Thread By Thread: Costumes on Screen

Witchy Woman

The Sanderson Sisters from Hocus Pocus, fit right into a Halloween Party where they bewitch the partiers to literally dance until they drop dead.

It’s the time of year when most people start thinking about costumes and most turn to movies for inspiration.  Movies have also been known to turn to popular Halloween archetypes for plots! The magical Witches and Wizards have always been and remain popular fare for the screen.  There is something that captures the audience’s imagination to see people who look normal performing impossible feats, good or bad, all in great outfits! So here is the first part of my Halloween themed Costumes, and as they say, ladies first- film’s best Witches!

Lamia from Stardust

Lamia prior to her transformation into a young woman is wearing an even more Renaissance looking green shift dress.

Lamia’s outline remains Renaissance but the distinct difference of a bodice made from different material than the skirt makes her appear more youthful.

This romantic fantasy film features a cast of well-known stars and is beloved among fans for combining magic, pirates, and romance with a period film feel. While the magical world of Stormhold lies beyond a wall in a 19th century village the film borrows silhouettes all the way back to the Renaissance. “Everything in Wall is very neat and folksy, whereas Stormhold is full of color and quite exotic, eclectic and, of course, filled with magic,” says Costume Designer Sammy Sheldon. Sheldon created a clear divide in costume looks in Stormhold too; those fighting to protect the fallen star Yvaine maintained a 19th century silhouette, albeit with whimsical embellishments, and those wishing to harm her remaining firmly in the Renaissance outline.

The exception to the black shrouded witch rule occurs when Lamia uses her powers and status as a witch to intimidate lightning dealer Freddy.

The film’s main villain, an evil witch Lamia who is chasing after Fallen Star Yvaine to attain eternal youth, dons a green gown with a gold and black bodice for the majority of the film. The green gown is full and billowing in the shirt and similar to a fitted Renaissance bodice, showing off the witch’s new youthful small waist and ample bosom.  Sheldon purposely stayed away from the tradition black shrouds of witches, “Our witches have a much more exotic, ethnic feel to them. -They wear jewel-like colors — green, red and purple, which are then topped off with a bit of black,” she explains. “They are truly like three dark jewels.”Lamia herself dons greens with blacks to harkens back to her Greek Mythological namesake, who was known for devouring small children (as Lamia does to obtain youth in the film) and for the serpent bottom half of her body.  “Her serpent-like qualities are reflected in the colors we used greens, golds and blacks,” says Sheldon. “There is heaviness to her costume that emphasizes her large, dark impact on the world around her.”Lamia’s evil schemes do not span out in the end but no one can deny, that she at least looks good trying.

Lamia’s patterned bodice give off the impression of scales from afar, combined with the color changing green skirt, she appears snake-like.

The White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

The White Witch when Edmund stumbles upon her sleigh, her crown mirror the outline of her ice castle, her hair appear softer though, she is ready to seduce Edmund to her side. Her gown slowly fades to a soft icy blue.

The White Witch has been one of foremost evil-doers in Children’s stories for some time, and the 2005 movie created a terrifying version that live up to her book counterpart. Known for her icy demeanor and look, the White Witch in the film goes through a transformation, from Snow Queen in winter to a melting Warrior Queen in spring.  At the start of the film we first hear mention of the dread White Witch as something to be feared, however upon literally stumbling upon the Queen, Edmund finds a snow white beauty who appears to be clothed in snow , yet offers a warm white fur cloak and Turkish Delight.  Each dress from then on in the movie is a variation on the first gown.  “We broke her into seven changes. We start when we first see her she has no idea that there’s any threat to her world … She’s in a beautiful state of ice, she’s in her sleigh, she’s in the snow. We move the second time to the dungeon. In the dungeon, her dress fills out into what we call the full monte and changes into exactly the environment of her castle,” says costume designer Isis Mussenden.

The White Witch has abandoned her pretense of warmth at this point and her crown appears more pointed and like menacing icicles, the color distinction in her gown is no longer visible, it equally reflects the eerie blue of her ice palace.

