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Dressed to inspire, astonish & impress

Jack Sparrow costume used in several Pirates of the Caribbean films

Costume photo courtesy of Cosprop Ltd., London, England

Speaking of sets, each outfit will boast a mini-set of its own. “We’ll create visual experiences around the costumes with printed or painted backdrops and props for the platforms,” says Jan Crocker, Heritage’s exhibits manager. The exhibit also features movie clips of the actors, as well as photos of the actors out of costume, Spear says, “so we may see how the costumes help the actors to ‘become’ their characters. We’ll also feature quotes from the stars about their experiences in the film, and how the costumes influenced their acting.”

Of all the costumes on display, none helped an actor transform himself into character more completely than the Captain Jack Sparrow outfit, which transformed Depp into a wily, carousing buccaneer. While Sparrow’s costumes and props have evolved as the series has progressed—reflecting the character’s personal journey and adventures—this exhibit displays what the good captain wore when moviegoers first met him more than a decade ago in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

In addition to Sparrow’s well-known tri-cornered leather hat, visitors can view a mannequin sporting the captain’s frock coat, deep-cuffed boots, white shirt, wide black belt with a large buckle, long sleeveless vest, a large scarf worn at the waist, and diagonal leather belt with a buckle that holds his sword. All the clothes bear a distressed look, emphasizing the rugged life of a pirate. Sparrow’s costume—created by British costume designer Penny Rose in very close collaboration with Depp—is a textbook example of how costume design can play a key role in the making of an iconic movie character.

“Costumes are one tool that can bring a director’s vision—and a character—to life,” says Jennifer Varekamp, a Boston-based theatrical costume designer and associate professor of fashion design at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. “Like reading a good book—or enjoying any piece of great art—a quality film transports a moviegoer to another place and elicits a strong emotional reaction.”

“A good movie can be entertaining, but it can also help you look more deeply at your own life,” adds Varekamp, who will deliver one of two lectures about the art of costume design at Heritage this summer. “And when done right, costume design pulls you into the world of the film,” she adds, “and you don’t even notice.”

So it’s by design—if you’ll pardon the expression—that the impact of costume design is an often-overlooked contribution to movie-making magic.

“Costumes set the scene by providing details about where and when the movie takes place, as well as clues about a character’s status, age, class and wealth—as well as their role in the story,” says Jennifer Madden, Heritage’s director of collections and exhibitions. “The costumes in this exhibit are one of a kind and wouldn’t usually be seen outside of a major metropolitan area, so it’s very exciting to bring them to the Cape.”

While the majority of the costumes on exhibit are women’s period dresses and gowns, what the men’s wardrobe lacks in quantity it makes up for in star quality. “The wonderful thing about this exhibit,” says Spear, “is that we have a few men’s costumes in what we’re calling our ‘Bad Boys’ Corner’.”

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