Up until now I've been focusing exclusively on Peggy Carter, our amazing lead in ABC's canceled Agent Carter, but this retrospective wouldn't be complete unless I also focussed on the wide array of supporting characters that make Peggy's adventures that much more amazing. One must take into account that she is as defined by her own personality as she is by the world around her. But, because there are just so many amazing characters to talk about, in this third entry I am going to just focus on the men in her life and how are they defined through costume design.
Why the men? Well, she works in a world of men and, therefore, she is, more often than not, surrounded by men.
Before starting, take into consideration that it would have been very easy, considering they are working with a TV budget and that these are supporting characters, to simply dress them all in standard 1940's suits and call it a day. Instead, the designer chose to use the possibilities the period offered her to visually define every single one of the supporting male characters. It's such attention to detail what makes this show great.
EDWIN JARVIS: THE HELPER
Edwin Jarvis is the overly attentive, British butler of Howard Stark, and the usual sidekick for Peggy's adventures. He's a polite gentleman, caring, and responsible. Also, working for Stark, he is a well-paid employee, which means that he can actually afford to dress classy.
But let's break all that down. First of all, he's British. And accordingly, he's dressed in a totally distinctive way from all the rest of the American male characters. He is, therefore, visually defined by an overtly European style. That is achieved by dressing him in tweed suits (which Britain is famous for) and the occasional subtle plaid.
He's also the man in charge of Stark's affairs, which means that he has to dress up for work. He needs to look polished; which perfectly explains the choice of dressing him always in costume-made 3-piece suits which are finely tailored. After all, millionaire Howard Stark wouldn't allow his butler to go around in a cheap suit.
But despite having access to that luxury, he is not rich, and therefore he doesn't have a large closet. He suits might be really nice, but he has only a handful of them and he goes back and forth between them. Which is a nice detail for his character. He's classy and elegant, but he is not rich nor spoiled.
In the end, with a couple neat 3-piece tweed suits, the designer manages to reflect both his British roots and visually differentiate him from the rest of the male characters.
HOWARD STARK: THE PLAYER
Howard Stark is a millionaire inventor, engineer, movie director, businessman and founder of Stark Industries. He is also a cocky womanizer, an eccentric genius and an egocentric yet charming jerk (much like son). He's a self-made man. Born to poverty, Stark has raised himself to the top. He's a rebel.
THE SSR'S MEN
With Jarvis and Stark out of the way, it's time to focus on the men of the SSR. Most of them are outfitted with more typical American suits for the period: pleated and cuffed high-waisted pants, wide lapels, and short, wide ties. But let's have an individual look at each one of them.
Chief Dooley is a middle-age, war veteran that leads his team with a strong hand. He's a very fatherly figure, but rather condescending towards Peggy. It's not that he thinks she's useless, but he has this very conservative view that a woman shouldn't be in a position where she could get hurt. And as a way to reflect that conservative mindset and the fatherly aspect of his figure, he's dressed in a very classic and mature style for the period: a double-breasted suit.
Such a choice makes perfect sense; it's an iconic look for the American '40s, but also a power statement much suited for his position as Chief.
Also, note that, unlike Stark, he never shows up without a tie. He does things properly, as "God intended" as he himself would say.
But he is not alone in the office. Jack Thompson is the up and comer. He's much younger and much more ambitious than the boss. He's after Dooley's position, and, therefore, he always dresses to impress. And so, he's generally presented sporting a single-breasted suit coupled with suspenders, a look that, at the time, was considered more fashion-forward and edgy and was favored by the up and coming young stars of Hollywood such as Alan Ladd.
It's only logical, Thompson dresses in a "new" edgy style, whilst Dooley favors the "old" classy style, therefore posing a clear visual difference between the two. It's old versus new.
The designs for Thompson certainly underline his confidence in his own abilities and himself. Something that Daniel Sousa certainly doesn't have as much.
Sousa is a broken soldier. He returned from the war with a serious leg injury that left him crippled. So he has relatively restricted mobility, which heavily affects his self-confidence. Because of this, his style is much less edgy than Thompson's, usually sporting simple pleated pants and a sweater vest under his sport coat.
It's all about comfort for him. His leg makes things complicated enough for him to dress uncomfortably. Also, his physical vulnerability stirs him away from the "macho" stereotype, turning him into the most approachable male character in the office for Peggy. By choosing such a style for him, that approachability is very effectively transmitted to the audience through the designs alone.
This style is carried through to season 2 with light changes, mainly due to the weather. And so, as he moves to L.A, Sousa vanquishes the comfortable and warm vest in favor of a shirt and summer jacket. It's a necessary change. Still, his overall look continues to be approachable and comfortable.
The last member of the SSR offices is Ray Krzeminski. He is quite the opposite of Sousa. He is a bully. He is big, violent and inconsiderate. And, appropriately, he dresses in a much more careless style: sport jacket and open-collar shirts that, most of the time, are badly pressed and stained with food. He is a slob; the kind of guy that doesn't care at all about how he looks at all. He's all brawn and no brain.
Everything about how this guy looks screams at carelessness and tactlessness, which helps define a character that doesn't get much screen time but is still necessary for the story.
In the end, the designer manages to transmit a lot simply by twigging with details: add suspenders, add a vest, remove a tie... etc. These are really simple designs. But they work. The characters and their personalities set the route the designs will take, and in return, the designs help create the character in the audience's mind.
It's a masterful lesson in male costuming. Designing for male characters (at least any male character set in the 20th or 21st century) is probably the hardest task for many, because it needs to be much more toned down and subtle that female costuming and male costuming simply doesn't have as many elements to play with. But Giovanna Ottobre-Melton shows us just how much can be achieved with so little.
As of now, there's only one article left to write in this Agent Carter retrospective, and it will focus on the designs for the female supporting characters., thus wrapping up the series. See you next time!
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