by bennet_7, published on February 10, 2011 - 12:53 AM|
It's rare that contemporary costume design in a film makes you sit up and take notice. Sometimes while watching a movie I'll think to myself "Hey, that's a cute dress!" or "How can she run in those heels?" or "How the hell can that character afford this wardrobe?!" but it is few and far between where I look at contemporary design and feel admiration and appreciation for the costumes as a whole.
Inception is one of those films. From start to finish I am in awe of designer Jeffrey Kurland's work. He had the difficult task of creating costumes for a largely corporate world set five minutes in the future and that could have resulted in everyone wearing futuristic suits of the same cut. Instead, the looks in this film are modern takes on classic silhouettes which magically equals fashion forward somehow. There are a few great stand out pieces, some subtle referencing of fashion archetypes that serve as characterisation shorthand, and there are a lot of unglamorous everyday looks that give authenticity to the characters' lives.
Clothing, especially the suits, is a huge part of the Inception fandom: there has been a tonne load of suit!porn, writers generally mention what the characters are wearing, it frequently informs the characterisation (especially of Arthur, but also Eames), and there has been a lot of fantastic art drawn to showcase the characters' outfits. There have even been a couple of great guides with hackthis's tutorial How to dress your man/character and cthonical's essay on Dressing Arthur. Fandom, on the whole, loves Kurland's work.
You want to know who isn't loving it? The critics who hand out awards for such things. Now I never expected Kurland to win any awards because contemporary design is rarely recognised when there are period and fantasy films to contend with. Any film featuring kings and queens of the past is a shoe-in for a nomination (crowns! ceremonial robes!); add in films about classic literary figures or based on the work of classic literary figures (corsets! frock coats!), musicals (sequins! fringe!), fantasy epics (armour! tunics!), and sci-fi (uniforms! shiny!), and contemporary design starts to look like something you could buy at the mall.
The last time a film with contemporary design won the Oscar for best costumes was 1994 and as that film was The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert it still featured a high quotient of sequins and fringe. The Queen and The Devil Wears Prada were both nominated in 2006 and the former had the benefit of royals and being a biopic, while the latter was actually about contemporary fashion and its importance, and they still couldn't win (losing out to Marie Antoinette, natch).
Warner Brothers has done some campaigning on Kurland's behalf (see here and here for the 'For your consideration' ads) but, generally speaking, in order to win the big awards (or even get nominated for them) you need to build up momentum by getting recognition from the smaller, earlier awards. And as of this posting Kurland has received just one nomination for his work. This is in the contemporary category of the Costume Designers Guild Awards (because they do have specific categories for contemporary design as well as period and fantasy) and will face stiff competition from Black Swan, which has also been nominated for a BAFTA. The award ceremony will be held on the 22nd of February.
So the purpose of this picspam is to examine the work that went into these costumes, tease out what they say about the characters, and generally just heap praise upon Jeffrey Kurland because, dammit, someone should.
All pictures have been brightened to show detail but I have tried not to mess with the colours
First up: formal wear! In this sequence Kurland created three very distinct and individual looks for Cobb, Arthur, and Saito that are indicative of their personal styles.
Cobb's look is simple and clean, a two-button tux that says classic American elegance to me (fun fact depending on your definition of 'fun': the first tuxedo was cut by English tailors at Henry Poole & Co. and worn by the then Prince of Wales, but it was popularised and gained its name from the Tuxedo Park Club in New York. Worn as Cobb wears it, it feels very American to me). It's kept modern by the monochrome colour palette and the tie instead of a bow tie (and thus also avoids making Cobb look like James Bond) but it features the traditional peaked lapel. The tailoring is aces, with the jacket sleeve stopping short to reveal the French cuffs of his shirt, held together with what I'm fairly certain are silver cuff links.
All in all, it's a nice suit but it's also a very safe choice on Cobb's part. It indicates that he doesn't like to take risks with fashion and, when taken in-context with his entire wardrobe (we'll get to the context), he probably doesn't really care what he wears as long as it is situation appropriate.
Luckily, for all our fashion forward, risk taking needs we have Arthur. His outfit is a three-piece suit that comprises a high-cut waist coat, a jacket with notched lapels (a untraditional choice that helps keep it modern), and narrow trousers (also keeps it modern). All in all, this flatters his slim frame and gives him a silhouette that contrasts with Cobb's.
