Anna Wyckoff is a costume designer and illustrator who has worked on the films Fat Albert (2004), Chasing Papi (2003), and The Yellow Wallpaper (2011). She is a member of the Costume Designers Guild and she currently contributes several articles to the Guild website in which she analyzes the role of costume design in films and the success of certain costume designers in the Guild. The Costume Designers Guild is an alliance between Costume Designers, Assistant Costume Designers, and Costume Illustrators in television shows, films and commercials. Since 1953, the Guild has been protecting the economic status and promoting the craft of costume design.
In her article, The Relationship Between Costume and Fashion Design (2010), Wyckoff seeks to define fashion and costume design as separate entities that converge. Costume is, by definition, “a set of clothes in a style typical of a particular country or historical period”. Fashion is “a popular trend, especially in styles of dress and ornament or manners of behavior.” Fashion and costume design differ in purpose. Fashion is geared towards commerce and public consumption, whereas costume is exclusive in that the clothing is designed for an actor in a specific role.
Drawing from examples in costume design history, Wyckoff assesses the harmony between fashion and costume design. In the 1920s and 1930s, films became a source of fashion inspiration. Actresses Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, and Joan Crawford became fashion icons, and Hollywood stole the fashion power away from Paris. Costume continues to leave an impression on fashion. Networks and studios endorse spin-off clothing collections of popular films like Hannah Montana or TV shows like Mad Men.
Wyckoff focuses on how costume designers construct a character in a film/TV show out of fashion labels. This was expertly done by Patricia Fields—the costume designer of Sex & the City—who slapped brands like Manolo Blahnik onto Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw; Fields turned herself and Blahnik into household names thanks to the popularity of the Sex & the City.
Patricia Field is an exception to the countless costume designers who are overshadowed by the celebrities they clothe or the fashion labels they use. The role of the costume designer is not always visible. Wyckoff stresses the importance of the costume designer by citing popular films which partly owe their success to the costume designer.
In Eat, Pray, Love, the main character Liz’s wardrobe is inspired by the places that she travels to. This was the intention of costume designer Michael Dennison, who wanted her clothing to be an extension of her character and complement her transformation. Throughout Liz’s spiritual journey, her clothing undergoes changes as well.
Costume design helps flesh out the character, according to costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb. Larlarb has worked on The American with George Clooney and Beastly with Vanessa Hudgens. Larlarb uses real life—such as yearbooks or Flicker.com—to inform her costume design. In doing so, she strengthens our connection to the characters. The characters she clothes are often understated and quirky instead of immaculately coiffed and artificial-looking.
Costume designer Arianne Phillips, who has designed for films like Knight & Day and A Single Man, says that costume designers have more freedom in period films than they do in contemporary films. This is because in contemporary films, the directors, producers, and actors have access to the latest fashions and so they have more input in what the characters should wear. An actress might stroll onto the film set in her own dress and argue with the costume designer that what she is wearing perfectly suits her character. In period films, the costume designer has almost exclusive access to the wardrobe—whether the costume designer seeks out vintage pieces or constructs the clothing by hand.