Changeling: Great Film, Too Much Glam


I vaguely heard about The Changeling (2008) when it was originally released — 1920s, a mother’s son is kidnapped, the police “return” him but the mother is convinced he’s not her son — and while I was vaguely interested, the whole idea didn’t grab. Well, I was recently in the mood for something dark, and the stills I’d seen of Angelina Jolie in costume looked good, so I decided to fire it up. I was quite pleasantly surprised!

First of all, it’s based on a true story, which always leads to fun Wikipedia-ing after the film. And, the story isn’t just about a switched kid and the mother’s reaction. I don’t want to spoil things, but it gets into police corruption and a morbidly interesting real-life serial killer that will have you Google-ing at 2am to learn more.

Despite being mostly praised for her beauty, Angelina Jolie can act, and I found her really convincing and touching as the mother in question. She certainly does the Mama Bear well!

The Changeling (2008)

She’s so beautiful, but she really can act!

The costumes were designed by Deborah Hopper (Flags of our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, J. Edgar, Jersey Boys), and it’s a two-edged sword — they’re BEAUTIFUL, which means it’s a fun film to watch, but they’re TOO beautiful for Jolie’s role, which detracts from the story. If you can just accept that Jolie is so randomly glam, you’ll do fine, it just felt like the visuals don’t match the story.

The issue is mostly that Jolie doesn’t look like your average, everyday 1920s working mother. To wit:

The Changeling (2008)

At work for the phone company…

The Changeling (2008)

Visiting a prison…

Christine Collins

Compare to the real Christine Collins. Ok, so the outfits are on point, I guess it’s just that the real Collins wasn’t Stunningly Beautiful?

That being said, it’s not that she’s dressed like a cabaret performer — the outfits read as authentic to the period. According to Variety, designer Hopper used lots of real vintage and it shows:

“Hopper, who also costumed Eastwood’s ‘Flags of Our Fathers,’ had to be equally inventive to clothe the nearly thousand cast members of ‘Changeling.’ Scouring vintage clothing houses from L.A. to Canada, she found cloche hats, roller skates and fur-trimmed coats for Jolie’s character, snappy dark wool suits for the detectives, dropped-waist dresses for the women, and jumpers, knickers and long socks for the boys.” (Craft spotlights)

The color scheme is nicely done, and according to Hopper:

“To achieve that feminine, very maternal, strong working woman, I used soft peaches for the feminine side, and I used deeper greens and richer brown fabrics (to emphasize) her stronger side.” (Changeling — Dress Jolie without sacrificing historical accuracy)

The Changeling (2008)

This green dress is probably the standout number.

The Changeling (2008)

Check out that embroidered hem!

The Changeling (2008)

TOTAL hat porn.

The Changeling (2008)

Nicely restrained outfit, evocative of the real Collins.

The Changeling (2008)

I think it’s the lipstick — if they’d toned that down, it all would have worked better.

The Changeling (2008)

John Malkovich plays a supporting role with faaaabulously Marcel waved hair.

The Changeling (2008)

And the rest of the cast looks very convincing!


What do you think, should I cut The Changeling some slack on glammy Angelina Jolie?


About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

12 Responses

  1. Saraquill

    Tiny nitpick- this movie is called “Changeling.” Another movie, known as “The Changeling,” is a rather sad ghost movie from 1980. I don’t remember its period outfits, but an old fashioned wheelchair is a recurring motif.

    That said, I agree Jolie’s lipstick is front and center, like it’s the true protagonist.

  2. Susan Pola Staples

    She, Angelina Jolie, cannot help being so gorgeous. Maybe the makeup artist should have toned it down, but I agree this Oscar winner can act.
    I also have seen this film and I thought her wardrobe, except for the coat, was a tad too wealthy for her income bracket. Well, unless she bought it used or sewed it herself.

  3. Patricia Gill

    I’m going to defend the wardrobe; my elders weren’t wealthy and yet still had a bit of lovely lace, fur coats, collars, swank costume jewelry and cameos (some brought over from Germany). Gifts, heirlooms, what-have-you. Not much of any one thing, but not tattered rags in the closet, either.
    Part of that may be because the clan did some of their own sewing, embroidery and needlework, but they still looked pretty well put-together despite living in a working class section of Queens and boroughs thereabout.
    (I wish I could post a few pictures of these long-gone family members, since I inherited originals some from that era.)

    I think the lipstick and shadow/liner are what makes Jolie look a little too glamorous. Seems that much WOW should have been reserved for an evening event, not scuttling around a switchboard.
    And I agree — though she receives a disproportionate amount of hate and is belittled for her adventures, she CAN act.

    (Hopefully not a double post. I keep getting a weird “ERROR, URL too long message.)

    • M.E. Lawrence

      I agree about the wardrobe. My late mother had good taste and liked elegant clothes. She was also a skilled dressmaker, and so could be well turned out on a budget. (As in saving money to buy fine French wool on sale for a tailored suit that she would wear to work and then out to dinner.) And she would never have shoveled on the lipstick like that. Hollywood has always had trouble with women’s make-up and hair: it’s either anachronistic or screams, “THIS IS A PERIOD FILM!”

      • M.E. Lawrence

        P.S. “Gosford Park” being an exception. (Although it helps that Kristin Scott Thomas looks so ’30s in the first place.)

  4. Frannie Germeshausen

    I have a couple of pieces in my collection that would have worked for her character. She was the supervisor in the switching room, as I recall, so her clothes would have been nicer to reflect her authority and higher wage. I don’t doubt the fur collar at all. Her hats are lovely, but not as fancy as some of them can get. So, I totally buy in. (I’d love to have that soft green dress . . .)

  5. Heidi Lindner

    I feel like if they had done a more 20’s lip shape on her it might not look so out there and intrusively modern. Bu that’s just me.

  6. Janette

    I had forgotten about this film. I heard good things about it at the time and it is scripted by JMS but has fallen off my radar since. Certainly women of working class backgrounds could be well dressed. Though a couple of decades later my mother in law took a secretarial job in a department store, so comparable in terms of income and social status and she started buying designer outfits, many of which i inherited. she also did some modelling. It is possible that the costumes in the film don’t have the look of items that are well worn and also agreed that lipstick does stand out waaay too much.

  7. ladylavinia1932

    The real Christine Collins wasn’t as good looking as Angelina Jolie. But she was a sharp dresser. In fact. most people usually tried to dress as formally and as sharp as they can. I think this all changed by the late 1960s or early 1970s.

  8. TrueWaif

    AJ looks just so very gawky in this movie, that’s actually why I’ve avoided it. She doesn’t look at all believable as a woman from that time period in the stills I’ve seen. My bf liked this movie though & the story does sound interesting (& dark). Some late night I’ll have to watch :)