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Costumes in movies and TV series

28 October 2022 • Filed under movie costumes

I already announced some time ago on Instagram that I would like to tell you about costumes, specifically those of The Rings of Power (although it is only the first article of a long series that I would like to do about different films or series.)
Before starting, however, I would like to clarify that what I write about this topic, it’s only from my point of view and that I am neither a student nor a costume design professional, but only passionate about costumes.

So here’s an introduction on what I consider to be important and distinguishes a costume in cinema or TV based on my knowledge as a simple “fan.”

So: what defines a costume in the cinema and what characteristics would we expect it to have (which are not far from those of one or more outfits made by an image consultant for a client)?

A costume generally is:
– Consistent with the character: his/her personality, appearance, role, job or occupation
– Consistent with the society in which he/she lives: customs, traditions, history, values, etc.
– Consistent with the world in which he/she lives: climate, nature, atmospheric events
– Consistent with the story that takes place in the movie: scene changes, adventures, if is it possible to wash or repair clothes, etc.

If the costume respects all the previous points, then it will probably be credible and therefore on the character wearing it it will NOT look as a costume but as a REAL dress, worn plausibly in the situations that the person faces.

Put simply, we’re not going to get that terrible feeling (which we sometimes get in some bad movie) that we’re watching people disguised as characters.
The actors will seem to us exactly what they are playing, so much in their role that we could not think of them in any other role.

To achieve this effect, both the aesthetics and even more the functionality of the costume and what it communicates to the viewer are important.
In fact, clothing is a powerful non-verbal means of communication and in cinema it is used to convey messages to the viewer without the need for them to be verbally expressed.
If it is made and used well, therefore, it becomes an integral and coherent part of the plot.

A costume is characterized, like an outfit of a real person, by:
– Shapes and lines
– Fabrics (fiber, weight, texture, luster, texture etc.)
– Colors
– Decorations, workmanship and details

These are aspects that define the costume individually, but logically it will be placed in a broader context and put in relation with the costumes of the other characters, with the environment, etc. as mentioned above.

It is logical that depending on the character, his/her role and his/her actions, some aspects such as practicality can take a back seat (a queen will always have a less practical and more aesthetic and symbolic dress than a waitress).
However, functionality, understood as a dress that performs the task for which it was created (fighting, showing wealth, inspiring trust, etc.) remains the most important aspect.

The costume is also a fundamental and essential tool for an actor/actress to play his/her part.
It helps him/her to immerse himself/herself in the character and often the actor/actress himself/herself, studying and getting more and more in tune with the character, has his/her costume changed to make it even more believable or, even, he/she himself/herself designs it with the costume designer.

Viggo Mortensen before the start of filming of The Lord of the Rings wore the Aragorn costume many times at home, to go walking and riding with the result of making it, even before shooting the scenes, worn, softened by activity and to feel extremely comfortable wearing it.
(Here are some interesting facts about it:

Gandalf’s costume was also broken and mended in several places precisely because it had to be consistent with the story of the character who wore it, who had used it to travel far and wide, riding and walking throughout Middle-earth.

There are other aspects about movies’ costumes that should be added but I think it is less boring to discover them by analyzing concrete examples rather than writing a long theoretical article.
So in the next article I’ll start with the analyzes.


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