Those modern touches are needed to counterbalance the bow tie, the knot shirt studs (how wonderful!), and dress shirt - otherwise it's a difficult look for one so young to pull off. Speaking of that dress shirt, check out the picture on the right. I'm not sure what that detail is - it could be a very fine pleat or some sort of ribbing technique that I can't easily track down on Wikipedia - but I love it. I love all these little details actually: they give him such visual interest and make you take a second and third look at Arthur (I think I'm up to my 765th). It's really a very creative outfit.
But in this instance Saito has Arthur beat.
Jeffrey Kurland had this to say in his first interview with Clothes on Film:
COF: Ken Watanabe as Saito wears a Nagajuban under his lounge jacket at one point, a subtle blurring of East and Western culture. How detailed was your research into Asian dress traditions?
JK: I did research traditional Japanese dress thoroughly, knowing that I wanted that influence in Saitos first costume. The scene being in a mysterious and unidentifiable place was the perfect setting to introduce a highlighted reality. Being a powerful Japanese businessman in what was eventually revealed to be a dream; I wanted to show an adherence to and a respect for the old, but still showcasing him as contemporary and cutting edge.
What we have here is a knee length jacket with a shawl collar (a traditional element of the Western tuxedo) over the top of a stylised Japanese nagajuban. These are normally worn beneath a kimono with only the collar visible but worn this way it offers the silhouette of a shirt and waistcoat. I'd love to know how exactly this was constructed and how you put it on because, as you can see from the pictures, each collar or pleat or whatever is layered in such an intricate way.
The white fabric has this lovely floral pattern in the weave that adds another textural element and the "waistcoat" portion of the garment...well, I honestly can't tell if that's embroidery, painted on, or the weave of the fabric. Whatever it is, it reminds me of traditional Japanese landscape painting; to be more specific, I think it echoes works from the Muromachi (15th c.) period. Check out this and this and this this. But then it also reminds me of this from the Edo period (18th c.) and oh my goodness I only started learning about Japanese painting half an hour ago thanks to google and it's not like I'm ever going to be able to make it out unless I see it in person and what are the chances of that so why am I going on about this?
How many essays would have been finished ahead of time if I hadn't gone off on a tangent while researching? So many.
To get back on track, this is one of my favourite costumes in the entire film. I think it perfectly blends Eastern and Western formal clothing traditions and in doing so it comes across as very modern. It also screams money and confidence - you'd need both to wear it - and I think that it is a great introduction to Saito's character.
Finally in this sequence we have Mal. I think this is black Chantilly lace over a nude lining (which gives the dress a greenish tinge in some lights). The shiny raised portions of the lace were either created with a metallic thread or beads - on the cuffs of the sleeves it is definitely a combination of both but it's hard to tell with the bodice. Then we have bands of dark purple satin that segment the dress which is interesting and unusual and might only work on film; I don't like it so much on the mannequin. We briefly get a glimpse of her cape with upturned collar and while I appreciate the work that must have gone into it I'm glad she takes it off because it isn't exactly subtle. If you watch this behind the scenes footage the first thing you see is that the dress also has a train attached to the back of the waist. I imagine quite a lot of hard work went into this dress; it's a shame we didn't get to see more of it on film.
There are a lot of colours in this dress but the overwhelming impression I get is of the colour purple. This is the colour we see Mal in at three other key points in the film: a lilac shirt when she wakes in reality after being in Limbo, a purple cocktail dress when she commits suicide (which is perhaps where Cobb subconsciously gets the idea), and a purple sheath with cap sleeves in the confrontation scene in Limbo.
Maybe others picked up on it earlier (it just occurred to me) but I think that it can easily go unnoticed because of the the different silhouettes and fabrics used. A nice, subtle use of a colour signifier there.
From the Clothes on Film interview:
COF: How important was your use of colour and texture in the film, particularly with regards to the high quality 65 mm shooting format showing up every detail?
JK: All of the costumes and the fabrications for Inception were carefully chosen for their texture, patterns, and colors. Each character had a palette that was symbiotic with their character and style. I especially enjoyed working with director of photography Wally Pfister whose light and shadows complimented and defined the patterns and colors in the costumes.
Some of these palettes are quite easy to pick. Aside from the purple, Mal is most frequently dressed in earth tones.
Mal's wardrobe is quite stylish but it's within the bounds of reality when compared to the outfits you'd see in, say, the Sex and the City movies. I'd love to be able to see both of her beach outfits in more detail: the first appears to be a cream blouse and caramel shorts, the second a belted halter dress over a bandeau bikini top. I also really like the grey trench she wears when stabbing Ariadne and the detail on her layered tank tops, the grey with its tiny red squiggles and the wide-striped red with the ruching in the back. I'm not a huge fan of the short-sleeved jacket she wears while walking in Limbo with Cobb. It looks fine from the back and I'm a fan of using the black piping to create detail and highlight structure but I don't like that collar on Marion. However, YMMV and it's not like we actually see the front of it in the film - I found that picture on one of the 'For Your Consideration' ads.
