Costume Society Ambassadors, News  |  February 21, 2015

Getting into Character: Fashion from Film

Actors are exceptionally lucky. Through their work they not only learn so much about historic costume, they actually get to experience what it feels like to wear the clothes. I’m thinking, of course, about the big costume dramas - the films that are lavishly produced with every attention to period detail - but sometimes even the most innocuous costumes become iconic and are filtered onto the High Street and into the wardrobes of film fans. 

In the cult 1987 film Withnail and I, Withnail’s tweed coat (fig.1) is based on a 19th century riding coat and made from a specially commissioned Harris Tweed. Withnail’s coat has been on my fantasy shopping list for about 10 years. Sadly for me, the real Withnail coat was purchased at auction by the DJ Chris Evans, and is rumoured to have been destroyed in a quad bike accident. Disastrous. But the lack of the ‘real thing’ has never put me off, and I am always in a state of high alert when perusing likely-looking vintage emporiums and jumble sales. So it was a couple of weeks ago when I seized on a very Withnail-esque tweed coat (fig.2) in a Glasgow shop for the princely sum of £10 (it goes without saying that I’ll wear it to recite Hamlet in the rain, in true Withnail style). 

Actually owning a ‘Withnail coat’ has made me think of all the other clothes still languishing on my fantasy film fashion shopping list: Penny Lane’s green coat from Almost Famous (fig.3); almost everything the Eliott sisters wear from series two onwards in The House of Eliott (fig.4); absolutely everything everyone wears in Bright Young Things (fig.5); and, if I’m being very honest, everything from the fashion show scene in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (fig.6). It is true that my personal style has been deeply influenced by the clothes I see on screen, certainly much more so than the clothes I see in magazines, in shops, or on other people, and I do think that the true influence of costume designers on the contemporary fashion industry is rather underrated. In an ideal world the High Street manufacturers would recognise the huge market for costume-inspired fashion, but then we wouldn’t have the fun of trawling second hand shops for treasures.

As we approach the 2015 Oscars, it will be fascinating to see if any of the designs from the list of Best Costume Design nominees make it from the screen to the street, and if I have room for any of them on my already exhaustive fantasy film fashion shopping list!

The nominees for Best Costume Design at the 2015 Oscars are:

The Grand Budapest Hotel Milena Canner
Inherent Vice Mark Bridges
Into the Woods Colleen Atwood
Maleficent Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive
Mr. Turner Jacqueline Duran

  • 1) Withnail and I 187
  • 2) My prized new Withnail coat
  • 3) Penny Lanes coat from Almost Famous
  • 4) The Elliot Sisters
  • 5) Bright Young Things
  • 6) Don't Tell Mom the Babysitters Dead