The 15 Best Costume Films of 2016

10:35 AM 12/15/2016

by Stephanie Chan

Our favorite onscreen costumes from this year.

Best Film Costumes of 2016 - Split-H 2016
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures; Warner Bros.; Westerly Films

As the year comes to an end, we’re looking back at the films that left a lasting impression through their costumes.

From the retro-inspired looks in Oscar hopeful La La Land (starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling) to the colorful African fashion in Disney’s Queen of Katwe (starring Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo), there was no shortage of eye-catching ensembles on the big screen.

  • 'La La Land'

    Oscar buzzworthy musical La La Land, which is already earning a number of accolades, tells the story of jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) falling in love through song and dance. Though set in modern day Los Angeles, costume designer Mary Zophres helped convey the film's retro vibe through wardrobe.

    For Sebastian, Zophres told The Hollywood Reporter that she looked to jazz pianist Bill Evans, actor/pianist Hoagy Carmichael and actor James Dean for inspiration. "I wanted women in the audience to be wooed by Ryan, and the men to feel romantic about Emma. We made all of Ryan's clothes," said Zophres, adding, "We designed everything [Emma] dances in. She has a beautiful neckline, arms and such a graceful line, so that influenced the silhouette. We wanted the whole film to be classic-looking."

  • 'Jackie'

    In Pablo Larrain's biographical drama Jackie, Natalie Portman stars as former first lady Jackie Kennedy — with an iconic wardrobe to match. Costume designer Madeline Fontaine told THR that it was "a challenge" to re-create some of the most historical fashion moments in history, but having worked on Yves Saint Laurent (2014), she felt ready to bring another fashion icon's beloved style to the big screen.

    "The red dress she wore during the [Charles] Collingwood's interview in the White House was originally from Dior. We found the right fabric, made the right color after some camera tests. We even had to make a pink version for the scenes shot in black-and-white, to match with the footage — the red was too dark," said Fontaine of re-creating the famous red wool Dior look.

    There also was the pink Chanel suit with navy trim collar and matching pillbox hat that Jackie wore on the day of her husband's assassination, too. "We went through tests to make sure of the color's result. And we needed five of the same outfit, and made every one!" added Fontaine. "Chanel helped us with the right buttons."

  • 'Allied'

    Allied, set in the 1940s, tells the tale of intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) being in love until their relationship is threatened by the pressures of war.

    Based on a true story, it was important for costume designer Joanna Johnston to get the details just right for the film. "The 1940s was such a glamorous time period for fashion; I think people intentionally dressed like that during the tumultuous time period just to keep their spirits up," said Johnston, who spent hours watching noir classics like Casablanca and To Have and Have Not, and studying the wardrobe of Katharine Hepburn and Charles Boyer for inspiration.

  • 'Love & Friendship'

    Kate Beckinsale is looking to get hitched as Lady Susan Vernon, a grieving young widow on the hunt for a new husband, in Love & Friendship.

    To show her transition from mourning widow to a lady of luxury, costume designer Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh let the corseted gowns' colors do all the talking.

    "If you actually laid out the costumes, it goes from black to black and grey to mauve, more of the mourning colors for the time, and every time she's in the country she's affecting the widow and trying to be discreet," Mhaoldomhnaigh told THR. "But when she goes to London, the colors change." 

    Indeed, Beckinsale's character goes from wearing all black to embracing brighter washes like scarlet red and royal purple.

  • 'Nocturnal Animals'

    Tom Ford returns to the helm with Nocturnal Animals, a thriller that follows his directorial debut, A Single Man (2009).

    Starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, the film focuses on art gallery owner Susan (Adams), who is haunted by a novel written by her ex-husband Edward (Gyllenhaal). Thanks to costume designer Arianne Phillips, Susan's luxurious yet paranoid lifestyle is reflected in her wardrobe of tidy blouses and pencil skirts. Surprisingly, the film doesn't feature any designs from Ford's collections.