When I first saw Mal in that long red wool coat and knitted top I thought that look was too old for her but it's actually something she wears when she has grown old in limbo - it's just that the first time we see the 'Waiting for a train' bit, Cobb remembers them as both being young. It's only later, when Cobb states that they did grow old together in Limbo, that we briefly see the older actors and they are shown in the same outfits. So that's some very vague foreshadowing going on there.
Another character with a limited colour palette is Yusuf. We see him in browns, greys, and creams.
For those playing at home, the shirt Yusuf wears in Mombasa in that first picture is the one he wears while pushing Arthur out of the chair in Paris. Clothing continuity always pleases me greatly.
From the second interview with Clothes on Film:
COF: Regarding Dileep Raos costume as Yusuf, he noticeably wears a suit jacket over his kurta shirt. Was this to ensure every member of the Inception team had a suited, almost uniform look?
JK: Yusuf is a very complex character. An amalgam of eastern cultures, he is a scientist, chemist and businessman. The juxtaposition of western style in conjunction with various ethnic wardrobe pieces worked well to show his eccentricities and at the same time, his levelheadedness.
I like Yusuf's wardrobe because it appears very organic to me: thin cotton shirts and kurtas, rumpled linen jackets, and a soft cashmere cardigan, all in natural colours. He buttons his waistcoats and cardigan only at the top which is interesting - it does give him an eccentric air and a very different look to the other characters. However, when needed, he can bring it Western Imperialist style with a dapper grey three-button suit, a beige-y tie, and a white, lightly striped shirt.
However, those trousers are way too long.
This picture is a great example of how Kurland gave each character their own style. Take Eames for an example.
His suits are comprised of tapered trousers (not as narrow as Arthur's) with braces instead of a belt and the jackets feature notched lapels, two buttons, and a single vent.
A vent is that slit at the bottom of the back of the jacket (if you look at the top right picture you can see the vent clearly) and its location or presence at all can dramatically affect the hang and movement of a jacket. Jackets can have a single, a double, or be vent-less and this article informs me that the single is the American style, the double is traditionally British, and vent-less jackets are a custom of Italian tailoring. A single vent is advisable for someone with Eames's body shape; for those with a wider or bulkier waist, the double vent, which is cut at either side of the back of the jacket, can sometimes cause the tail of the suit to flip up or sit awkwardly on the hips (then again, it can be done well with a skilful tailor and the right fabric choice).
Those who are slim and trim like Arthur, Saito, Fischer, and Cobb (actually, I think he wears both styles) can and do rock the double vent. The advantage of the double vent is that it makes it easier to get to your pockets and sit down without the jacket feeling too tight or getting creased. I think it also has a nicer line when buttoned and when unbuttoned it has much better movement. If you check out the action shots of Hardy and JGL fighting on set you'll note how much cooler Arthur's double vented jacket looks in motion, flaring up like that.
When Eames doesn't need to wear a suit we see him in linen trousers like those blue ones up above and shirts with splayed collars. If the shirt doesn't have a natural splayed collar like the salmon and the yellow then he wears it open.
I've seen both love and hatred for Eames's shirts. The only one I don't like is the yellow and that's because the style feels dated to me. But then that kind of suits the British ex-pat vibe I get from Eames - like he hasn't been home for a while so he's ditched the wool suits for linen separates.
I really love the shirt he wears on the second dream level which is black and has paisley collars and cuffs and please note: this is the only time we see him wearing paisley, it's in someone else's dream - I'll discuss the implications of that further along - and while this isn't to say that he wouldn't wear paisley, it's just not a "thing" with Eames as some have written it.
I'm slotting this one in here because I love it, there is no other appropriate place to do so, it is an Eames look (technically), and I love it. Seriously, if I could own one garment from this film it would be this one. The print is really interesting (and seems to have been used to make a matching bag) but the highlight is the rope that is used to create straps and a halter. It's such a cool feature and is complemented by the strappy sandals.
Because fandoms love binary oppositions, one of the unfortunate tropes that often crops up in Inception fanfic is that Eames is unstylish, slovenly, and/or doesn't care about his appearance; this is generally in contrast to an Arthur who is fanatical about the 'pristine-ness' of his three piece suits. Now Eames probably wouldn't be featured in the pages of GQ, but he does have a sense of style and his looks are always put together well, neat and clean, and play off colour and texture in interesting and slightly whimsical ways.
