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Dressed to inspire, astonish & impress

New World Costume

Costume photo courtesy of Cosprop Ltd., London, England

In addition to Sparrow’s outfit, the men’s costume highlights include the flamboyant scarlet frock coat—trimmed in gold metallic embroidery—that the deceased Heath Ledger wore in Casanova (2005); the weathered brown leather bomber jacket Daniel Craig donned to fight Nazis as the Jewish freedom fighter, Tuvia Bielski, in Defiance (2008); the simple leather-and-velvet explorer’s outfit sported by Colin Farrell as Captain John Smith in The New World (2005); and the bohemian black corduroy frock coat ensemble Robert Downey Jr. wore in Sherlock Holmes (2009).

Each costume is designed to convince moviegoers that the character is authentic and had lived a life before the film begins. One of the most fascinating costumes in the exhibit, ironically, is also among the simplest and least flamboyant. At first glance, Craig’s jacket looks like something from a vintage clothing store in Cambridge. But when seen in the film, the brown coat does its job, and viewers are convinced that Craig’s character, Tuvia Bielski, has indeed been fighting Nazis for the past few years in the forests of Belarus.

“The designers made six versions of this leather jacket to demonstrate the distress it would have endured during the course of the film,” says Madden, noting that Bielski’s jacket had to “age” as the movie progressed. To transform some of the jackets, the designers used hammers and sandpaper to roughen the leather, and then wet the jackets and balled them up to dry in a dark place. “It’s this attention to detail that most movie-goers won’t understand until they’ve seen this exhibit,” Madden says, “and I think Craig’s jacket tells a fascinating story.”

While the men’s costumes are impressive, most of the women’s dresses are stunning. “In addition to speaking to a character’s personality or a particular culture, the costumes are also works of art and fine examples of design,” says Spear. “Creating these costumes required tremendous amounts of historical research on the part of the designers.”

Not only can clothing speak volumes about a people and their culture, but it can also enable the wearer to make a bold statement. One such costume is the late-18th century military-style dress worn by Keira Knightley in The Duchess (2008), when she played Georgiana Cavendish, duchess of the English county of Devonshire. At age 17, the beautiful, outgoing Georgiana Spencer was married off to the older, reserved William Cavendish, fifth duke of Devonshire, who proved to be a distant, unfaithful husband.

While Duchess Georgiana was initially known for her extravagant tastes and an appetite for gambling, she also left a lasting impression as a fashion icon, devoted mother and shrewd political operative. The dress on display—a blue, orange and buff leather suit—demonstrated the duchess’ support of the Whig Party, which boasted the same colors. The duchess also wore a fox-fur muff (hand warmer) and a fox-pelt hat with the dress, which telegraphed that Whig candidate Charles James Fox was her choice for office.

“This costume is one of my favorite pieces,” says Varekamp. “It’s a great example of how a costume can exemplify the character. Although the public adored her, the duchess really couldn’t voice her opinion, so she used fashion as a way to publicly demonstrate political support.”

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