Costumes maketh the character

Costume designers are underrated. While directors are celebrated, who remembers the person who designed the characters’ clothes and yet clothes are important to who we and what we want to project to the world. We might not consciously notice the message being sent by a costume.


There has been much written about the use of colour in Breaking Bad and it is a deliberate attention to detail by director Vince Gilligan,  created by designer Jennifer Bryan. Sisters, Marie and Skylar are good examples. Marie’s signature colour is purple both in her clothes and in her home – she’s a bit quirky, a bit ditzy.  Skylar often wears blue but her home is full of earthy tones of brown and cream. She’s down to earth, serious, she has lots of things to worry about.


Big reveal Cinderella moments -think of Grease when Olivia appears in leather and Travolta goes homely.  A more subtle example is UnReal.  At the beginning of season two, Rachel and Quinn are aligned and Quinn is handing over the producing reigns to Rachel. Quinn always looks professional, smooth and streamlined and Rachel starts to dress like her, but in her own style.  When it all goes pear-shaped Rachel returns to her usual dress – another character referred to her looking like a homeless person. In one scene I see a hole in her t-shirt. That is attention to detail.


The Ban the burqa mob and the days of measuring the length of swimming costumes on the beach make it clear that clothes can be politically and morally charged.  The Hunger Games is a great example of politics in costume.  Cinna’s designs deliberately give the middle finger to the Capitol. His final design, the Mockingjay outfit, is his last contribution to Katniss’s role as the subversive Mockingjay.  In some ways, the costumes groom Katniss is the way we understand the politicians are groomed to please an audience of voters. Conversely, contestants outfits before they enter the arena are clues to what the will face.


Sometimes costume designers just make us sigh and fall in love with clothes all over again. We recently went to see Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries costumes as designed by Marion Bryce at Old Government House at QUT. The pictures are all you need.

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