FIDM Museum 28th Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design Exhibit


Frock Flicks note: This is a guest post by our friend Loren Dearborn, who blogs at The Costumer’s Closet. She was kind enough to share her photos and review of the annual FIDM movie costume exhibit.



After touring the exhibit this year, it became obvious to me that I had some clear favorites, and hey, it’s quarantine time, and we’re all going a little bonkers at my house, so this time I decided to do my review a little differently. This time, it’s a SMACKDOWN!


In the War Movie division it’s — Jojo Rabbit vs. 1917!

Jojo Rabbit (2019), Costume Designer: Mayes C. Rubeo

I have to say, I loved the costumes for Jojo Rabbit. It’s a very different palette from what we’re used to seeing in a war movie. Director Taika Waitii wanted viewers to see things from the point of view of Jojo, a young boy, so they went for a more colorful look. While Jojo’s uniform isn’t all that exciting, I love the clothes that his mother, Rosie, wears.

JoJo Rabbit (2019)

Her 1940s sweaters are so chic. She wears a series of similarly stylish costumes throughout the movie.

JoJo Rabbit (2019)

I thought both of these other outfits of theirs were rather charming, true to period, but somewhat cartoony in their brightness. While trousers weren’t super common on women then, they fit Rosie’s sort of confident Hepburn-esque character.

Captain Klenzendorf is rather flamboyant, so his over-the-top, self-designed uniform with cape, while certainly not historically accurate, fits the wackiness of his character.

JoJo Rabbit (2019) JoJo Rabbit (2019)


1917 (2019), Costume Designers: Jacqueline Durran and David Crossman

1917 (2019)

Look, I’m sure they are great, and they look accurate all, but British WWI men’s uniforms are frankly, just kind of, um, boring. Why can’t we get another big-budget Napoleonic movie?

1917 (2019) 1917 (2019)

Jojo Rabbit is just far more interesting, sorry 1917!


In the Hoop Skirt division it’s — Little Women vs. Harriet!

Little Women (2019), Costume Designer: Jacqueline Durran

Little Women (2019)

So I haven’t actually seen Little Women, despite the fact that reading the book at age 9 is probably what got me into costuming in the first place. Mostly I’ve been put off by the hair and the costumes, which just look weird to me. There is something about the bodices that I can’t quite put my finger on … oh, I see, apparently they are only sometimes wearing corsets and admittedly took liberties with the costumes’ accuracy. Sadly, it shows.

This pale sage-colored dress of Meg’s looks more Edwardian than a Civil War to me … What is going on with that collar?

Little Women (2019)

Meg’s pink ballgown appears to have the correct underpinnings, but I still had problems with it.

Little Women (2019)

The U-shaped neckline of the bodice is odd, and the straps look too far up onto the shoulder instead of right on the shoulder’s edge like this gown.

Little Women (2019)

Compare with:

1860s ballgown, probably American, The Met Museum

1860s ballgown, probably American, The Met Museum

I like the wrapper and quilted petticoat for Marmee a bit more.

Little Women (2019)

The paisley print is typical of wrappers at the time, but the lack of underpinnings makes them look a bit sad. Doesn’t this one look better?

Jo’s shift is fine, and it’s a nice touch to have her initials embroidered on it.

Little Women (2019)

No corset though, because apparently they were too bohemian for corsets.

eye roll

I like the fact that Amy’s skating costume is a shorter length, as a skating dress for a girl of the time would be, but it still looks off to me.

Little Women (2019)

The sontag wraps I’ve seen are knitted, but instead of knitting one, or even just using a knit fabric, they just added yarn “stitches” to make it look kinda, sorta knitted. And why is she wearing what looks like a German trachten jacket?

I would have loved to have seen Amy in something like this instead:

19th-century skating outfit


Harriet (2019), Costume Designer: Paul Tazewell

Harriet (2019)

Harriet had a fraction of the budget of Little Women, but I liked the Harriet costumes much more. And while it sadly was not on display, I love that they reproduced a costume from the earliest actual photo of Harriet Tubman!

The first gown is an olive green silk that Harriet wears once she has escaped and is living in the North.

Harriet (2019)

It’s fairly similar in style to these daguerreotypes of African-American women in the 1850s.

A friend gives Harriet this blue print gown when she first reaches the North and freedom.

Harriet (2019)

I love how bright and hopeful it feels, and you can find images of African-American women wearing similar print gowns.