To look at one of his business casual outfits in toto, we have co-respondent (aka spectator aka two-toned) Derby brogues, red socks (!!), grey trousers, a red leather belt, a wallet chain (it might be the chain for a pocket watch but it looks a little too thick), salmon shirt with geometric design, jacket, and a pocket square in a two-point fold (it turns out there are more ways to fold a handkerchief than you might think). Come on, people: that's fabulous.
I've seen the occasional mention of Arthur wearing a pocket square in fic but we never see him with one in the film. Eames wears them on three occasions, Saito once, but the actual king of the pocket square is Robert Fischer.
Huh. Looking at that top row of pictures, I think that's the same suit in every one; the third and fourth are actually a cap and a still photo from the same scene (showing just how much the lighting and cinematography affected the colours of the clothes) but I think the two snaps of Fischer must have been taken on the same day and they just used two different ties - same shirt, though. The jacket is a navy pin-stripe, single-breasted, two-button number with peaked lapels.
But more frequently we see Fischer in a different style: the double-breasted jacket. I've always thought that the double-breasted was more suited to older men; I rarely see young men wear it. It is a more traditional and conventional choice for the wealthy businessman but because they've fallen out of fashion and are difficult to find at the ready-to-wear level, it's now an uncommon choice and thus, conversely, it has a daring novelty to it and definitely so when worn by someone as young as Fischer. The double-breasted jacket can look boxy but here it perfectly flatters Fischer's frame; you can see how the grey one nips in at the waist, while the peaked lapels create height by drawing the eyes upwards.
The other really interesting element in Fischer's wardrobe are his shirt collars. In every instance, bar one, he wears a cutaway collar, also known as a spread collar: the collar points are spread far apart and angled back towards the neck. To wear this kind of collar the knot in your tie has to be larger than normal. This collar is gaining popularity in the U.S. but it is still not very common over there. Nor is it, to my knowledge, popular over here in Australia, although maybe Jeffrey Kurland is more wise to Sydney fashion trends than I am - Sydneysiders, what say you? Let us know in the comments.
The cutaway collar is quite popular in Britain and continental Europe. Fischer's overall look appears very English to me, and this kind of adds another ingredient to the puzzling concept that is Fischer's national identity: we have an Irishman playing an Australian who sounds like an American but dresses like an Englishman. Maybe this was intentional as the path Fischer is placed on is one of discovering his own identity, separate from his father. Then again, maybe not. However, Nolan could have avoided the confusion in my brain just by casting Guy Pearce again (though not for anything would I give up Cillian's performance. Sometimes while doing this I have just sat back and marvelled at his epic bitch faces and beautiful sad eyes).
And on Fischer's braces: they are patterned with tiny flowers. Somehow it's sexy and adorable.
Saito also gets in on the double-breasted jacket action but he cranks it up to eleven by wearing a waistcoat beneath it. On someone shorter it might be too much but Saito is six foot tall - he's got the height to pull it off. This is also a subtle way to say that Saito is fully capable of buying an airline - this suit would cost serious money. To put it into some sort of perspective, a two piece suit from Norton & Sons of Saville Row starts at £ 2,980 (U.S. $4,768) and I would imagine that is for a single-breasted jacket.
Random observation: While putting this together I've noticed just how whack the chronology and time frame for the planning stage is. Although this sequence is all inter-cut and montaged up, you can tell from the characters' costumes that the planning is happening over a really short time period. The day that Saito wears this suit is also the day that Eames talks about Browning and says that the idea has to be self-generated, Arthur asks if they are going to feel the kick and asks how the drug works, Yusuf explains the time dilation, Arthur makes the observation that they can use the musical cue, they all go into Arthur's dream level and Saito announces that he bought the airline, Ariadne follows Cobb into his dreams, and Saito announces that Maurice Fischer has died. It's not just a matter of Saito wearing the suit over and over again because all the other characters are wearing the exact same thing too. This is one instance where they could have really used costumes to effectively show the passage of time because it's just a tad unrealistic to have Arthur asking about the drugs after he's been slapped around and pushed out of the chair repeatedly.
So Arthur is not the only one to get around in three-piece suits. In the film Saito only wears a two-piece suit twice: we catch a glimpse of the navy in reality and then again while checking out Yusuf's dream level, and he wears the black striped one in the first level while on the mission. On first watching the film I thought he was wearing the same outfit on the plane as in Arthur's dream. It may be the same suit but that's clearly a different tie and shirt. When it comes to the clothes, dreams and reality rarely match exactly: something usually changes. I think this is partially what Kurland was referring to when he said:
In a more physical sense the costumes style and color help to keep the story on track, keeping a check on time and place.
