with most costumes changes throughout the film, with 20 costumes which are insanely huge for an animated character. The detail on her costumes is flawless.
Finally, there is Edna Mode, the famous superhero designer who not only served as an inspiration for the creative team at Pixar, but they had to get into her mind to design a fashion show for a scene (which unfortunately didn’t make it to the final piece). However, creating this scene served during the character creation process where animators had to dive deep to design Edna Mode’s costumes and her own creations.
“She says she wants things to be ‘bold, dramatic and heroic.’ So I figured Edna would use her fashion line as a vehicle to celebrate superheroes and her powers. Once I realized that, the designing fell into place on its own.” Deanna Marsigliese, character designer, The Incredibles 2
In Toy Story 4 (2019), Pixar animators included recently extraordinary storytelling with the costumes of the beloved character: Bo Peep. In movies 1 and 2, she wears a pink polka-dot skirt, a pink bodice with a blue camisole underneath, a bonnet, and her cane. Her skirt is full, and she is wearing layers of petticoats underneath, probably a crinoline, and blue bloomers.
When she is presented again in Toy Story 4, her character has undergone many changes; she has transformed into an adventurous lost toy. In the same way, she transforms her costume. Now her skirt is a cape, which is worn inside out, displaying a dark purple lining, her blue bloomers and camisole are now used as a blue jumpsuit, and the cord she used to lace her front bodice is now wrapped around her cane. The latter item is now used for much more practical purposes. Her bow, belt, and button are probably items she has collected through the years to complete her outfit. For the Pixar Animator’s team to understand and finalize Bo Peep’s costume, they had to make the costumes in real life to see how they would look like a doll’s size.
Other studios have created amazing computer animations with incredible detail incorporated into costumes. DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train your Dragon trilogy (2010, 2014, 2019) is an amazing example of a costume being used for character creation and transformation. Hiccup starts as a timid boy wearing a long shirt, trousers, boots, and a fur vest. His costume is simple, with dull colors and textures. In the first movie, he starts incorporating some accessories to appear braver and prepared for battle. Slowly, as his character becomes more mature and fearless, his costume basically transforms into armor that provides him strength, protection, and empowerment. His silhouette broadens, giving the character a much more determined look.
The classic textures and elements from Vikings, such as fur, leather, and helmets, are enhanced with metallic and dragon-scale texture. This texture was actually real dragon scales that Hiccup and the rest of the characters incorporate into their armors to have a scarier look. Also, they evolve the helmet shape into a mask that hides their identity with not only horns but scallops, wings, and fins. By the end of the third movie, we witness the final growth of the character. His costume is now a mixture of all stages of his life, incorporating details that he used in the past that define his own character.
Walt Disney Animation Studios started releasing their own computer-animated films not a very long time ago. The development in detail approach has also been astonishing, but the movie that got the bar higher than ever was Frozen 2 (2019). The evolution of the two main characters, Anna and Elsa, through their costumes is absolutely impeccable. This is due to the extraordinary research and dedication that the team put into this. They traveled to Norway, Finland, and Iceland as part of their creative process to get design ideas and inspiration for the film’s overall look. In the costumes specifically, the Norwegian and mystic elements are evident both in Anna’s and Elsa’s outfits and the rest of the characters.
In addition, Anna and Elsa are now on an adventure into the unknown, which means they need comfortable costumes that will allow them to run, swim and jump, which wasn’t as simple as rising hemlines. Since the first movie, both characters had a defined style, which helped designers Brittany Lee and Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay.
In Frozen 2, they are older and braver, and thankfully the technological advances in computer animation helped add more details to their costumes that contributed to character creation and storytelling. Part of the film’s realistic approach is the way the fabric moves and drapes in different situations. This is possible once more due to the technological advances in CGI, which imitate different fabrics, and animators can determine their movement depending on its weight, composition, and medium. “Something that is meant to be a velvet shouldn’t be moving as if it was tulle or if it was cotton,” Lee explains.
“On this film, we could really be elaborate and add a lot of extra bead work or sequins that wouldn’t have been possible to do on the first film. We really tried to meet technologies’ needs in creating more art work and more design where appropriate.” – Brittany Lee, visual development artist, Frozen 2 (2019)
Anna’s costumes always have warm colors and a playful and classic silhouette. For most of the film, she is wearing her travel costume consisting of a deep purple cloak, a black dress with long sleeves, mustard high-neck blouse and pants underneath, a brown obi belt, and tall black leather boots. Her costume is inspired by the traditional Norwegian folk wear known as the “bunad,” a long A-line dress made of wool with embroidered flowers. In this case, she has wheat and crocus (Arendelle’s national symbol) designs embroidered through the dress and cape. “Anna is all about Arendelle,” Sastrawinata-Lemay said. The addition of pants, which Elsa wears as well, allows the characters to get involved in really adventurous journeys without being the main focus of attention on their costumes.
