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Victorian Fashion from ‘Poor Things’

Tiya Antony
Fashion News Editor

The movie Poor Things is about a woman who commits suicide in Victorian London but is resurrected using the brain of a baby. Bella, played by Emma Stone, then grows to navigate a world that is unfamiliar to her with the mind of a newborn, but the body of an adult woman. This film is based on a 1992 novel by Alasdair Gray but the director, Yorgos Lanthimos, did not want a period drama or a film set in a very specific time period of the past. He also did not want the film to be heavily sci-fi, so the costumes had to captivate the reality-defying world that allows this story to occur in.

Emma Stone in ‘Poor Things’ (Photo Courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter)

Holly Waddington, costume designer, wanted to combine visual elements to display the setting as futuristic and from the past at the same time. She minimized the usage of typical Victorian details and instead used anachronistic details. Some Victorian fashion details seen in the film are big sleeves, structured menswear, and dramatic shapes. Historically based film media tend to take historical costumes and add modern touches. For example, the popular Netflix show Bridgerton uses colors and fabrics that did not actually exist in the 18th century. This is done so that the fashion choices are more understandable and relatable for a modern audience.

Holly Waddington wins Best Costume Design (Photo Courtesy of WWD)

Body padding and corsets, that are minimized in Hollywood costumes, allowed the Poor Things costumes to seem strange, old, and different to the audience. This works well with the fascination and experimentation that is critical to the film. Waddington stated, “We didn’t do any lace or any of the trimming that you would associate with the Victorian period, so we didn’t bother with that, but we replaced everything with strips of plastic, and we made lots of textures.” Texture is important to make fashion choices seem unruly and allow different time zones aesthetics to mix into unique pieces. This gave the creators the look they wanted, of the film’s timing being suspended and open to interpretation.

Poor Things received 11 Oscars nominations and won 4 including Costume Design. Costume designer, Holly Waddington commented on her win “thank you to Yorgos Lanthimos for taking me on this wild journey. It’s been the opportunity of a lifetime.” Poor Things expresses the importance and creativity of costume design to the overall plot and aesthetic of a film.


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