One way the costumes achieve this is by becoming slightly more formal or whole, for lack of a better word, in dreams. Ariadne is an interesting example of this.
cthonical pointed out in Dressing Arthur that Arthur will wear stylish clothes sloppily in reality but when he appears in them in a dream they will be neat and tidy; if he wasn't wearing a jacket in reality then he will be in the dream. This actually holds true for all of the characters: dreaming always results in the characters wearing jackets or the complete versions of their outfits. Even Ariadne, the most casually dressed member of the team, always wears her red jacket in dreams when it's part of her ensemble that day.
Why this occurs, I do not know. Maybe dreams have a dress code or there's no right to bare arms?
More seriously, maybe this kind of perfection or wholeness is about how the characters desire to appear. On a practical level, and dealing with what Kurland was talking of, this kind of subtle stylization is one way to tell the difference between dreams and reality.
Before I started really looking at the costumes, I always thought that Ariadne had her first experience in shared dreaming on the day she met Cobb. Not so.
But the outfits are so similar that I've always wondered if it was done on purpose, to increase the uncanniness of the film (my oh my, if I was still at uni I would be finding a way to write about how Nolan used elements of the Gothic in this film). While the jacket and jeans are the same, the shirt and scarf are different.
Interestingly, Ariadne's colour palette is very similar to Mal's - predominantly earth tones of red, cream, brown, and grey in bolder, deeper shades - but it's used very differently. Where Mal's looks are generally comprised of clean silhouettes and one or two pieces, Ariadne's feature layers of clothing - always at least two shirts, a scarf, and a jacket. Mal's clothes also tend to be more figure hugging and even sexy - though she's never over-sexualised or fetishized - while Ariadne's are less stereotypically womanly. However, I do not think her look is asexual, an opinion espoused in this piece from New York magazine:
Poor Ellen Page. While most everyone else in Inception looks ripped out of a fashion-magazine spread, she has to traipse around in Christopher Nolan's version of graduate-student chic ill-fitting corduroys, ratty jackets, and scuffed, oddly pointy motorcycle boots. When Page first shows up as a brilliant architecture student, dressed in baggy pants and, strangely, a neckerchief, she looks not only childish, but of a different movie altogether than Leonardo DiCaprio, who slinks through Inception in GQ-worthy custom three-piece suits...Since Page plays the asexual sidekick, it makes sense that Nolan wouldn't dress her as he does Marion Cotillard's character, decked out in gorgeous, lingerie-inspired couture. And yet, did he have to make her look like a little boy?...According to our very informal survey of grad students (er, our friends), neckerchiefs are not currently a staple of the PhD crowd, and yet she dons one in every single scene. She looks like a cross between a boy scout and the Swedish Chef. Perhaps this is just another Nolan subconscious trick Page's character is stuck dreaming about her youth spent as a boy sailor? Regardless, there are better ways to signify that Page is smart and not the female character whom DiCaprio wants to sleep with than sticking her in unattractive, earth-tone duds. Like, say, giving her a pair of glasses.
Ladies and gentlemen, that was published in 2010!
There is an eloquent rebuttal here but I feel the need to chip in my two cents as well.
Firstly, those are not baggy pants.
THESE are baggy pants!
Ariadne's jeans are skinny just not skin tight (and, interestingly, the only item that Kurland bought for a main character rather than designing and making them). Her red jacket may not be tailored to fit her body like a second skin but it's cropped so that we see her hips and it in no way looks boyish to me. The shirts she wears beneath it generally are form flattering and just because we can't see any cleavage doesn't mean we're ever in any doubt about her possessing breasts. The scarves are generally floral and flowers are stereotypically feminine. And, hey, I like her boots and they're certainly more feminine than a pair of Chucks.
I do not look at Ariadne and see a girl who is trying to look male or asexual. It's just a new and different version of womanhood, a style that is embraced by millions including myself and my friends, and one that is well suited to modern life, studying on campus, and working in an old warehouse. It may not be glamorous or overtly sexy but I'd like to thank Jeffrey Kurland, Christopher Nolan, and Ellen Page: Ariadne's look is refreshingly normal.
This outfit is the invention of a dream but it follows the template of reality: boots, jeans, undershirt, overshirt, scarf, and a cropped jacket, this time in leather - wouldn't you upgrade in a dream?
