Costume, and in fact clothes in general, have the power to move us because they are capable of conveying so much in an instant.
Costume is a visual shorthand to understanding the character (or person) who wears them. Ideally, wardrobe designers begin working with the production crew early in the process so they can properly shape the characters we ultimately see on the screen.
As we are such a visual society and subconsciously make judgments about the people we meet and characters we see in around two seconds, costume is vital for representing attitudes, values, lifestyle and preferences to us. Along with a well-written script and skilled acting, costume is what makes the characters we encounter come alive and become memorable. All successful and memorable productions achieve this. Not least is the wonderful HBO production, The Sopranos, set predominantly in the early 2000s.
Despite Tony Soprano, played by the outstanding and sadly late actor, James Gandolfini, being the primary character, a cast of strong women allowed us to see Tony Soprano in various facets. Not only were the female characters strong and groundbreaking in television at that time, the writers gave us a rich variety of women which costume designer, Juliet Polcsa, dressed differently to express their diverse characteristics.
Firstly let’s look at Carmela Soprano, Tony’s wife and the woman he says is not merely in his life, but who is his life. Carmela is feminine and Carmela is strong. She fiercely protects her home and family, is proud of both, and is not afraid of confrontation. Regardless of that, she lives in denial. Carmela is completely aware of her husband’s role in the mafia though won’t discuss it or acknowledge it outwardly. What she does do is benefit greatly from it.
Carmela’s appearance is high maintenance and well thought through. Her hair is artificially blonde and is always perfect. There is no lack of serious jewellery on Carmela. her jewellery is always a key part of her costume. Makeup and nails are always meticulously maintained, representing a woman who doesn’t need to work and has plenty of time to ensure these things are as she wishes.
Her wardrobe choices reflect what drives her. Her style is feminine and just so slightly seductive while maintaining her married middle age respectable profile. She goes for a fit that is snug but not tight (sexy but not trashy) and doesn’t bare too much flesh. So yes, she is aware of the power of allure but balances this perfectly so she doesn’t look too seductive. This reflects her intelligent awareness of how her look is financed while looking the other way. All highly calculated. Well coiffed hypocrisy?
Next week: Dr Melfi and Adriana