At first, Harriet’s “bandit” look seems like something from a steampunk movie, but I think it’s kind of plausible.

Harriet (2019)

While I’m not sure about a red coat, Harriet had to have practical attire for tracking hundreds of miles and sometimes dressed as a man to avoid detection, so the mixing of practical women’s garments and traditionally male accessories works for me. Plus it’s kinda badass.

The last costume is from Harriet’s time as a runaway slave.

Harriet (2019)

It’s just a simple mid-Victorian bodice and skirt weathered to reflect the long journey north when she escaped with nothing but the clothes on her back. Photos of enslaved women are rare, but you can see a few here, and they look fairly similar to Harriet’s costume, albeit less weathered.

Harriet wins!


In the early 20th-century division — Dumbo vs. Downton Abbey!

Dumbo (2019), Costume Designer: Colleen Atwood

Dumbo (2019)

Ah, no wonder the costumes for Dumbo were so good, they were designed by the incomparable Colleen Atwood! Dumbo is supposed to be set in 1919, and I felt like these costumes captured the fantasy of the circus while staying true to the look of that period.

At first glance Eva Green’s costumes seem a bit scandalous, but many female circus performers of the time wore even less!

Dumbo (2019)

Her character, Collette, is a movie-star level aerialist in a very prominent circus, and these costumes reflect the glamor that goes with her being a performer on that level.

Dumbo (2019) Dumbo (2019)

Her peacock costume looks like a more upscale version of the peacock costume worn by this circus performer in the ’20s, and I love that they are also working with an elephant!

1920s circus performers

My only gripe is Collette doesn’t get the screen time she deserves. Her costumes, and that of the rest of the circus, are wonderful eye candy, but unless you’re watching with small children, this is a movie you may want to just fast-forward until you get to those scenes.

And speaking of children, I just love the little girl’s frock!

Dumbo (2019)

It has the same playful feeling as the rest of the costumes but is also just a great example of a late teens dress for a girl, like these dresses from the spring 1919 Sears and Roebuck catalog.

1919 - Sears Catalog - children's frocks


Downton Abbey (2019), Costume Designer: Anna Robbins

Downton Abbey (2019)

So confession time — I stopped watching Downton once they killed off my two favorite characters, even the incomparable Maggie Smith couldn’t save it for me after that. So I haven’t seen the movie or even the last few seasons of the show, which means I may be missing some nuances of these costumes, my apologies.

Cora’s silk silver lamé leaf dress is made of an amazing textile, but the color is rather drab.

Downton Abbey (2019)

I’ll admit, I was a little horrified when I read that the fabric had originally been turquoise, and they decided to strip the color out. I think part of my problem with the Downton costumes is the lack of color. This dress would have been so much more beautiful if they had left it the original color.

This 1927 gold lamé gown is somewhat similar, but the pop of turquoise makes it so much more interesting.

1927 - French evening dress via

1927 – French evening dress via

Maybe that is why I liked Dowager Countess Violet’s gown, some color!

Downton Abbey (2019)

I appreciated that they kept her costume a little old-fashioned, I think we all tend to cling a bit to the styles of our youth, and Lady Violet’s pale blue gown is more of an Edwardian style.

Lady Mary’s black and silver dress is a vintage gown that was altered for the show. While it’s a lovely piece, I was disappointed to find it was not as striking in real life as it was in the promotional stills I’ve seen.

Downton Abbey (2019)

I found Lady Edith’s pink gown just a bit boring. There’s nothing wrong with it, it looks very like some 1920s evening gowns I’ve seen, but when compared to the other gowns, it just is rather dull. (Kind of like Edith!)

Downton Abbey (2019)

I know that’s her character, but I would have loved to have seen something a little more exciting like this 1927-1928 peach silk chiffon and crepe evening gown.

My favorite Downton dress by far is this rich blue replica of a Fortuny delphos gown.

Downton Abbey (2019)

Apparently designer Anna Robbins worked with Fortuny to create this custom gown for Lady Mary, and it shows, this dress is just gorgeous!

But I’m a sucker for color, and Dumbo more consistently gave me what I wanted, so I have to give it to the elephant, sorry Downton!


And finally in the mid-century division it’s — Rocketman vs. The Irishman!