It's interesting that she uses so many elements in her outfits: in a way she's constructing them, taking an active role in their creation. It's a subtle, abstract way to play on her being an architect and infinitely preferable to her wearing clothes that are obviously architectural (stuff like this where the design focus is on geometric shapes). I think Ariadne's sense of style is still a work in progress (she's young and poor still) but I think it's likely she'd develop this trend of mixing, matching, and layering. However, there is also evidence she might go for more pared down looks in the future.
Ah. This suit. To bring a brief halt to the lovefest, I have to say this just misses the mark for me. I think the silhouette is great: the cropped jacket with the knee length skirt makes her legs look ridiculously long. I love the shirt - although it may actually be a scarf - because it looks both soft and structured and provides such wonderful contrast to the stiffness of the suit. The suit itself has some interesting features that give it a very constructed look. If you take a gander at the sleeves you'll see that rather than being made from a single piece of fabric (as would normally be the case) they're formed by multiple panels of the same fabric in various sizes and shapes; it's the same with the torso of the jacket - creating a corseted look - and with the skirt. The visible contrast stitching also calls attention to the construction of the suit. Once again, it's a subtle way to reference architecture.
However, to pull this kind of thing off the tailoring has to be perfect and here, it isn't. Some of the seams are pulling, giving the fabric that awkward rippling effect, and it doesn't always hang well on her body - the fabric choice is, I think, a part of the problem. All in all, it is a great idea but it just doesn't work in execution.
As for what this outfit says about Ariadne, well that depends on whether this was her choice or Arthur's. The shirt/scarf reminds me of Saito's nagajuban and both have Arthur as the dreamer as a common denominator. While Eames has the canonically unfounded reputation as a paisley fiend, it's actually on Arthur's dream level that we see Fischer, Saito, Eames, and Arthur himself all sporting paisley, suggesting that the dreamer can influence the clothing of even those who are lucid and trained to change their own appearance (I guess Cobb's epic man!pain couldn't deal with paisley - we'll see him wearing a striped tie). Given what we've seen of Ariadne's style, this suit and particularly the skirt, do seem to come out of left field. Having said that, if I came into a whole pile of money or could simply imagine my clothes, I would ditch my jeans and t-shirts for a nice suit. Up until now we've seen Ariadne on campus, working in an old warehouse, or acting as a kidnapper - this might be exactly what she'd wear given the right time, place, and finances.
Also: this suit bears more than a passing resemblance to one Kim Novak wore in Vertigo (1, 2)
With this I just wanted to point out the construction of the leather jacket she wears in Limbo. This kind of detailing, together with extra long zips on the sleeves, is just fabulous.
Also: this is a classic layered look from Ariadne but with no scarf. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!
Probably that it was a choking hazard while she was being tossed about in the waves.
Ariadne's final outfit is a variation on a theme, just with more expensive elements and without a scarf. I really like her white jacket, the front of which is quilted - you can kind of see the detail in the centre picture - and her shirt with that bold print. If anyone knows who made her boots, do let me know in the comments. There is some layering going on - she has an undershirt on too - but this is slightly simpler than her previous looks and more harmonious: the jeans and jacket are in colours that feature in the shirt, but the other colours in the shirt stop the look from being too matchy-matchy.
In comparison to Ariadne, Cobb has a much larger palette of looks due to the fact he's in so many more scenes and situations. His wardrobe is rarely swoon-worthy but it does tell us a lot about his character and his mental state.
This is the first costume we see him in. A soft, salt-encrusted corduroy jacket, it hangs off his shoulders, drawing attention to the way he's hunched over. There's nothing polished or professional about this look - he is a lost adventurer - and it's in sharp contrast to the next outfit we see him in, the black tie. There he briefly both looks and is in control while he talks to Saito. But it's a control he quickly loses and when the dream collapses...
... we get this outfit: a suit, all the worse for being dunked in the bath. Cobb has become more irate, more desperate, and his clothing reflects that.
Back in reality, Cobb is in a different suit and he looks a lot better on the whole but the loosened dark tie and undone top button echo what he wore in the previous dream - Cobb may declare that he's "got it under control" but he's clearly fraying at the edges here.
Suits seem to be mission attire for Cobb as we see him in this ensemble when fleeing to Buenos Aires: a plaid shirt, navy pants, and windbreaker. The windbreaker kind of kills me - nothing screams "Dad" more, especially in contrast with Arthur's badass knee-length coat. The plaid shirt is lovely (and can be custom ordered for US$350) but it's a classic rather than trendy - Cobb is dressed nicely but not in a way that suggests he cares a great deal for fashion or style.
Note: the plaid shirt shows up again in Paris.
