Thread By Thread: Costumes on Screen

Back To School

Oh, Capitan, My Capitan! Proof that kids like school…sometimes.

A summer of work in an outdoor theatre dressing sweaty actors in fabulous period clothing while wearing equally sweaty and bug spray covered tank tops and shorts put my blog on hold for a bit, but now I’m back.  Forget summer and bathing suits! It’s back to school time, and like any true nerd it’s my favorite time of year! As the weather cools down, the sweaters come out, and best of all we welcome back all those fake people’s lives we’re invested in to our TV sets and watch all those serious Oscar contenders. 

Back to school time also applies to fictional characters and what better time to look at some of the fashions featured on our favorite high schoolers, specifically school uniforms. Ok, so uniforms don’t really have that much variety in look but like any kid who has ever had to wear one there is a world of difference in uniform styles. How you wear your uniform can determine the critical social standing in school. It completely defeats the purpose of even having students wear uniforms but as any high schooler can tell you, high school is anything but fair. So let’s take a look at some of the best school uniforms films and television has offered us.

Gossip Girl

The beautiful, rich, students of the Upper East Side and their various takes on their school uniforms.

The kids who attend Riverside Prep and its sister school Constance Billard are anything but boring when it comes to their uniforms. In the decadent world of New York’s Upper East Side, school uniforms are accessorized with high fashion designer items. Each character has a different style to reflect their personality. Costume Designer Eric Daman, who had previously worked on that other high fashion show set in New York, Sex & the City, choose several fashion icons to base the characters style off of. 

The many looks of Blair Waldorf’s school uniform. Classic, clean and chic.

Seemingly innocent, but secretly conniving aspires to be Audrey Hepburn and her look reflects this classic fashion icon as well as harking to the prep looks popularized by the film Clueless. Her looks feature headbands and lots of lace and primary colored tights.

Serena’s look is much more casual than Blair’s while still being high fashion and maintaining the prep school look.

For Blair’s former best friend and foil Serena Van Der Woodson, Daman looked to model Kate Moss for inspiration. Serena’s look is much more rock and roll in comparison to Blair’s. She is often seen wearing boots and loose fitted sweaters and loose ties.

 Daman managed to capsulate the rich preppy look and launch dozens of fashion trends. With a careful balance of high end and mainstream fashion accessories, Daman created a look that many fans could copy within their own lives. Sure no school would allow hems that short or such a large variety in uniforms and how to wear them, but girls can dream can’t they?


Glee’s costume designer, Lou Eyrich managed to still managed to capture Kurt’s normal style tendency to “exude his quietly flashy dapper dandyism” in the Dalton uniform.

From the moment Kurt stepped into the halls of Dalton Academy it was love at first sight for him and the viewers at home. Dreamy boys singing to Katy Perry in color coordinated uniforms? Yes, please! The boys of Dalton Academy are required to wear uniforms to provide a sense of unity amongst the students. It may seem strange that the normally fashion forward Kurt would wish to don this equalizing uniform but that is also precisely the reason why. The red and navy blue uniform represents an acceptance of everyone that is both liberal and conservative mindsets. After being tormented for being gay and openly showing what is normally considered a feminine interest in fashion Kurt welcomes the opportunity to blend in and be a part of the flock.

The dreamy Blaine Anderson wears the Dalton uniform perfectly, who wouldn’t transfer schools for this?

The adorable Mini-Warbler is one example of the uniforms’ now iconic status amongst fans.

The Princess Diaries

The uniforms help capsulate the awkwardness of high school for Mia.

The Princess Diaries makes the cut once again! (Confession time, I probably watched this movie once at least once a week my freshman year of high school, Princess Mia’s plight spoke to me.) Costume Designer Gary Jones chooses to stick closer to real life school uniform styles than most of his counterparts. The classic staples of school uniforms are still featured; there’s still plaid, ties and pleats, it’s just the skirts that are longer and everyone wears them virtually the same. This realistic approach to the uniforms helps display how stifling Mia finds High School to be. While Mia even makes a point in the film to point out how she likes the uniforms because they’re equalizers they also serve as a representation of her dislike of school because of her low social status. The uniform make Mia relatable and therefore all the more beloved to the audience.

Even after her make over the uniform is still ill fitting on Princess Mia, showing humility despite her increased social standing.

Sailor Moon

It may not be live action, but Sailor Moon’s school uniform is iconic none the less. The uniform she wears is based on uniforms typically worn by Japanese school children with some slight modifications (Something tells me that belly shirt and varying skirt lengths wouldn’t fly at a real school.) The cute sailor collar is a nod to her secret identity as leader of the crime fighting Sailor Scouts. In a nod to Superman and many other superheroes “hidden” identities Sailor Moon’s superhero costume is even as variation of her uniform. Majority of other characters somehow don’t recognize her once transformed despite the obvious similarities.  The similarities between the two uniforms (as Sailor Moon and schoolgirl Serena) also represent the Girl Power movement of the 90s and the empowering message to young girls that they are capable of achieving great things even if appearances tell them otherwise.

Sailor Moon transforming back from crime fighting superhero to average schoolgirl.

Harry Potter

Daniel Radcliffe supposedly hated his Hogwarts uniform because he prevented him from getting girls on set. Clearly it never occured to him to just say I'm Harry Freakin Potter to get the girl.

No school uniform list would be complete without the iconic look of Hogwarts robes. The look of the uniforms themselves has changed over the course of the films. The differences are subtle but clear to an astute fans eye. The robes themselves differ from how they are described in the books even. Students wear what is traditionally thought to be a wizard’s robe, long black flowing tunic like clothing more akin to a nightgown in the books. For the films Costume Designer Judianna Makovsky set the bar in Sorcerer’s Stone (Philosopher’s Stone for those outside America) and dressed the children in a tradition prep school look of pants, pleated skirts, white shirts and ties with an open black robe. Her reasoning behind this change is to make the characters more relatable and tie the series in its British Boarding School adventure archetype.  As the films progressed and new designers were brought on the look of the uniforms changed too. Robes became lined accordingly to their house colors and subtle differences in cuts and even how the robes were worn changed.

Harry Ron and Hermione wearing their Hogwarts robes from The Sorcerer’s Stone.

Dumbledore’s Army in Order of The Phoenix. Uniform colors have changed from gray and black to and all black. Girls now wear tights instead of socks and can even wear pants. Robes are no longer worn all the time but still featured in some scenes. Cardigans and sweaters are worn instead and house allegiance can be told by color combination stripes on the waist and wrist.

Overall the uniforms are easily re-created by fans and have reached an iconic status in society. The films have yet to receive any big award wins despite their popularity, here’s to hoping for delayed gratification for all of their filmmakers hard work!

This entry was published on August 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm. It’s filed under August 2011, Entertainment and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “Back To School

  1. Pingback: B2S Week: Glamberously Uniformed « glambergirlblog

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