How Costume Designers Hack Our Brains

Costume design is shorthand for how you should feel about people.
How Costume Designers Hack Our Brains

When you watch a movie, you're watching something put together by thousands of people and while a lot of the art of the film gets discussed -- writing, acting, directing, cinematography, product placement - makeup and costume design get overlooked.

Both here and at the Oscars, amiright costume designers.

But costume design is shorthand for how you should feel about people -- a picture's worth a thousand words, and sometimes those words are crisp suits in the back of a Humvee full of soldiers or jacket pulled over a hoodie. 

One of the more important parts of costume design is color. It's used in nature, viral marketing, supermarkets to trick your brain into feeling things, and costume designers use it to define who a character is, both by themselves and in relation to others. Spider-Man, for example, is a creepy character with weird eyes and a bug's theme, but because he has the classic hero's blue and red, we don't think of him as a villain -- unlike Lizard, Joker, and Green Goblin, who are all purple-greeners, i.e., villains.

"Loser has to change."

That's the second superhero example because it's most prominent in the costumes of superheroes since they're allowed to be so gaudy, bold, and ostentatious, but the language of costume design is there even when the person isn't wearing spandex or ab-filling armor. 

For instance, Leo’s hat in Departed signifies that he's secretly Ben Affleck. 

Julia Roberts' transformation in Pretty Woman is written on her wardrobe more than anywhere else, rising from shitty jeans to clothes you'd see people wear immediately before French revolutionaries kill them. You can see Betty Draper's dress signifying she's a model who's gone out of style. Doc Brown's introductory shot telegraphs his insanity better even than casting Christopher Lloyd did

Before you even know a character's name, their costume tells you who they are and, sometimes, who they'll become. Of course, it's not just telling you how to feel; it's telling you what to buy. It's most evident in clothing and makeup ads, but you have to remember a movie is only a commercial with a plot. Product placement for fashion is so ubiquitous that designers work with sites like What Was Jess Wearing? to make sure that audiences can buy the things they were told they wanted. Hell, Bill Gates owns a company dedicated to finding the perfect match of product and plot -- leading to searches for that brand spiking 300% and sites gaining up to 250,000 new customers. It's not a side project either -- there are entire clothing lines that are just As Seen on TV. Or, as seen on 90210

In the end, just like in Kill La Kill, the clothes matter more than the flesh tubes inside of them, all thanks to costume designers

We’re still not going to watch their awards, though.

Tara Marie writes words at places like here, Panel X Panel, and the Hard Times. She also writes words for the Trailer Park Boys in Trailer Park Boys: Bagged and Boarded. You can tell her your favorite designer and why it’s Cruella @TaraMarieWords.

Top Image: Marvel Studios

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