On the other hand, Elsa has a cool color palette since almost everything she wears was created using her magic: ice. Her outfits are always enhancing her mystic, sensitive and powerful character, and she has an elegant and linear silhouette, perfect for the Snow Queen. Elsa’s gowns are actually inspired by haute couture fashion houses, like Alexander McQueen and Ellie Saab, “just in their mystic grand silhouettes and bold statements,” Lee says.
Her travel costume consists of a light blue tailored coat with a belt and a paneled veil cape that hangs from the shoulders. These have jewels encrusted, forming a snowflake and an angular-broad shape, giving a look of “militaristic epaulettes,” which undoubtedly provide her with authority and determination. As mentioned before, she has pants underneath and sparkly snowflake adorned blue boots. Her costume respects that linear silhouette that gives Elsa her stamp as Queen of Arendelle, but it now shows her transformation towards a more confident and fearless woman.
Lastly, Netflix Animation’s Over the Moon (2020) has some jaw-dropping costume designs created by the internationally acclaimed fashion designer Guo Pei. Director Glen Keane knew he needed someone with costuming experience to take the lead on what the costumes of Chang’e were going to look like. Since the movie has so many elements from China’s culture, it was reasonable that a Chinese designer would be the one jumping in for the process. Guo Pei has always embraced her culture in her designs, and Over the Moon was no exception to this.
The costumes of Chang’e demanded a lot of attention to detail, symbolism, and sophistication since she is no other than the Moon Goddess. As it was her first time working in animation, she spent a lot of time with artists to ensure that they were animating the entire costume just as she had envisioned it. Part of the process involved lots of research by going to museums and making several sketches to achieve the desired costume design. This last process was, in fact, the perfect way of communicating their ideas since Guo Pei doesn’t speak English and Glen Keane doesn’t speak mandarin.
The most iconic costume worn by Chang’e is her royal gown, made of red silk and intricate embroidery. This gown is bold, vibrant, and powerful. It enhances the Chinese culture in every aspect, including the embroidered motifs on her back, which actually tell her dramatical love story. “I designed some elements of ancient Chinese royal dresses in Chang’e’s costumes, such as wide cuffs, long tails, and a stand-up collar like the tail of a phoenix. These elements all strengthen the dramatic tension and contrast her image as a god and as a human being,” Guo Pei shared in an interview.
Costume design in animation is slowly gaining the recognition it deserves. Even if a costume designer is not leading the process, the research and dedication incorporated into it must be recognized and respected. The entire team’s effort and dedication to costume design for the films mentioned here is absolutely astonishing and sometimes underestimated. Since it has always been part of designing the character, costumes are not appreciated the way they should. On the other hand, with such amazing, fantastic worlds created in animation, costumes are sometimes plain or abandoned. Having unlimited possibilities in terms of technology and imagination on the way costumes can help with storytelling by introducing superpowers in characters or being extremely detailed in the time period where the story is taking place. Sometimes, costumes do not enhance as much as they should, and it’s at this point when the expertise of a costume designer is much needed in the animated field.
However, things are really starting to shift. With films such as The Incredibles 2, Frozen 2, and Over the Moon, where costume design undergoes deep research and construction, it is necessary to dive into its process and understand its importance. Even more than that, make sure that future animated productions follow suit and involve costume design the way they are supposed to make their animations even more amazing than they already are.
“People tend to think of costume design in terms of an end product. It’s a garment. But costume designers think of costume as part of the character that they’re creating, so it’s the hair, the costume, the props, the makeup, the way they move, whether these costumes and props are ever physically made or not.” – Camille Brenda, CalArts Institute
The art of creating stop-motion animations might be one of the oldest filmmaking techniques ever invented, which date back to the 1890s. Stop-motion uses photography as its medium to bring an object/puppet to life by playing series of photographs in sequence. The advances in photography made this medium effective, and throughout the years, animators have incorporated the use of CGI technology. It is considered an art because of the number of talented people working with their hands to bring characters to life. To achieve the desired motion, 24 photographs are played per second. It is a technique that no matter the amount of technology incorporated into it, the human hand would never be replaced entirely.