Rocketman (2019), Costume Designer: Julian Day

Rocketman (2019)

Every time FIDM does their movie costume exhibit, there is one movie that sort of knocks your socks off, and this year Rocketman was it. These were so over-the-top fabulous and so beautifully crafted. The costumes followed the tone of the movie as a fantasy biopic, in that they are mostly flights of fantasy inspired by Elton John’s stage costumes.

First up was the “chicken suit.”

Rocketman (2019)

On screen this is just colorful crazy, but up close, I was really impressed with the construction. The “feathers” are all metallic leather or sequined fabric edged in metallic leather!

Rocketman (2019)

Elton actually wore a similar costume in 1977 when he performed on The Muppet Show!

Elton John - chicken outfit

Elton John, 1977

The devil costume too is a sort of homage to several different ones Elton wore on tour.

Rocketman (2019) Rocketman (2019)
Elton John - Angel costume, circa 1998

Elton John – Angel costume, circa 1998

Elton John - Ice on Fire Tour, 1986 - via Getty Images

Elton John – Ice on Fire Tour, 1986 – via Getty Images

This was also stunning in real life with thousands of flame-colored Swarovski crystals and ombre red/black wings.

The costume for the concert at Dodger Stadium was one of the few that was a replica of a real stage costume. The original sequin and rhinestone encrusted costume was designed by Bob Mackie and looks a little heavier, and honestly a little clunkier, than the movie’s reproduction.

Elton John - Dodger Stadium concert, 1975

Elton John – Dodger Stadium concert, 1975

Julian Day opted to make the movie look a little sleeker by using 250,000 Swarovski crystals!! And wow did it sparkle!

Rocketman (2019) Rocketman (2019)

The ensemble for “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is simpler, but it’s one of my favorites.

Rocketman (2019)

It manages to incorporate all of the main characters from the Wizard of Oz in one costume — Cowardly Lion fur coat, Scarecrow straw hat, Tin Man silver shirt, and Dorothy blue for the suit and, of course, ruby slippers!

And finally there’s Elton’s Queen Elizabeth costume.

Rocketman (2019)

Multiple modern brocade fabrics and gold laces piled atop one another with strand upon strand of pearls — it’s not a historically accurate Elizabethan, but it’s pretty fab for a ’70s rockstar doing Elizabethan! I think the best part of this costume are the glasses and the starry headdress.

Rocketman (2019)

In addition to the side-by-side photos shown here, this is a great gallery of some of the real costumes Elton wore on stage.


The Irishman (2019), Costume Designer: Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson

The Irishman (2019)

These costumes look very true to the period to me, not that I’d expect anything less from Sandy Powell!

The Irishman (2019)

The polyester Pucci-esque pantsuits that Carrie and Irene wear are nearly identical to the sorts of things both my grandmothers wore when I was a child in the early ’70s.

1960s Vogue pattern - 'Pucci of Italy'

1960s Vogue pattern – ‘Pucci of Italy’

And I’m pretty sure my grandad owned that almost that exact Hawaiian shirt!

The Irishman (2019)

“Aloha” shirts and shorts like this can also be seen paired together in this 1967 Montgomery Ward catalog menswear.

Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro’s suits were a mixture of bespoke and tailored vintage suits, and they look very well-tailored. But honestly 1970s menswear is not really not my thing.

The Irishman (2019)

If, however, it is to your taste, this deep-dive on the menswear in The Irishman is for you.

While the costumes for The Irishman look quite good, they are no match for the over-the-top fabulosity of Rocketman!



Which of these 2019 historical movie costumes are your faves?

22 Responses

  1. Nzie

    Ooh! I’ve seen the first four and I agree with your choices. I haven’t seen the other ones, but I see the logic. Tbh mid-20th century is not where my vibe is at and I’m not that over the top. But I am torn over Dumbo vs Fortuny (not the whole movie just that one gown). :-)

    Thanks for the peek into the exhibit!

  2. Fiz.

    I loved the Harriet, Downtown Abbey and Rocketman clothing. The clothing in Little Women left me cold. Jo wore the oddest outfits and don’t get me started on hair, the lack of corsets and Meg’s pink gloves and all the other coloured gloves at the ball! Thank you for sharing the photos and your article.

    • Saraquill

      I saw a clip of the first ten minutes of Little Women. I’m not sure if I made it to five. How does anyone take Jo seriously, let along professionally, when she’s so disheveled looking?