The dresses were designed to look like the White Witch did compose the dress from Narnia itself, there are element of ice and earth in each dress, up close the dresses look rather organic. “[I]t’s as if she just covers herself up in a bit of Narnia. So the dress is made out of a substance that’s a little bit like the bottom of an amazing waterfall I saw in the middle of New Zealand. So it’s like the White Witch is made of water or ice, or smoke, or, something natural. And being the epitome of, of all evil, of course, and this comes very strongly from the book, she’s covered in fur. And she has hair that doesn’t look like hair, it looks like it’s come from the ground – maybe it’s roots or something. And her crown is made of ice, and it melts throughout the film, so it’s not going to look like a costume that she got out of a wardrobe anywhere,” says actress Tilda Swinton, who portrayed the White Witch. The dresses themselves are composed of several layers of fabrics, “…the first layer is a velvet dyed with resist areas for a modeled look.  The second layer is felted wool and silk.  The raw materials were dyed and then felted to fit the shape of each dress.  The sheen of the silk is what gave us icy lines and begins to create the depth.  The final layer is the lace.  This is metallic thread and organza pieces, also dyed, sewn onto a burn out fabric.  We would draw the ice crackle from a small scale to a larger scale at the hem of the dress.  This gives us the illusion of height, she is a giant,” Mussenden says.

The White Witch’s power has begun the wane, her ice crown has melted and her dress has taken on the quality of dirty snow, yet she still insists on her power, wearing her snow white fur stole.

As her crown continues to melt, the White Witch finally accepts the Pevensies as a threat she abandons her white stole for a more warrior look of badger skins (Badgers are close allies of her enemy Aslan). The symbolic meaning of the color of her dress goes from dirty snow to a smoke coming from a dangerous fire.

We next see the white witch in her ice castle, where she greets Edmund coldly in her ice blue throne room which reveals her true cruel nature. The dress takes on a new eerie quality, that reflects the multiple facets that ice can take on. As the Pevensies begin to attain a following, and meet the powerful lion Aslan, the White Witch’s power begins to wane and her dress reflects that. “… we start to see her whole silhouette melt and her colors get grayer, and she starts to lose her crown. It’s about 50% now. And, from there we go to the white witch’s camp, and her dress is completely bottom-heavy. It’s gone into a deeper gray smoke-color, and her crown is smaller and smaller.” Says Mussenden. Eventually the dress begins to turn more and more gray and her crown begins to melt, the White Witch make a last ditch effort to prove her power as she enters Aslan’s camp, knowing she has the trump card in Edmund’s promise to her. “[S]he comes in professed as the Queen of Narnia, in all her glory, carried by her four cyclops. And her dress shoots out again and she’s in platinum. It’s like her coronating herself again,” Mussenden says. From that point on the White Witch loses the first half of her name in her costume and shows her true barbaric nature.

The White Witch in her last ditch effort at power, she dons all white and her ice crown is larger than when she last appeared. Her return to white is foreshadowing to her temporary return to power when she exchanges Edmund’s life for Aslan’s.

The Witches from The Wizard of Oz

The Wicked Witch of the West, her costume reflects the straight-laced nature of her Kansas counterpart Ms.Glutch (thus her threats to Toto too). It is simple in design and has classic clean lines with small details, all of these things in black alludes to her power.

The Wicked Witch’s hat is unique in that the front brim is curved down, so there is always a shadow on her face, making her more menacing. The fabric wrapped around and trailing down from her hat alludes to her power of flight. The addition of the voluminous black cape while flying, helps her maintain her larger than life presence even when flying high in the sky.

A list of film witches would not be complete without film’s most famous witches. Glinda the Good Witch of the North and Elphaba The Wicked Witch of the West could not be more opposite costume wise. The Wicked Witch has a Kansas counterpart in Elmira Glutch, who dresses like a straight laced church lady from the turn of the century. In the land of Oz the Wicked Witch reflects back to the reserved neighbor in silhouette. The Wicked Witch is clothed in all black, that billows with every movement, making her appear larger than life and more intimidating. The dress feature a bodice with a rouched front laced bodice with tabbed peplum and puffed paneled sleeves (just like those often seen on Snow White).  The Wicked Witch adds whimsy to her costume with a flowing black cape and a classis pointed witches hat with a long black sheer scarf attached in addition to a pouch with tassels. The dress itself is actually well fit and very pretty in design, however with her voice, green skin and terrifying movements and threats she is just pretty scary. The costume was actually one of the first in Hollywood that was fire retardant, after a terrible accident with a special effect fire for the Witch’s entrance where Margret Hamiliton was badly burned because her costume caught fire. Miraculously Hamilton didn’t sue the studio and actually returned to work on the film some six weeks later under the condition there be no more fire and her costume become fire proof for good measure. For the Good Witch Glinda, costume designer Adrian strayed from the books description of Glinda, as a white jeweled dressed blonde witch. Wanting to make former Follies beauty Billie Burke stand out in Technicolor, he made her dress cotton candy pink. The dress was created from layers of pink tulle to create a wide bubble, referring to her preferred mode of travel, with sequins and beads. Her dress unlike the Wicked Witch does not follow a turn of the century silhouette, its pure fantasy for Glinda! The audience see the divide and most importantly children do too!