    "He's not making a movie to sell clothes. He made that very clear to me," costume designer Arianne Phillips, who also worked with Ford on his first film, told THR. "There were times when I would see something in his store, like a pair of sunglasses, and I wanted to use them in the film. But he said it would take the viewer out of the experience seeing that logo."

  • 'Cafe Society'

    Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively are adorned with custom Chanel jewelry in Woody Allen's Cafe Society, a romantic comedy-drama that follows a young man's move to Los Angeles in the 1930s and ends up falling in love with his uncle's secretary.

    Costume designer Suzy Benzinger worked with the French fashion house to create dazzling diamonds for Stewart's character as assistant Vonnie and Lively's Veronica, a Manhattan socialite.

    "In the 20th century, Chanel was the epitome of style, luxury and glamour. The job was easy: Put an elegant, simple dress on an actress, accessorize with a brooch or earrings — instant glamour!" Benzinger told THR. "That's the genius of Coco Chanel."

  • 'The Neon Demon'

    As an underage teen named Jesse who travels to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a model, Elle Fanning gets to play dress up in a number of designer digs in Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon.

    In the opening scene, she dons a strapless, electric blue Emporio Armani spring 2015 dress that's as eye-catching as her bejeweled face and the fake blood streaming down her chest. However, costume designer Erin Benach shared that the bold Armani number wasn’t the team’s first choice.

    "Everyone was really set on this layered sort of fluorescent yellow and pink thing and I kind of knew it wasn't the right [one] — it was too soft," Benach told THR, adding that it wasn’t until Fanning tried on the blue hue that made folks change their minds. In the film, Fanning also is seen wearing a custom Giles Deacon gown and a plunging, gold sequined YSL halter top from Hedi Slimane's spring 2015 collection.

  • 'Hidden Figures'

    Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer transform into three brilliant NASA scientists — Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, respectively — in Hidden Figures with a '60s wardrobe to match, thanks to costume designer Renee Ehrlich Kalfus

    "Katherine was somebody that had a bit of an arc. She started out a little tentative in her job, even though she was sheer genius. She was a little more tentative and there was a bit of an arc as she was given more responsibilities because she was the only one that knew the numbers. Her costumes grew to be more powerful in that sense," Kalfus told THR.

    "Dorothy was a supervisor. She was the political force, she was very powerful and well-dressed. She’s just a superior," explained the costume designer. "Mary was the youngest. What I wanted to show was that she was like the future, she had a slight bohemian vibe. It was more rebellious in her dress."

  • 'Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie'

    Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, based on the popular BBC sitcom in the early 1990s, sees the return of chain-smoking publicist Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and fashion editor Patsy (Joanna Lumley) trying to escape to the south of France after supposedly causing the death of supermodel Kate Moss (played by Moss herself).

    With the return of the duo's eccentric behavior, they needed even more in-your-face outfits to play the part — and that's where Rebecca Hale, one of the show's original costume designer (from 2001 to 2004), came into the picture.

    "The clothes in the film are not that outrageous — it's the acting that makes it outrageous. It's what Edina and Patsy have to say — it's all so ridiculous," Hale told THR.

    In addition to working with Vivienne Westwood and Giles Deacon to create custom looks for the comedy, Hale also used a mix of high and low fashion. "In one scene, she wears a jacket by Lanvin and a skirt by H&M. That's the brilliant thing about Joanna: She looks great in high street," said Hale. "Patsy was always more of a classic dresser — she was never as outrageous as Edina. Everything Joanna wears in the film harkens back to Patsy of the '90s: She's trying terribly hard to be chic and sort of pulling it off. But Joanna won't wear something she doesn't feel is right for Patsy."

  • 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'

    Taking place 70 years before the boy who lived (aka Harry Potter), J.K. Rowling's screenwriting debut Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows "magizoologist" Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he travels to the Magical Congress of the United States of America and runs into trouble when some of his creatures escape him.

