Skip to main content

Creating Middle Earth: The Hobbits

J.R.R Tolkien's Middle Earth is a place of magic and wonder, a place of immortal creatures, warlike heroes and fair and virtuous maids. It's a land of legend, locked in an eternal strife between Good and Evil where kings clash with dark and malicious powers. And because of all this is, by nature, so far removed from us, the reader and the audience, it can be easy to look at it with cold detachment and not truly get invested in it. Or it would be if Tolkien hadn't placed a relatable heart at the center of the story.

That beating heart that drives the Trilogy is found in the humble and kind hobbits, whom in their non-magical essence and their gentle hearts and simple minds create a familiar link with the reader that guides him through Tolkien's mystical world.

It's the quiet and tranquil hobbits that lie at the emotional core of the story. But it's that same every-man quality of theirs that lies at the very center of this epic and its theme. Because of these, we decided it was high time we talked about them in this series.


Hobbits, the little people that tend The Shire, were so important to Tolkien that he dedicated an entire 21-pages long prologue to them. In it, Tolkien explained their culture and traditions in extensive detail. So, how do you translate that onto the screen? Doing a documentary/slash 20 minute prologue is completely out of the question, as a movie, you need to jump right into the story. So how do you solve this conundrum?

Well, through every cinematographic tool there is: production design, acting, script... and, of course, costume design.

And make no mistake, there is a lot of information being transmitted solely through their clothes. But before we get to how these are transmitted, we need to briefly look at exactly what needs to be transmitted.

So, what is a Hobbit? Hobbits are, according to Tolkien, small creature between two and four feet tall with big feet covered in curly hair with leathery soles. They tend to be stout with slightly pointed ears. They are a distant branch of the race of men.
I picture a fairly human figure, not a kind of 'fairy' rabbit as some of my British reviewers seem to fancy: fattish in the stomach, shortish in the leg. A round, jovial face; only slightly pointed and 'elvish'; hair short and curling (brown). The feet from the ankles down, covered with brown hairy fur.                      --- J.R.R Tolkien in a letter to his American Publisher--- 
But even more than their looks, it's particularly important to understand what defines Hobbits as a group. Hobbits are fond of an unadventurous, bucolic and simple life of farming, eating and socializing. And although their mildness would seem contrary to it, they will defend fervently and courageous their way of life when threatened. They eat around six meals a day and prefer simple and homemade food. They also love smoking pipe-weed.

With that in mind, we will look at how they managed to translate that into the costume through the quartet of hobbits in the saga.


In order to visually translate the habits and traditions of the Hobbits onto their costumes, Ngila Dickson had three main tools: style, color and fabric. And she makes the most out of it.

The first and most obvious tool she has is style itself. Probably, the most telling aspect of their designs is that they have nothing in common with the elegant and luxurious look of the elves (read more about it here) or the rough yet proud look of the men of Rohan (read more about it here). The style of the hobbits is simple and utilitarian. They are farmers, their costumes are made to work with them.

This means that all their outfits consists of work-pants, shirt and suspenders and a vest or jacket. This is clearly inspired by the traditional work clothes for the field. They are made to be comfortable, not pretty, which helps transmit both the idea that farming is an essential part of their lifestyle and that they are content in it.

This style is found in every single hobbit shown on screen, which helps highlight the idea that they are a tight community. The difference in personalities is mainly highlighted through fabric and color, but never through style.

And so, if the style and layering is the same for all, we'll need to focus more on how the differences are used to highlight not only the different personalities, but also to cover all the aspects and characteristics of their race, thus creating a true cultural spectrum.


If hobbits are simple people, Sam is the simplest of them all. He is kind, shy and dedicated. He cares not for riches but for love and everything green in this world. He might not seem much, but his heart alone would will the ring to destroy itself. And so his clothing reflects all that.

When you look at his clothes, you see wool, cotton and "poor" fabrics. Look at the jacket he is wearing in the frame above; it looks rough and not gentle to the touch. It's a work jacket. He is a hard working hobbit, and so his are the clothes of someone that breaks his back working day in day out.