This lack of concern is further evidenced by his two outfits for walking around Paris, both in dreams and reality. Like Ariadne's red jacket/grey shirt/blue jeans looks in the same scenes, they share some common elements. The jackets have the same collar and hang off his shoulders rather than nipping in at the waist. This lack of tailoring causes some unfortunate billowing in the first picture, shot from behind, but otherwise it emphasises the wide slope of his shoulders - Cobb's got the weight of the world on them, yo. The shirts, both of a similar design, are decidedly undressy, giving Cobb more of a blue collar everyman look. Does this make him more relatable? I don't know. For me, Cobb has an air of confidence rather than superiority and maybe that's partly because there is nothing intimidating about his clothing choices.
A couple of days after writing the above, I discovered this interview with Jeffrey Kurland in latest issue of The Costume Designer:
What was your approach to DiCaprios character Cobb?
Leonardo DiCaprio may have been the star of Inception, but his character Cobb was also the realized physical soul of the film. His sense of solidity and maturity combined with a heightened reality, creates and steadies the style of the film.
I needed Cobb to anchor the film in color and style. By keeping him the proverbial everyman in warm tones and de-saturated colors mixed with a generous grey scale, it allowed me to widen the palette for the other characters. That way I could keep a continuity to the piece and still have a solid base to return to, without sacrificing individuality.
While prepping for the mission, this is his business casual look and it indicates that he's more or less got it together: his shirts are of a finer quality cotton (the blue might even be silk) and he tops them off with well-tailored sportcoats. We see the plaid shirt again and he wears that blue shirt on at least two days (judging by what Ariadne wears in those scenes). I like that we see him repeat these items because it makes a lot of sense - he's on the run so he must have a limited wardrobe.
He's wearing a suit so that must mean it's business time! Pinstriped suit, striped shirt, and a striped tie - this is a great way to do patterned pieces because they don't compete with each other (not as impressive as when JGL wore a checked suit, striped shirt, and dotted tie, though). This is a conservative look yet it still has a lot of visual interest.
I only just realised, after I'd already made these graphics (*headdesk*), that he's wearing the same shirt on the plane as when Mal died. So that's significant, maybe? Like, it's symbolic of his decision to confront Mal and return to his children?!
English degrees: good for learning how to make mountains out molehills.
Remember way back up at the beginning when I threw down "subtle referencing of fashion archetypes that serve as characterisation shorthand"? Yeah, I was thinking of the kidnapper outfits that Cobb and Arthur wear: they reference the 70s gangster look that Hollywood is very fond of (American Gangster did the same sort of thing). It's a visual cue, not just for the audience but for Fischer - they don't have to spend a lot of time establishing themselves as a credible threat and can get right to messing with his brain.
Although the jacket is a new piece, the black shirt is one we've seen in reality (he wears it in Mombasa) and that belt is the one he always wears. Cobb's jacket was designed and made specifically for the movie but you can buy a knock-off here.
While all the other guys are wearing paisley, Cobb's sticking with his geometric shapes.
Cobb loses his strict lines when dealing with his subconscious. Rather than using swirly motifs, we see him in loose, unstructured pieces, worn informally (i.e. shirts untucked and unbuttoned).
The first two outfits are from Limbo and they follow this pattern. The next does too but it's from reality, when Cobb is trying to convince Mal that she's not dreaming. The final ensemble is worn when he decides to run and it's kind of a classic "Dad look" - beige chinos, a jumper, and a collared shirt free from starch. No, it doesn't scream "MY LIFE IS IN RUINS!" (I think one would need to dress like a hobo to accomplish that) but it lacks polish and style so we get the idea.
Finally, we get this nice transition from this broken Limbo!Cobb to the suited, back in control Cobb of reality who has dealt with his guilt and grief and can now move on...
...with his adorable children who are wearing different clothes. Phillipa at age three wears a pink dress and black sandals; at age five she wears a pink dress with a white t-shirt beneath and pink Lo-Top Chucks. James at 20 months wears beige shorts, black sandals, and a plaid shirt of orange, pink, white, and purple; at age three he wears beige shorts, light-coloured sneakers, and a plaid shirt of white, red, and black. The clothes are very similar, purposely so to create ambiguity, but they are not the same. However, if you enjoy wearing your tin hat feel free to keep on thinking he's still dreaming - maybe his powers of imagination are so great that he aged the kids and gave them new clothes?