The very first stop-motion film created is The Humpty Dumpty Circus (1898) by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith. In this short film, the animators took their daughter’s toys and created a circus in motion. Unfortunately, this film has been lost and there are only photographs that support the existence of it. Since then, many others have continued to create stop-motion animations, by modeling with paper, clay, and puppets. They have all contributed to what we know now as stop-motion films and continue to delight us with beautiful masterpieces.
Creating a film at such a small scale (each human-shaped character is about 10 inches/25cm) demands extraordinary attention to detail in every aspect. From sets and props to facial expressions, hair, and of course, costumes. The different textures created to imitate a fabric or surface, or the movement and weight of fabric themselves regarding the size of the puppet are some of the details that animators, modelers, and costume designers take into account when creating each character.
There are different techniques used to create puppets, depending basically on the needs of the character (movement and physical traits) and the entire aesthetic of the film. Animators mainly use resin, clay, fabric, latex, or foam modelled on top of a metal armature which allows movement and stability to the puppets.
In 1989, the British company Aardman Animations introduced their very famous characters of Wallace and Gromit with a short stop-motion film called A Grand Day Out. This animation gave them an Academy Nomination and was their beginning to what became a worldwide phenomenon. In their animations, costume design is an integral part of character creation and in the same way, there is not a specific role for a costume designer. Animators do the entire job of designing the character from head to toe. The character modeler is in charge of bringing this character to life taking care of all the details that its costume demands. While the character is modeled in clay, all the textures that need to be on its costumes are added (stitches, creases, wrinkles, and seams). Then, it is cast in plaster, which will make it solid and easy to maneuver. Each part is then coloured (or sprayed) with a diluted latex mixture, and details will be hand-painted.
Wallace is most of the time wearing a green knitted vest, red tie, white shirt, and brown trousers, this is his primary costume. But, as storytelling demands, more costumes are designed for him when creating a new storyboard. Due to the technique used to create their puppets, costumes are to some extent simple and not loaded with a ton of details.
A Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton (1993) was the first stop-motion feature film to receive worldwide distribution. For this film, more than 220 puppets were made using clay. Jack Skellington came to life from Tim Burton’s original sketches as the iconic character we know, and whose costume (a black striped suit and a bat-like bow tie) has been undoubtedly a stamp to this character.
“Some of the finest model animators in the world brought the creepy characters eerily to life (…) all of which were textured to have the look of the scratchy, cross-hatched pen-work found in Tim Burton’s original drawings” (Sibley, 2010)
Another extraordinary stop-motion film by Tim Burton is Corpse Bride (2005). In this film, animators were pushing the boundaries of the different mechanisms they incorporated into their puppets. Once again, characters and costumes were designed originally by Tim Burton but then perfected by Carlos Grangel, character designer of the film. As usual, Tim Burton’s characters were very long and skinny with large heads and eyes. This was something that modelers had to take into account when creating the armature for each one of them.
One of the most challenging parts of the film was creating Emily’s dress (The Corpse Bride) since it demanded a lot of movement and fluidity. Animators had to create different mechanisms to generate movement in the veil and skirt. Also, some structures have to be placed under the characters’ dresses to maintain the silhouette of the costume while the puppet was moved.
“Every character has its own personality, and personality dictates shape, balance and rhythm. So, every character has its own silhouette, and its important that we can recognize every single character when its on the screen. And they are puppets, so they have to be really graphic, and really stylized”
-Carlos Grangel, Character Designer, Corpse Bride. 2005
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) directed by Wes Anderson and produced by 20th Century Fox was a ground-breaking film in the animated world. It was based on Roald Dahl’s 1970 children’s novel of the same name, and whose origin had a lot of influence on the aesthetic of the film. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, we see animal puppets act like humans, which meant they had to stand, walk and sit as if they were human beings. In this case, Felice Haymoz was brought in to be part of the film as the character designer, she describes this as her best job ever.
“I started by drawing foxes, and asked myself ‘What if they had to stand on two legs? What if they have to brush their teeth?. So, starting from the real anatomy of the fox helped a lot, and after that we were able to move into the next stage of what the foxes were going to wear, like ‘Okay, he has to wear this outfit now so his legs have to be more upright.'” -Felice Haymoz, Character Designer “Fantastic Mr. Fox” 2009.