Another important element is that you can clearly see that he gives no importance to his clothes. Unlike the leather canteen he carries around or the gigantic backpack that includes a set of pans and pots and other such essential tools when you set out to save the world... which he clearly cherishes and never once even separates from them until they are deep into Mordor.

This, if anything, highlights both the hobbits' dislike of adventure (he seems more worried about basic daily routines such as eating than the actual danger, at least when they depart towards Rivendell) and also underlines how essential is food and eating to their culture (beautifully rendered both in the second breakfast scene with Aragon and the "rabbit and potatoes" scene with Gollum).

Another key element of the hobbits that is mainly represented in Sam is their shyness. Sam doesn't enjoy attention, and has a strong aura of shyness about him. Which is marvelously integrated in his costume through color.

He mainly dresses in very muted and unobtrusive colors; brown for the trousers and desaturated beiges and greens and greys for the rest. Which certainly underlines the fact that he doesn't dress to call attention to himself. His palette perfectly blends in with the landscape he loves so much.

Aside from the color, you'll also notice that he is the only of the four main hobbits that actually wears plaid. Plaid shirts are usually worker's clothing. And it's the same for Sam. He is not rich, he is a worker.

Himself and his designs represents hobbits at its most humble and kind. Which is radically opposed in the aforementioned cultural spectrum to someone as, say, Frodo Baggins.


Frodo shares a lot of characteristics with Sam: a deep love for his home, love for his peers and a kind humility. But Frodo is not a worker. For starters, Frodo is quite rich for a hobbit (take into account that Bilbo took back a literal treasure back with him from his adventure with Smaug).

And how is that shown? Well, through fabric. He is usually dressed in much finer clothes than Sam. For instance, in the picture above, he is wearing green velvet trousers and a fine linen shirt, and both are much nicer than any of Sam's wool and cotton outfits. After all, Sam is his gardener and not the other way around.

He also has some richly patterned vests that are meant to visually indicate his higher economic status within the community.

But character wise, Frodo is also radically different than Sam. Frodo is much more insightful and thoughtful. He dedicates his time to reading on the outside world, and has a certain curiosity for knowing that Sam certainly doesn't share.

But he also is much more social than Sam (at least before the quest), and so his costumes are not made to blend in so much as Sam's. He doesn't mind being noticed.

Which brings us to his color palette: most of Frodo's outfits are in a rich and broad palette of browns, which heavily contrast with Sam's more muted and unobtrusive colors. Also, in that brown outfit, Frodo looks like one of his leather books, which beautifully ties into his more bookish personality.

And so, you can see how the designer found a clever way to visually differentiate the both of them whilst still having them wear a very similar style.


Merry and Pippin are a representation of hobbits at their most fun-loving and social. They enjoy life at its fullest and all its simple pleasures: they like eating, pranking, dancing and drinking. They are loud and vociferous. And so is their clothing.

Both Merry and Pippin regularly dress in rather bright and cheerful colors. Merry in rich yellows and ocres, and Pippin in blues, calling attention onto themselves rather gleefully.

Also, notice the difference between their clothing and Sam's. These two do not dress for work, but for the Pub.


And so, the four of them together, manage to represent the whole of Hobbit community both in look and personality. From the hardworking Sam to the funny and noisy Merry and Pippin. Because of this, we think that this was the perfect way to introduce both the hobbits as a race and the four main characters, which is really clever because it saves runtime, but still manages to transmit all the information that Tolkien wrote in that detailed prologue without ever bringing the story to a halt.


We hope you enjoyed this new entry and we'll see you next time. As always, tell you that we don't know what other designs from Lord of the Rings we will be covering yet. This functions more or less the same way that the Padme series works (improvising basically) but if you want to request any specific design from the Trilogy don't hesitate to contact us and tell us!


All the images of the dress used in this article (and many more) 
can be found in the amazing collection of movie costumes 


Popular posts from this blog

Burning Question: What's wrong with Belle's gown?

