Skip to main content

The Dressmaker. Part II: Makeover fever

The dressmaker, despite its many flaws, is a fascinating movie to look at. And what makes it particularly interesting for me, is that it's a movie where the Costume Design happens to be what drives most of the visual narrative of the story.

Last week I had a look at Tilly's costume (by Margot Wilson) and how these define her and her arc throughout the movie, but, no matter how impressive Tilly's wardrobe is, it's only one half of the picture. It's Marion Boyce's work on the townsfolk around our main character that completes this mesmerizing ensemble. Because of it, I feel it would be unfair to ignore this other half and therefore chose to divide this into two parts in order to better develop each of the sides.

And so, without further ado, let's dive into the other half of this equation.

DUNGATAR AND THE MAKEOVER FEVER

Dungatar is a fictional run-down street of houses in the middle of the Australian outback that tries to disguise itself as a town. It's uncared for, dusty, bleak... a complete backwater of the civilized world. And so are it's inhabitants.


When we meet them, this pack of half-starved rednecks (not my definition, but the movie's) is hardly anything to look at. These are forgotten people; people whose very lives are never going to mean anything to anyone outside this dingy hellhole. And they are dressed as such.


They are all dressed in earthy, bleak tones and a tea-colored palette matched with cotton pinafores and smocks and rough-spoon aprons. And what that does, is blend them into the desolated landscape, whilst also visually unifying them as to highlight their close-minded community and traditions. What their costume design does is turn them into the visual representation of their town. It also backs up the feeling of utter and complete alienation from the rest of the world. These very basic and bland costumes also add a certain sense of barrenness and decay, as to hint that only bad weeds survive out here.

These clothes, their regular clothes, are the complete opposite of what Tilly offers them. That's why her return creates such a shattering change in the community. What she offers, is to bring their biggest, most secret dreams and desires to live in the form of her fabulous gowns.

These people also have dreams and aspirations and ambitions. And that's what Tilly does with the clothes she creates for them; it panders to their vanity, their desires and their true natures. And that's something Marion Boyce truly manages to capture through her "Tilly-made" costumes.


These costumes are giving them the opportunity to transport them out of their bleak lives. It allows them the opportunity to become who they always wanted to be. It's all about the transformative powers of costume. And I guess that's why so many costume lovers grabbed a hold of this movie (myself included).

Also, it creates such a contrasting image; to see these women wearing incredible costumes (costumes that should belong to movie stars) in this barren wasteland. It certainly creates a very striking image. It's almost like a professional photographer's portfolio.


Because of this, I wasn't that surprised to learn that that's exactly where the inspiration for that visual clash came. Marion Boyce has repeatedly talked about taking Richard Avedon's photoshoots as a heavy influence.

For those who don't know, Richar Avedon was the most influential photographer in shaping our notions of how a "fashion photoshoot" should look. His work became very distinguishable in his approach to landscape: always placing high couture models in places where they didn't belong.


To look deeper into these Tilly-gowns designs, I am going to focus on the character of Gertrude, who, because of time restrictions, its the only of the town's women to have a full visual arc of her own.

She begins her journey as the "plain Jane" of Dungatar; a meek, bleak, unremarkable creature that mops around trying to get an ounce of attention. That is until Tilly offers her a chance to change.


And what that change does, basically, is turn Gertrude into what she pictures herself to be. The dress that Tilly sews for her allows her to become who she's always wanted to be: the belle of the ball.


It was at this point in the movie when I fully grasped just how much of an essential element costuming was in this movie. Thematically speaking. Costume, in the movie, becomes a tool for these characters to reflect their true natures. For instance, Gertrude, despite always looking like a plain Jane, really has the spirit of a popular/mean girl, and Tilly's costumes allow her to become exactly that.


And so, what started as a sort of Cinderella story, rapidly leaves way to a mean girl story. Tilly's costumes allow her to become the bossy pretty girl that runs the town. Which I think it's a very original idea; just sticking to the Cinderella approach feels so overplayed at this point... and it also allows Gertrude to become a truly dynamic character in the story whilst giving a darker twist to the whole "costume transforms" idea of the movie. It can transform you, but the transformation isn't always good.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN

Thankfully, there are other inhabitants in Dungatar beyond this nest of Divas and self-involved women. Most prominently, there's Tilly's mother, Teddy and Sargent Farrat, the three of whom, conform Tilly's close circle of friends.

