From Prey to Hunter: Breaking Down the 'Promising Young Woman' Looks

Carey Mulligan’slooks in 'Promising Young Woman' utilize — then subvert — the male gaze.
Courtesy of Focus Features

Carey Mulligan’slooks in 'Promising Young Woman' utilize — then subvert — the male gaze.

The costumes in the film starring Carey Mulligan serve as a facade, armor and a symbol of seduction.

Weaponizing feminine wiles for acts of revenge takes the phrase "power dressing" to a new level in Promising Young Woman. Carey Mulligan's vigilante avenger Cassie is a study in contrasts, where costumes serve as a facade, armor and a symbol of seduction.

Costume designer Nancy Steiner created the protagonist's day and night looks using sex-kitten Brigitte Bardot as an influence. For her daytime life working at a coffee shop, Cassie appears in a feminine mix of pink rose-patterned sweaters and pastel floral dresses and a signature Bardot French-braid ponytail, glossy pout and multicolored pastel nails. "While my initial instinct when reading the script was to go dark and depressed, Emerald [Fennell, the director] wanted her personal style sweet, flirty, feminine and light to serve as a facade," she tells THR. "I have to hand it to her, it was a great twist."

For Cassie's evening jaunts, when she transforms herself into a faux-inebriated club patron, the designer chose her chameleon looks based on the location — she dresses in a traditional suit and white shirt with a tousled, messy bun for a business bar; she dons a short sequin dress, long ponytail and gold hoop earrings at a Euro-style nightclub. Completing her nighttime after-hours bar look, makeup department head Angie Wells created a "dark, overheated, drunken" makeup palette — smudged eyeliner and mascara and a full lip imperfectly drawn.

As filming took place in three weeks, Steiner shopped vintage shops, costume houses and Urban Outfitters, and sourced a midi-length dress with bright roses from designer Coco Fennell, the director's sister, for Cassie's visit to a key friend's mother.

Perhaps the most memorable costume appears in the film's finale as Cassie attends a bachelor party disguised as a stripper. "For her look as a naughty nurse, we added lace and a zipper in front based on the cheesy costumes I had seen online," she says. Hair department head Daniel Curet added to her look with a rainbow-colored wig that is actually two wigs sewn together. "The wig was chosen because Emerald wanted a costume feel. The whole point was we want people to dress like this for Halloween, so let's create a character," he notes.

Drawing natural correlations to supervillain the Joker, Wells went full-on seduction with a mix of comic-book whimsy, resulting in "a sort of blow-up doll, wide-eyed, giant glossy lip look," she details. "It had a sexy sinisterness to it, and you could see the sadness behind the pain like the tears of a clown."

Wells admits she's received a lot of inquiries about the finale's lip color (Mac Retro Matte lipstick All Fired Up outlined with Beet pencil) and the pink lipstick on the film poster (Kevyn Aucoin's Claudine lip gloss).

This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.