Film Costume Guide


Here are some movies that have inspired me, and that you can view for Costume ideas. I have tried to include a picture and brief description of each, and will hopefully fill out the missing pieces over time.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The first of many films on this list Costumed by Eiko Ishioka, Dracula features costumes that act as sets, according to director Francis Ford Coppola. For years I didn’t care for the film, but I kept going back to it, and then, one day, I decided I liked it. Weirdly cast and strangely made, the film is generally unsettling. Also, Monica Bellucci pops up (out of the bed!) in one of her first films!

Eiko Ishioka’s famous wedding dress from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, Voyage of the Dawn Treader) are all fantasy family films. The costumes for all three films are by Isis Mussenden, and she gets particularly creative with the Witch and Prince Caspian. Isis has a great knack for men’s shirts, and each is quite cool, and none seem to repeat in cut or design.

Prince Caspian. Costume by Isis Mussenden.

The witch, witching it up, witch style.

The Curse of the Golden Flower

The Curse of the Golden Flower is one of my favorite movies. It is an opulent, violent film about two monarchs duking it out over the kingdom. While the Emperor tries his darndest to look and act as if everything is perfect, his mind, kingdom and family rot away from the inside. Costumes by Chung Man Yee, using real gold fabric in the Emperor and Empress’s attire!

The Curse of the Golden Flower. Costumes by Chung Man Yee.

I’ve heard many a costumer doubt the historical authenticity of the high level of bodice popping going on here, but I assure you, I’ve visited the Chinese section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and giddy bosoms were all the rage during this period.

The Duchess

The Duchess of Devonshire becomes a prisoner in her own home when she is unable to bear a son, and some other stuff happens while everyone wears big costumes and wigs.  Michael O’Connor re-creates the late 1700s marvelously with his costumes.

The Duchess. Costumes by Michael O’Connor

Kiera Knightley, lookin’ all sad because she can’t bear no boy childs.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Costumes based solely on the emotions of the characters (and mise-en-scene)  fill out this fantastical Elizabethan drama.  Alexandra Byrne uses historical costuming structures and styles, and then runs wild and free with fabrics and ideas, creating a stunningly beautiful world.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Costumes by Alexandra Byrne.

Elizabeth, the Fairy Queen, out seeking justice, truth, beauty and some other junk.

The Fall

This wide reaching, terrifically sad film features double-take inducing costumes by Eiko Ishioka, as well as the most amazing locations ever caught on a film that isn’t a documentary.

The Fall. Costumes by Eiko Ishioka.

With a hat like this, who needs enemies!?

“It says all that in this tiny locket?”

The Immortals

The Immortals is a fantastic looking film, with many beautiful costumes, excitingly unique armor and ridiculous hats. Everything is once again designed by Eiko Ishioka. The violence in the film is pretty extreme, however, but the whole thing is so over the top that it blends in well with everything else. For some reason the Immortals keep dying, which is a total oxymoron, but then they all appear alive at the end, so maybe not. I don’t know. Extreme sets, costumes, bodies, violence, locations and creepy monsters make the film fun to look at, and the actors are well cast, but there isn’t much there to involve the you emotionally.

Its Maxfield Parrish come to life in this Immortals still featuring Ares and Athena in clothing by Eiko Ishioka.

Henry Cavill donning pantaloons in the ancient world.

Athena arrives with dancing horses — (nerd alert) though this is a little bit dubious, mythologically speaking, as Poseidon is generally accompanied by horses and Athena by owls.

The Legend of the Seeker

The Legend of the Seeker is a fantasy television series which features some fairly awe inspiring, as well as some fairly pedestrian, costumes by Jane Holland — and you never know which type will show up next!

The leads all have pretty cool hero costumes, and the villains (Rahl and Denna/Mord Sith) have really spectacular costumes going on. The first season of Legend of the Seeker is great drama all around, whereas the second season falls fairly flat — however the first season is entirely self-contained, so you don’t have to watch the second one unless you want to catch the delightful performance of Cara by Tabrett Bethell — who pretty much steals the show from three charismatic leads, and makes the lame “everyone-dies-every-single-episode” thing more tolerable.