Molly Dunnage, as we first meet her, is introduced to us as "crazy molly"; living in a shit-hole and barely leaving her bed. She's a hermit, an outcast from the Dungatar "society". She is someone who has given up on life; having drunk herself to mental illness and unable to even remember she had a daughter to begin with.


And, accordingly, she's dressed in rather shabby clothes; ragged nightgowns and stinky blankets. But, as she slowly starts to remember (thanks to Tilly's insistence), she starts to dress a little less shabby as well.


It's her rekindled relationship with her daughter, in the end, what brings her back from her self-inflicted madness. And I think it's very touching that the last thing she manages to do before dying is asking Tilly to sew something for her.


Not something glamorous or sexy; the suit Tilly does for her is stylish but elegant and very sober. It's a very beautiful symbolic way of giving her back the dignity that the town stole from her.

Then there's Teddy, sweet Teddy; Tilly's love interest. Unfortunately, costume wise, there's actually little to say because his wardrobe (as well as his character) is very basic.


All in all, it's a very middle of the road nice/sexy guy look. But, the character itself has little else to offer besides good looks and charm. So it was a lost cause to begin with.

Last but not least, is Sargent Farrat; a cross-dressing police officer who becomes friends with Tilly. Despite the charm and spark of the character, it's practically impossible not to think of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert when he appears in a scene, particularly because he's played by Hugo Weaving as well.


Unfortunately, costume-wise, he's a bit underused, as he spends most of the movie in his police uniform, only actually cross-dressing once in the movie. It's at the very beginning, as the character gets introduced, we see him trying on a skirt and a hat over his uniform.


And yet, his character serves as another example of the movie's theme: costume reveals character. Him sticking to his uniform is a great visual representation of his character: he is forced to bend to the town's will in all aspects of his work and life much the same way that he is forced to wear that uniform. That's why it's especially telling that he chooses to resign the job wearing a "torero" suit.


By doing that, he is refusing conventionality and accepting his true self exclusively through his costume choice.

CONCLUSION

In the end, that's the beauty of The dressmaker. Despite all its flaws as a movie, it still finds a beating heart through its thematically original approach to costume. This, in the end, is a movie about the power of costume to define and redefine people. Costume as a shield, as a fantasy and as a way to reveal true personality.

It's a beautiful ode to designers and seamstresses around the world. An assertion of costume-making as something more than vain pandering to women. A statement about the importance of owning one's personality and style. An invitation to express ourselves through costuming.

A love letter to fashion.

Read Part I here

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

If you enjoyed this article and would like to support the blog, 
consider buying me a Coffee? 💛💛

If you want more content like this, subscribe! Or come say hi on FacebookTumblrTwitterInstagram and help us grow!

DISCLAIMER: I claim no credit for images featured on this site unless noted. Visual content is copyrighted to its respective owners, and inclusion here is under fair use for criticism, comment, and news reporting purposes. If you own the rights to content here and wish it removed, please contact me.

Comments

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, my 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?

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 me to join the yelling contest, I guess. If I'm 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 G

Historic Accuracy in Costume Design: The 16th century

I've never been a purist with historical accuracy as long as the changes made have real reasoning behind (generally a narrative or symbolic one). I will always think that La reine Margot (1994) costume design is one of the most gorgeous and smart designs ever, even if said designs' main premise is to purposely bend the period in regards to costume. But there are certain things that bother me in regards to historical accuracy in costume which I realized when I found myself constantly irritated while watching The other Boleyn Girl (2008). This led me to post a question: when is it right to bend history? why is it interesting sometimes? whilst other times it's simply horrendous? To me, when these changes are made for the narrative's sake, I'm usually on board (like the 2012's "Anna Karenina" designs, which mixed the 1870's fashion with 1950's fashion in order to enhance the sense of theatricality and falsehood in Imperial Russia). But wh

Crimson Peak: Dressing Edith Cushing. The Butterfly

"Beautiful things are fragile" - Lucille Sharpe - Opposite Lucille stands our main character in the movie: Edith Cushing, a young and naive American with ambitions to become a writer. She meets and falls in love with a handsome and charming, but impoverished, English baronet: Sir Thomas Sharpe. They eventually marry and return to England, to the Sharpe's dilapidated mansion: Allerdale Hall. There they live with Thomas's sister: Lucille. The deadly apparitions that haunt the house will force Edith to slowly uncover the buried secrets of Crimson Peak. And so, Edith is to become a fragile butterfly caught in a moth's trap. PART II: THE BUTTERFLY Edith has considerably more frocks and gowns than Lucille does. It's only logical. Edith is our protagonist and, as such, has a bigger emotional arc throughout the movie, and she undergoes bigger changes. These are, in part, expressed through the costumes she wears and how these change throughout the mo