  3. Bel

    Re: lack of corsets in Little Women–characters in Alcott’s Eight Cousins actually do forgo corsets because they think it’s healthier not to wear them, so maybe it’s not entirely unusual for the time period, especially for people of alcott’s class and political leanings? Though I do think that book might have a later setting, and I seem to remember descriptions of their dresses being constructed differently to accommodate the different underclothes (sorry, long time since I’ve read that book).

    • Bel

      Okay, just looked it up–Eight Cousins was 1875, so it might be reasonable to assume Alcott was referring to the rational dress movement, which began far after the time period of Little Women?

      • Loren Dearborn

        Eight Cousins is set quite a bit after Little Women. If I recall rightly it’s only Rose who doesn’t wear a corset and it’s a fairly controversial decision her uncle makes that her aunts balk at. I can understand a rational for it given Alcott’s experience growing up with pretty radical parents, but I can’t really understand the general sloppiness of the costumes in the movie. Shrug, it just wasn’t to my taste.

  4. Saraquill

    I’m annoyed at the white-coded mannequins for Harriet. The paper wigs though are trying to emulate natural hair, so I’m curious if there were budget or availability constraints behind the scenes.

    • Tez

      What are you even trying to imply here? Stop spoiling for a fight.

    • Nzie

      I think it needs to be taken in the context of the story and the filmmaker’s message, which is really strongly against war and prejudice, and the effects of them on children, but told in a unique way from a child’s eye view. It has a lot of charm, a lot of humor, a lot of heart, and some really serious stuff woven in. Jojo out of context looks insane, but within the world of the film, there’s something really special there.

    • Loren Dearborn

      That’s actually an error in my numbering of the photos, if you read the first paragraph you can see it’s the one that goes with that photo. And no, nothing charming about the SS. I think Nzie perfectly expressed my feelings about the movie below.

  5. Karen K.

    I loved, loved, loved the Rocketman costumes and was miffed when it was overlooked for the Oscar nominations. I also loved the Jojo Rabbit costumes, I love that they actually used color — people in history wore bright colors! Really! Even poor people, I hate how costume designers just assume only rich people wore colors.

  6. Lily Lotus Rose

    Thank you for this post. Of all the films mentioned here, I’ve only seen two–Downton Abbey and Dumbo. The costumes for Downton Abbey were gorgeous, and they fit in perfectly with each character and the overall look of the movie. If you ever return to the series and the film, I think you’ll see how well it all comes together in the end. Thanks for taking on us this tour!

  7. Shashwat

    I so wanted Jojo Rabbit to win.70’s are the graveyard of fashion,but Sandy Powell may change my opinion.I think Little Women was awarded only as a cover up for the blunder of denying a well deserved nomination to Greta Gerwig as best director.Clearly the Academy has been biased against women directors in recent times,otherwise I see no reason for Joker having been nominated in the same category while it was certainly lacking the punch of surprisingly great direction.And yes,Rocketman was cheated.So was Crimson Peak for its mind numbingly goth gorgeousness.

    • Nzie

      I think there’s a lot of compensatory Oscar voting. Like, we know Parasite is going to sweep so here, Greta, take a costume award, and Taika, you get screenplay. And yeah women do get overlooked as well. I’ve been telling people, as much as I loved the Jojo Rabbit screenplay, if I had to do the assignments, I’d swap and give LW screenplay and Jojo costumes. Both were excellent screenplays, but only Jojo had excellent costumes, and the costumes were actually woven into the plot in a big way. Quite a few excellent films got overlooked. I am personally very annoyed about The Farewell, which was brilliant in so many ways and my favorite in a year I saw and loved a lot of movies.

  8. Kelly

    The Nile-green zig-zaggy sweater in Jojo Rabbit was a major part of Lady Julia’s wardrobe in the 1981 Brideshead Revisited. Thanks for the pictures of the exhibition (and the links to other fun places)!

  9. MrsC (Maryanne)

    This is awesome but I do wonder about the choice to make the mannequins for Harriet WHITE. I know that the convention is to have them be no colour at all, but White still has connotations of caucasianness and in a way having the entire exhibition in grey or black mannequins might have been better?
    Besides this I love what you did here and I love that you err to the side of Maximalism, which is the One True Side. Fight me.

    • Loren Dearborn

      It did seem kind of off to have the white forms for Harriet didn’t it? Grey would have been a better choice, it’s a small museum though so not sure they have the budget for new