Legend of the Seeker. Costumes by Jane Holland.

Craig Horner, the charistmatic lead of Legend of the Seeker.

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings is a fine example of film costuming, with every fantastical-place and race having intricately detailed histories built into the garments and armor. The films separate boy stuff and girl stuff with their costume designers, with costumer Ngila Dickson (a girl) doing the clothing and dresses and Richard Taylor (a boy) designing the arms and armor.

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Costumes by Ngila Dickson and Richard Taylor.

Arwen learned at an early age that all of life’s problems could easily be solved by simply paying a visit to her local library. It’s all in books!

Marie Antoinette

This slice-of-life costume drama tells the story of a naive Marie Antoinette, who buys junk while the world falls apart outside (never shown). The costumes are amazing, which I can’t stress enough. They almost distract from the drama! The nigh-legendary Milena Canonero is the costume designer.

Marie Antoinette. Costumes by Milena Canonero.

Mirror, Mirror

Forged by a group of four-year-old princesses deep within the fires of Candy Mountain comes Tarsem’s “Mirror, Mirror”. It is a fairly silly movie. However, it sticks to its tone, and never falters, which makes the movie work better than I thought it would. The costumes by Eiko Ishioka are really quite amazing, even if they, like the rest of the film, aim for a more comedic tone.

My major objection comes to “girl-powering” up Snow White in the film. Making Snow White more empowered is exactly the same thing as making Conan the Barbarian more in touch with his emotions, it doesn’t work, and while it’s all done under the guise of making Fairy Tales more “accessible”, I think the Fairy Tales can manage very well without the help.  These things don’t last hundreds of years because they’re inaccessible, and just because a woman is in distress, or put-upon, or deposed or usurped, it doesn’t mean she is weak. Luckily, we always have the book. Personally, I would have loved to have seen Snow White take a bite of that apple and add some real stakes to “Mirror, Mirror”.

Mirror Mirror. Costumes by Eiko Ishioka.


This weird and strangely enjoyable film tells the story of a man who lives for hundreds of years, and somewhere, during the course, turns into a woman. You will see costumes spanning a large amount of European history. The costumes are by Sandy Powell and Dien van Straalen, though I am unaware of how they divided the work (by century perhaps?).

Orlando. Costumes by Sandy Powell and Dien van Straalen.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Do not watch this film. There is no reason you would want to burden yourself with the knowledge that the costume designer Colleen Atwood has better taste then you will ever have. Nor should you ever have to subject your eyes to the film that this photographer thinks is the most beautifully shot film ever made, thus destroying your chances of ever finding a film beautiful again. Avoid the tragic and hilarious performance of Meryl Streep (it does not end well) and ignore the best over-the-top performance in Jim Carrey’s career. There is nothing but sadness and a series of rather unfortunate events if you ignore this warning, and decide to view the film anyway.

A Series of Unfortunate Events. Costumes by Colleen Atwood.

Sleepy Hollow

This movie is cool. It’s like if Sherlock Holmes was a pansy-ass detective solving a Scooby Doo type mystery in the Rococo. Fantastic other-worldy (though still historical) costume designs by that woman of infinite taste, Colleen Atwood. Highly recommended on all fronts, Story, Acting, Design, Photography.

Sleepy Hollow. Costumes by Colleen Atwood.

Miranda Richardson acting alongside herself, and wearing one of the coolest dresses in the film. (There’s lots of sneaking up behind people played by Miranda Richardson with axes in this film.)

Star Wars (Episode I, II, III)

Hearkening back to our own days of yore, the Star Wars universe’s past is costumed with opulence and over-the-top fashions. Costumer Trisha Biggar is  a textile artist, using every type of fabric known to man  and inventing under-garment structures to support her gowns. Headdresses, samurai robes, monsters — she does it all.