A look into Star Wars: Padme's Dresses. Annex B

Love her or hate her, Padme and her costumes can never be far from our minds. They are too iconic, and probably one of the few memorable aspects of the prequels, so it's really fun to talk about them. And so, I've decided to continue what I started and focus on the costumes I left behind from Episode II . So let's dive back into it! A BRIEF REMINDER What are the Annexes? Well, the Annexes focus on all the costumes that were "left behind" in my selection of Padme Costumes for the A look into Star Wars: Padme's Dresses series. Here, I point out influences, likes, and dislikes, and anything that might feel relevant whilst digging into the gigantic wardrobe of this Galactic Queen. With this out of the way, let's go! ANNEX B: THE ATTACK OF THE CLONES Episode II: The Attack of the Clones brings the character and her designs to a completely different level; she is not a queen anymore, which unfortunately means that she no longer has amazingly weird an

Crimson Peak: Dressing Lady Lucille Sharpe. The Moth

"At home, we have only black moths. Formidable creatures, to be sure, but they lack beauty. They thrive on the dark and the cold." - Lucille Sharpe - CRIMSON PEAK is Guillermo del Toro's new film. Released this past October, the movie is written by del Toro himself and Mathew Robbins (who has also collaborated with the likes of Spielberg and Lucas throughout his career). The movie aims to be a gothic romance movie through and through, and it stars Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain. The story goes as follows: Edith Cushing, a young budding American author, meets and falls in love with a handsome and charming but impoverished English baronet: Sir Thomas Sharpe. They eventually marry and return to England, to the Sharpe's dilapidated mansion: Allerdale Hall. There they live with Thomas's sister: Lucille. The deadly apparitions that haunt the house will force Edith to slowly uncover the buried secrets of Crimson Peak. In the movie

Moulin Rouge and the art of Kitsch

The spring of 2001 saw the release of Moulin Rouge! unexpectedly shake the movie industry and the box office simultaneously. Despite the many awards, including 8 nominations at the Academy Awards, and the impressive box office numbers, the movie quickly became very polarizing for audiences. Love and hate seemed to be the only two possible reactions to the movie itself. But that should not come as a surprise. The film was directed by Baz Luhrman, who has consistently been, throughout his career, one of the most polarizing filmmakers of his generation. I still have to meet anyone who simply doesn't mind his movies (which include Romeo+Juliet , Australia and The Great Gatsby ); it's either absolute love or absolute loathing. There is no middle ground with him. And that's mainly because he himself doesn't compromise when it comes to his style, which is so characteristic at this point (fast and frantic editing, vivid use of flashy colors and sparkle and stories a

Marie Antoinette: Working with an historical basis

A couple of months ago, I talked extensively about the narrative aspect of the designs for 2006's  Marie Antoinette (see here ). But that's only one half of the story. This movie is, after all, a period piece, so let's have a look at how they translated that period into the costumes. MARIE ANTOINETTE : WORKING WITH AN HISTORICAL BASIS Period accurate pieces are actually the hardest to get by; that is because clothing in past centuries was way more complex and expensive than our 21st century standards. Because of this, most costume designers end up being constricted by their allotted budgets and have to make compromises with accuracy. This was not the case with this movie. Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette had a rather large budget, which allowed renowned designer Milena Canonero the freedom to create period-accurate pieces (the inaccuracies were only added for narrative purposes, not budget constrictions). Because of this, Canonero decided to work off

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 me, here at The Costume Vault . It's our anniversary!!! We're celebrating our third anniversary! Though to be honest, I didn't actually start this project seriously until last year... So, I'm a three-year-old, with the experience of a one-year-old...? Oh, who cares. Today, three years ago, I 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... I had quite the free time back then, to be honest. But the project took off, and now I continue even when I don't have as much free time. But it's worth it because I get to share my love for movies and costuming with you. To this day, I've written sixty articles, most of which I am quite proud of indeed. And what's even better, you seem to enjoy reading

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 I 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 my 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 t