Glinda’s costume makes a nod to the book in the spattering of stars across her gown, she is after all the Good Witch of the North, and like the northern Star she guides traveler Dorothy through Oz.

If Glinda’s costume seems a tad theatrical, it is because it is a nod to actress Billie Burke’s elaborate costume she wore as the star of Ziegfeld Follies (she married producer Florenz Ziegfeld).

The gown may also seem familiar to audience, as it served as the inspiration for the wedding gown Giselle dons in Enchanted (even right down to the beaded butterfly on her shoulder.)

The Sanderson Sisters from Hocus Pocus

While the basic colors of purple, orange and red are in all three sisters outfit, each sister uses the color differently to convey their personalities: Mary is the comedic relief in orange, Winnie is the real source of power in green and Sarah is the seducer in soft purple.

Add the matching cloaks onto the Sisters and it symbolizes their return to power and their eventual flight into the night.

When the Sanderson Sisters are brought back to life in Salem, Massachusetts they are still the most exciting thing to happen in centuries. Their costumes are the same outfits that they were hanged for witchcraft in, and the wear and tear shows. The sisters maintain the same array of jewel colors in their dresses with many small details and have a handmade quality to them. Mary Sanderson dons an orange blouse with a red wool bodice with gold loops, a matching red petticoat with a tattered plaid and houndstooth overskirt, topped off with a purple knit apron with felted pockets and a orange velvet cape. Sarah Sanderson is the most sensual of the witches and her costume reflects such, she wears a sooty orange fitted corseted bodice with flower embroidery with loose knit purple sleeves with  purple panels attached, paired with a green wool petticoat , red apron and a purple velvet cloak. Winnie Sanderson, the leader of the sisters dons the wicked color of green; she wears a gathers purple shift with a yellow laced corseted front with an aged collared green velvet overdress with yellow designs upon it with a silver jeweled clasp and purple lace bell sleeves and green velvet cape. The Sanderson Sisters are captivating in their jewel tone costumes and are fun to watch on screen, even if you are rooting against them.

Mary’s costume on display.

Sarah’s costume on display.

Winnie’s costume on display.

Jennifer from I Married A Witch

Jessica’s ultimate witch dress, it is seductive and airy and the perfect outfit to wear when your husband realizes you are a witch.

Though Jennifer never dons a witch’s hat in the film, she certainly looks witchy in a black peaked-hood cloak she wears when eloping with Wally. Though un-noticeable to viewers of the film the two stars did not get along constantly fighting on set, prompting star Fredric March to refer to the film as “I Married a Bitch”

This delightful 1942 film helped launch Veronica Lake into stardom and while is it hard to find on DVD, thankful through the magic of YouTube we can still enjoy the film . The film may seem a bit familiar plot wise because it is the basis for another popular story about a blonde witch who marries a mortal who disapproves of her using magic, Bewitched. Lake looks enchanting as the beautiful witch Jennifer in all he no witch garb, but it is the gown she dons the night of her husband’s election that really shows her true witchy nature. The film was designed by costume design legend Edith Head and her usual touch of flowing femininity is evident. The black dress is made of layers of sheer chiffon with a solid silk underlay in the bodice, keeping the seduction high with sheer sleeves and collar. It’s easy to see why in this dress why Wally chooses to love Jennifer without the aid of any magic!

Producers for Bewitched made a few tweaks to the premise of I Married a Witch, namely changing the meddling parent from a father to a mother, with much success. The goofy romantic quality of both beautiful Witches (Jessica and Samantha), as well as their survival of Witch Trials in Puritan New England, remained the same.

This entry was published on October 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm. It’s filed under Entertainment, October 2012 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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