Fashion has no limits when it comes human’s embodied experiences of self-construction and self-discovery. And so, this identity construction is always – as it should be – explored in movies to build characters, social situations and epochs. This is the first publication of a new rubric that intents to Undressing Cinema. It explores the psychosocial and psychology of characters’ dressing translating it to key issues of real life identity and social constructions. Also, welcome J.M. – our movies explorer – to the d’Oliveira fashion blog. Enjoy!

Many times, people think of fashion and think of what to dress in the morning; about how clothes or hairstyles connects them to social groups, about the extravagant garments on a runway, or even a way to accentuate their qualities and hide their flaws as they prepare to go for a girls’ night out.

“My Strongest Suit” from AIDA on Broadway

But fashion is so much more than that. It goes beyond the physical fabric contouring the body – it reflects an inner self, it masks an outer self, it is shaped by the culture. And, in that way, it tells you much more than you might think. It tells a much deeper story! And stories are what we are here to talk about.

Cheri (2009)
Michelle Pfeiffer in Cheri (2009)
Kathryn Bates in Cheri (2009)
Cheri (2009)

When telling a story, either in song, play or movie, fashion has a crucial role. Every costume designer has a keen understanding of how a costume interplays with our psychology. Fashion defines a character even before they talk or move. It can do it through sight, touch, sound, or all the above. We may be unaware of it, but it gives an instant glimpse into the character’s self and the self they want to project.

In Cheri (2009), there is the effortless elegance of Michelle Pfeiffer, with precise, joyful, costumes, completely suited for each occasion, transmitting her inner sense of elegance and sophistication. A specific item may seem somewhat lavish at times. But at a closer inspection, it was the perfect item for that ensemble.

Juxtaposed to that, Kathryn Bates appears loud, with an excessive number of ruffles and accessories. She reveals herself eagerly, once destitute, who mistakes wealth and elegance with excess and overabundance. Striving to show off her wealth and access to tasteful high fashion and failing miserably by pure excess. And this overflows from her, changing the environment around her, such as her house, with a cluttered and oppressive decor.

Changing their persona and their surroundings changes how the characters move and interact with what is around them. It is no wonder that many psychologists in the field of fashion look at the importance that clothing and other expressive products play in shaping the identity of the self. The old adage “you are what you wear” shows part of the story, and when what you wear becomes who you are, you have a completely different story. And it is a story told without the need for words.

In Easy virtue (2008), Jessica Biel wears a pallet more vibrant than her counterparts. She automatically stands out from the dreary and toneless people that move around her. In our subconscious, this creates a line between the characters. It also hints at us the notion of the unstoppable force who has just encountered an immovable, stale object.

In Aida, Amneris is presented with her song about her wardrobe. Someone obsessed with her outer shell. Fully aware that her time on earth is short, she is determined to make an impression on anyone who lays their eyes on her. And she wears in her dresses in this spirit, unapologetic, conspicuous, glamourous, and absolutely nonconservative.

And as the story progresses, we see the layers. The insecurities about herself she tries to camouflage with an astounding appearance. The appearance ends up moulding how she responds to the world, as she cannot break the facade. She creates her looks from within, to become the shell that gives her strength from the outside.

Psychology helps to explain what motivates us to adopt a certain fashion. Factors like conformity, desire for variety and uniqueness, the need to express personal creativity, and as a way to bolster sexual attraction. We are taught to look at clothes as possessions separate from ourselves when truth be told, they act as a second skin. Accept them as part of who we are and use them as our armour. They can hold us when we are down, share our radiance when we are up, be a catalyst for change we want to see in ourselves. When they truly reflect our inner self, we have a winner.

And in this, we can take a lesson from Amneris – use our outfits to enhance our bodies and to be empowering. “From your cradle via trousseau / To your deathbed you’re on view, so / Never compromise, accept no substitute”.


Chief Creative Office · Luís de Oliveira

Posted by:Luís de Oliveira

Through spreading 'The Art of BeYOUtiful'!

3 replies on “Are we wearing our strongest suit?

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