The films are kind of all over the place veering from stately senatorial debates to wild chase scenes, with sights and sounds crammed into every corner of the frame, but when Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor comes to power, the series finally gains its foothold — which is maintained, strangely enough, in the very good tv-series prequel/middle-quel The Clone Wars.

Star Wars III. Costumes by Trisha Biggar.

The Three Musketeers

Mixing a wide ranging assortment of fashions in beautiful colors, The Three Musketeers is one of those fun mindless entertainments that takes a beloved story and adds lots of leather and airships. Some impressive sights include the King’s clothing, which I think is hilarious and awesome, Christopher Waltz getting in touch with his inner Ginger Rogers by executing the impressive feat of sword-fighting backwards in high-heels, Logan Lerman’s hair extensions (?), Juno Temple putting in a delightful turn, emotions just bubbling under the surface, and Milla Jovovich beating people up in period undergarments (Finally! One Hundred and Twelve years of cinema and this is our first period undergarment fight!)

In fact, everybody other than the Three Musketeers is so fun and interesting that one hardly remembers them after the movie is over. The film features one my favorite costumes of all time on the spectacular Orlando Bloom who plays the eeeeeeevil Duke of Buckingham, twirling his mustache with a delightful supercilious sneer, shootin’ his guns, lookin’ remarkably like the historical man he’s playing. At first I was disappointed that they went with a cliffhanger ending, until I realized that’s both what happened Historically and in the book (without the airships of course.)

Orlando Bloom in the Three Musketeers.

Orlando Bloom in the Three Musketeers.


One of my favorite costumes ever, with the purple and the cloak and the rebato… the hair and the mustache. Man… he’s livin’ the dream.


Topsy-Turvy is one of my favorite films. It’s a slice-of-life period film by Mike Leigh that follows the entire Savoy Opera company as Gilbert and Sullivan devise and stage the famous play, “The Mikado”. Costumes by Lindy Hemming. Not only does the film feature beautiful Victorian garments, but it also recreates all the costumes for three separate operas which are featured in the film. It’s a tour-de-force feat in nearly all aspects of filmmaking, acting and costuming. I personally think the film is hilarious, but I’ve never met anyone else who feels the same way.

I forget the punishment for compassing the death of the Heir Apparent. Something lingering, with boiling oil in it, I fancy. Something of that sort… I know it’s something humorous, but lingering, with either boiling oil or melted lead.

Virgin Territory

This is seriously my favorite costume film. The film is all about beauty, fashion and sensuality, and features costumes by the renowned designer Roberto Cavalli. The women are staggeringly gorgeous in their gowns, and the guys have a swagger in their cool outfits which were designed specifically for the masculine frame. This film is populated with free roaming breasts, as well, so don’t watch it with your mother.

Virgin Territory. Costumes by Roberto Cavalli.

Bosoms. Nuff said.

Darth Vader gettin’ nekkid to seduce the ladies…

The Young Victoria

While the costumes are a big draw, the film is so romantic and beautiful that I was transported away from this life and never wanted to stop watching Queen Victoria and her Prince live happily ever after. Costumes by Sandy Powell.

The Young Victoria. Costumes by Sandy Powell.

2 Responses to “Film Costume Guide”

  1. Tristan Vick November 3, 2011 at 5:16 am #

    Was this one too disturbing to make the list?

    • tysonvick November 3, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

      Hello! Obviously everything Eiko Ishioka does is pretty cool! But “The Cell”, like many other films, only has one or two really good costumes. It’s never really inspired *me*, and after all, that’s what this list is about! I draw ideas from the films listed for a lot of the things I make!

      Tarsem and Eiko Ishioka’s “Immortals” and “Snow White” will probably be on here someday, just from looking at the previews, but we’ll find out for sure once those films are released!

      By the way, “The Curse of the Golden Flower” is hard to top for “disturbing” films, and so I can assure you, that is not something that keeps me away!

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