Dressing The Part
With the film set in the 1970s, costume designer Michael Wilkinson had a chance
to express the decade's distinctive design through the film's fashion. His
designs further expressed the film's theme: characters remaking themselves,
transforming themselves into the people they aspire to be. "Michael constructs
each character's personality in the fabrics they like, the colors they like, how
they feel when you're around them," says Russell. "The cream bathing suits that
he put Irving and Sydney in when they meet - this tells you a lot about them -
they're stylish, but very much of their period."
Wilkinson explains, "The characters are wholly unique and wildly imaginative.
In the script, there were a lot of opportunities to explore different social
backgrounds, from the vibrant, racially diverse world of blue-collar New Jersey
to ultra-fashionable Upper East Side Manhattan to the sprawling suburbs of Long
Island. 1978 - the year the film takes place - is a fascinating year, because it
marks the beginning of a transition away from a truly flamboyant, exaggerated
lines of the 1970s and into a more streamlined, early 80s vibe."
Clothing plays an important role in defining Bale's and Adams' characters. In
fact, each character has over 40 costumes. "There had to be something about
Irv's clothes that was very appealing - you want to trust him, you want to
believe him. There's an aspect to his character that wants to fly a little
below the radar. It's Sydney who starts helping him find a way to present
himself to the world. We played with a lot of beautiful fabrics, some colors
that were quite expressive, great combinations of vests and shirts, stripes and
In addition to remaking Irving, Sydney is also remaking herself. "She's a
small-town girl who arrives in New York. She has a natural sense of style
when she meets Irv, she gets the confidence to explore it. She picks out Diane
von Furstenberg dresses, wears Halston, and starts really enjoying this new
silhouette, this new freedom - it's super-sophisticated and confident." For
Sydney and for all of the characters, Wilkinson worked with real clothes from
the period to be as authentic as possible. He also ended up building a lot of
clothes from scratch, designing costumes for specific moments in the film.
Adams' character is contrasted against Jennifer Lawrence's character, Rosalyn.
Wilkinson says that the designs for Lawrence's costumes are meant to underscore
the character as another hustler. "Rosalyn is a master of emotional manipulation
- she really knows how to work a person over and she uses her sexuality to push
her agenda. At the same time, we had to balance that against the fact that she
lives this totally boring existence in the suburbs," Wilkinson explains. "She
has wild mood swings, and this is reflected in her clothes, from her frumpy
house dresses and muumuus to her 'dressed-to-kill' evening wear."
Cooper's character, the FBI Agent who falls under the spell of the hustlers he
lures in, is another character remade through the film. "He starts off as
someone who doesn't care so much about how he looks," Wilkinson says. "He's
doing things like curling his hair, but he doesn't have a very finessed approach
to what he's doing. When he comes into contact with Irv and Sydney, it has a
huge effect on him. He re-invents himself: he goes from ill-fitting polyester
cotton blends to silk shirts and stylish leather jackets."
"For Jeremy Renner's character, David wanted to put him in pale suits,"
continues Wilkinson. He had a signature way of dressing with a slightly
old-school feel to it, a Rat Pack kind of boldness to it. Maybe his clothes
aren't the most up-to-date - they hark back to another era, especially when
juxtaposed with the finer, sophisticated clothes we see from Irv and Sydney -
but he's a very well-dressed man expressing a New Jersey bravado, and that was
fun to explore."
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