For this film, the fabric was used to create the costumes, and sewing everything this size demanded it to be absolutely flawless. Using actual fabrics allowed animators to move the puppets more freely since the costumes would just adapt to the “performance” of the puppet. Besides, it is also a better way to achieve greater detail and to make every costume much more elaborate in terms of design.
Another film directed by Wes Anderson was Isle of Dogs (2018), where once again Felice was in charge of designing the human characters. She used many Japanese references, and costume design helps with storytelling and personality traits for each character. The details and accessories each costume includes are astonishing. In the case of Atari, all those zippers and labels in his overall are impeccable; while on Tracy, even though she is wearing the same uniform as her classmates, her accessories impact her character.
Coraline (2009) by LAIKA Studios was the beginning of the extraordinary productions that this group of creatives has brought to the big screen and who have made impressive advances to the stop-motion animation technique. At LAIKA, the puppet department is divided into sculpture, mold making, armature, casting, paint, hair, and costumes. Every single department works through the different stages of the puppet, so in the end, it will take around 30 people to build only one.
Having this amount of talented and dedicated people work on a specific job and perfecting it as much as possible is what makes LAIKA’s animations so stunning. They have absolutely transformed stop-motion animations. Each one of their films looks so real and unique that it is hard to believe that those extraordinary characters are puppets made by human hands.
Deborah Cook has had the amazing and incredible task of designing the most seamless costumes for the entire Laika universe. As the costume designer, she puts a lot of research into every character and understands how every single detail will speak on its own. Deborah is careful with the fabrication of each of the costumes and experiments with different materials to find the perfect fit for her tiny puppets.
“I just like the detail, I love the level of detail. You don’t get that on large scale costumes. We work so tiny but our character are blown up to the size of a live scale person on the screen” -Deborah Cook, Costume Designer. LAIKA Studios
After experimenting with fabrics and colours, and once the fitting is perfect it will be taken apart to have it as a reference to create all the duplicates. Each main character has around 20 duplicates, and every puppet has to look exactly the same for continuity purposes. The attention to detail that Deborah puts into her work has no comparison. Every button, seam, piping, trim or gather all is there to provide essence to the character and contribute to storytelling.
The ball gown scene in The Boxtrolls (2014) was the first time these animators were dealing with puppets dancing to the same rhythm, wearing Victorian costumes. Part of the creative process included shooting the scene with a group of professional dancers while having the main characters act around them. This choreography provided animators and designers with a glimpse of how the Victorian crinolines looked like and then figure a way of making their puppets look the same.
Deborah Cook designed these Victorian skirts and worked hand in hand with the armature department to build these metallic structures to go underneath and provide the desired movement. In the end, only the main characters and a couple of dancers were animated using stop-motion, the rest of the dancers were animated using CGI. Nonetheless, the computer animators had to make their characters look like the puppets already made.
The latest film LAIKA has created and one that has set the bar higher than ever in stop-motion animation is Missing Link (2019). In this film, one of the greatest challenges was creating the main character puppet, since his shape was clearly out of the ordinary and his movements were hard to articulate. The film is set by the end of the Victorian and entering the Edwardian era (1890-1910) which presented different challenges for its costumes. First of all, some interesting changes in fashion took place during this period (such as the use of trousers for women). In addition, the attention to detail was once again Deborah’s greatest accomplishment. Every fabric, thread, and trim used encompasses perfectly not only where the story is taking place but also who each character is made to perfection.
Animations will always continue to surprise and inspire us by the amount of talent, research and work they bring together. In the same way, stop-motion animations will forever have their place in our hearts due to the complexity of their creation. It is breath-taking to see the process that each one of these films undergoes in order to achieve that stunning final result. Still, in this technique of creating animations, character design and costume design go hand in hand. It is a creative process that cannot exist without the other, and in that sense, the importance of costume design is slowly being noticed by the audience as it deserves.
Thank you, Wallace and Gromit, Jack Skellington, Victor, Mr. Fox, Atari and Tracy, Coraline, and Mr. Link (among many others that I couldn’t include here). And so many thanks to the creative minds behind the magic of these amazing masterpieces, for bringing so much joy to our screens and by inspiring us to create with our hands the unimaginable.
Cracking Animation. Peter Lord and Brian Sibley. Aardman Animations. 2010
Since the beginning of animated movies, costumes have played an important role in the creation of the character as in any other form of film. Unlike live-action films where the process and team behind each costume a