    Newt's longtime relationship with these magical beasts is hinted in his wardrobe, especially his blue coat. "The idea is that the coat is his friend and went with him on all his explorations. It had secret pockets for the creatures built into it," costume designer Colleen Atwood told the Los Angeles Times. Atwood also noted to THR of creating the film's costumes, "They had the most amazing world they had spun that was so original and beautiful. I felt free to be part of that. … It's not Harry Potter; it's a new thing, so there was more latitude."

  • 'Queen of Katwe'

    Queen of Katwe tells the true story of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi (played by Madina Nalwanga). The film, which stars Lupita Nyong'o as Phiona's mom, Nakku Harriet, and David Oyelowo as the teacher that introduces the prodigy to the game, is a colorful visual of African fashion.

    Although the movie focuses on some of the poorest parts of Kampala, the capital of Uganda, Nigerian costume designer and GQ Style fashion editor Mobolaji Dawodu told Vogue he wanted to show a sense of happiness and optimism through Phiona and Nakku's wardrobe.

    "She wore a lot of bright colors, prints — clothes that are fun," Dawodu told the fashion bible of Phiona's looks. As for Lupita's character, he designed gomesis (colorful, traditional Ugandan wear) that focused on hues that would complement her skin tone. Said Dawodu: "If there was anyone in the film that said Uganda, it was Lupita’s character. [Her costuming] was very specific to Uganda. She was the anchor."

  • 'Captain Fantastic'

    Matt Ross' romantic dramedy Captain Fantastic follows a family living deep in the forests of Washington state. Led by a devoted father named Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen), his six children live in isolation with self-created rules until tragedy strikes one day and they’re forced to assimilate to the modern world.

    To capture the characters’ free spirited, hippie upbringing, Ross tapped costume designer Courtney Hoffman to show off the cast's unconventional style (think floral garlands picked up from the side of the road and patchwork vests).

    Hoffman let the actors pick their own zany outfits. "We would pile the clothes on the floor in the fitting room and let them choose," Hoffman, who also worked on The Hateful Eight, told The New York Times. She added: "Our idea was to have the cast make wardrobe choices not influenced by what anyone they knew would wear."

  • 'Florence Foster Jenkins'

    Florence Foster Jenkins, directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen), is based on the true story of the titular character, a New York heiress who dreams of becoming a famous opera singer, despite her lack of talent, in the early 20th century.

    Starring as the New York socialite, Meryl Streep is adorned with over-the-top costumes to match her character’s misguided confidence.

    "Florence Foster Jenkins loved clothes, and she loved decorating clothes. You could never have too many flowers or ribbons or drapes," the film’s costume designer, Consolata Boyle, told WWD. "She literally didn’t know when to stop. She had no sense of what was appropriate or what was not appropriate … she literally did what she wanted."

  • 'Rules Don't Apply'

    Set in 1950s Hollywood, Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply follows the forbidden romance between aspiring young actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) and her ambitious driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), who are both employed by billionaire Howard Hughes (Beatty).

    "I think as an actor every time you wear different clothes it informs you. A huge thing about the '50s was the undergarments — incredibly uncomfortable, but they created a shape that the clothes hung beautifully on," said Collins, who worked with costume designer Albert Wolsky.

    "So even having a different body shape gave me a sense of who I was and how to use that to my advantage. In the movie, we decided to keep using the classic white outfit that Marla arrived in Hollywood wearing for pivotal scenes," added Collins. "Small choices like that informed the audience of what she stands for and her personality."

  • 'Miss Sloane'

    As powerful lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane in Miss Sloane, Jessica Chastain dresses the part of someone who takes charge and cashes in the big bucks, as seen through her sophisticated wardrobe in the drama.

    According to costume designer Georgina Yarhi, she researched lobbyists with Chastain and they discovered that the women made as much as $20 million and treated their ensembles as "armor."

    "Her character has no interest in fashion; it’s about how she presents herself," Yarhi told WWD. In creating a uniform that helped Chastain's character looked powerful and presentable, Yarhi told the fashion trade that she put her in a Giambattista Valli tuxedo shirt, Oscar de la Renta gown, Burberry trench coat and a Saint Laurent suit.