Since the first promotional pictures of Disney's new Live-Action remake of Beauty and the Beast hit the internet, there has been a lot of discussion around Belle's iconic ball gown. And, even months after its release in cinemas, there still continues to be a lot of buzz around it. Why? Mainly, because a lot of people feel that it is just doesn't look that good.
The thing is, Belle's animated yellow ball gown is, at this point, an iconic staple of animated cinema. Everybody knows it and everybody loves it. And, as a result, everybody can see the new one and say "this is not the costume I know". Therefore, everyone can compare it down to the smallest detail and see that it just doesn't quite look right.
Today, our goal will be to try and dissect the design in order to answer the burning question everyone has been asking themselves: what's so wrong with the "new" dress? Or, to put it bluntly, why is it so incredibly underwhelming?

This might n…

Disney's Cinderella(s) and the evolution of the "princess" aesthetics

Every girl, at some point in life, has wanted to be a princess. It has become undeniable that the concept of the "princess" is, for better or worst, inseparable from girlhood. We live in a "princesses" obsessed era, and we have for a long time now. And a lot has been said about it, with loud people yelling over the internet about the positive and negative aspects of it. So it was about time for us to join the yelling contest, I guess.
If we're going to talk about princesses, the logical place to go is to the Global Mogul Conglomerate that has led the trend and, in many ways, defined it: Disney. They have, undeniably, redefined the fairytale and have turned the term "princess" into a best selling Licensed Entertainment Character Merchandise.

The thing is, even though princesses have been part of the fairy tale canon for a very long time, they didn't become the central figure until Walt Disney placed them there.
In the tales that the Grimm Brothers…

The Costume Vault Anniversary!

Good day, beautiful readers!! First of all, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!

Today is a very special day for us, here at The Costume Vault. It's our anniversary!!! We're celebrating our third anniversary! Though to be honest, we didn't actually start this project seriously until last year... So, we're a three year old, with the experience of a one year old...? Oh, who cares. Today, three years ago, we published our first article ever. So, today is a day of celebration.
This project started out of a deep love for movies and costuming and a need to share that. And also boredom.... we had quite the free time back then, to be honest. But the project took off, and now we continue even when we don't have as much free time. But it's worth it, because we get to share our love for movies and costuming with you.
To this day, we've written sixty articles, most of which we are quite proud indeed. And what's even better, you seem to enjoy reading them…

The Dressmaker. Part I: A glamorous outsider

2015's The Dressmaker is the wet dream of any costume lover in all of its 120 minutes of runtime. The Aussie film directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse is the adaptation of the Rosalie Ham's homonymous novel. After quite an impressive run in the Festival Circuit (it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival) and garnishing numerous nominations and wins worldwide, it finally got a theatrical release, becoming a box office success and the 11th highest-grossing film of all time in its home country.

So there certainly was a lot of hype around it when we finally got to see it and had a lot of expectations to live up to. ABOUT THE MOVIE So, is the movie actually that good? ... Sort of? Well, it's complicated. That's our official review tagline: it's complicated. The thing is; the movie has a ton of problems of all sorts. A lot of it doesn't work, but what does work, works really well.
Let's start with the negatives. First of all, the movie is a tonal shipwrec…

Remembering Janet Patterson

This past October, Costume Designer Janet Patterson, passed away. The four-time Oscar Nominee passing was somehow quite unexpected and very much ignored by much of the mainstream media, which is such an incredible shameful thing on their part.
As a 19th century specialist, her work is rather brief (restraining itself to movie focused on that period of time). But that makes it no less impressive as it is, as it includes such costume design masterpieces as ThePiano (Jane Campion, 1993), The Portrait of a Lady (Jane Campion, 1996), " Oscar and Lucinda (Gillian Armstrong, 1997), Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009) and Far from the madding crowd (Thomas Vinterberg, 2015), which we actually included in our Favorite Costume Designs of 2015 list (read here).
What all of her movies share, and in great part thanks to her, is an incredible sense of realism and sensibility. And, because of it, her work has become one of the best examples that accurate historical costume does not detract from th…