Speaking of imagination, this brings us to Arthur. Thanks to a comment from Eames, Arthur is frequently characterised in fanfic as possessing no creative spark whatsoever. I have seen people write the words "Arthur had no imagination" in fic, despite quite a lot of evidence in canon to the contrary. In the film Arthur is shown to be a problem solver - it takes a good deal of imagination to engineer a kick in zero gravity. But we also see him acting as a problem finder: during the prep stage he's the one thinking of ways the job could go wrong. So he has an imagination but he uses it in a different way to Eames and for more on this check out this meta by fae_boleyn.
Arthur's imagination is always on display in his clothing. Far from existing solely in perfect three-piece suits, there is actually considerable variety in his wardrobe. Arthur also has the greatest colour palette and makes some unconventional styling choices. His clothes show creativity, attention to detail, and style.
This is Arthur's second ensemble, after the black tie, and it's gorgeous. I've heard some call the suit beige or buff but it's grey with a very subtle windowpane check. Most guys would, I think, shy away from a shade of grey this light or they'd lose the waistcoat and pair it with a dark tie to simplify it and make it more overtly "masculine". But Arthur really works it with an interesting tie and these Derby brogues in a light tan. This may not look like an unconventional choice but how often do you see men dress like this? (If the answer to that is "Everyday" then please let me know where this magical place is so that I may travel there and admire the men-folk from a respectful distance.)
Note: this is the only time we see Arthur in a plain white shirt. All the others are coloured, patterned, or coloured and patterned.
For instance, this shirt (see it in more detail here) is actually striped. He's back in reality here and wearing a light brown two-piece suit. I really like the tie - it's an unusual pattern but it contrasts nicely with the striped shirt. This look isn't flashy but the fact that Arthur wears two differently patterned pieces rather than two solid colours indicates a level of thought and effort went into this.
Ah, Arthur's travelling look. I like it a lot. Arthur's raincoat photographs as brown but Kurland says that it is green and despite its casualness it still more polished than Cobb's windbreaker. Arthur's choice of shirt is also sharper and more business-like than Cobb's plaid but he keeps it cool with the opened collar. I think he's wearing the grey pants that we see him in while teaching Ariadne.
I included the lower-right pic because Arthur's hair is noticeably higher, not as slicked back as it otherwise is in the film, and it makes him look so much younger. It must have been the first scene JGL shot.
Hand to Darwin, that was the only close-up of Arthur's pants I could find and, after careful analysis, I have determined that he's wearing them again as a part of his next ensemble. I think they're actually a part of the suit he wore on the bullet train, too. His shirt is striped with blue, white, and red.
Arthur can give the impression that he's a bit of a clothes horse and he kinda is, but he does also reuse the same trousers, jackets, and waistcoat a lot, just in different combinations. As I said above, he's already worn the pants twice and he'll end up wearing that waistcoat three times, too. The pants and waistcoat are not a part of the same suit - the vest is in a beige-y windowpane check with striped silk at the back - which is slightly unconventional in terms of styling. You might see someone do that with darker colours - a grey suit and a black waistcoat for example - but not so much with lighter colours. I really love the green shirt and the grey tie is an interesting contrast. There are so many elements in this ensemble that this strikes me as Arthur's riskiest look; I wouldn't be surprised to learn that for some people it is too much.
Often in fic, people point out Arthur's love of sharp lines. What we see far less of is his love of colour, texture, and pattern but these are just as present in his clothing. A love of minimalism is also something I've seen Arthur been written as possessing, but if that is being based on his wardrobe then I just don't get it - his taste is far too fussy, for want of a better word. I can see him admiring a 60s aesthetic (though his look isn't quite retro) but I think Arthur displays too great a love of details to be truly into minimalism. But to each their own.
This might be my favourite Arthur outfit. There are so many different pieces here but they just work so well together. The way that jumper (sweater) sits on him is just...guh. I can't tell whether it's brown or black - it looks more brown in the first pic but the lighting has such an affect on these clothes and the quality of that image isn't great. If it is black then it is the only black we see Arthur in aside from the black tie and that is quite a...well, I want to say it's an achievement. Black is such a staple of people's wardrobes and all the other guys bar Yusuf are seen in at least one black suit but Arthur tends to favour lighter colours which is an unconventional choice. He's not always in earth tones - there is some blue in his shirts and we've got that navy suit coming up - but his colour palette generally serves as a contrast to Cobb, who is mostly in blues, greys, and blacks.
I think that jacket is a tad too wide in the shoulders but otherwise I really like this. The maroon shirt is unusual but it works well with the tie, which is dark grey and purple. Again with the mixing and matching pieces from different suits, I think the jacket goes with his favourite/only waistcoat. The break on the trousers is perfect - I hate to see fabric puddling around the ankles.
I originally thought this outfit was the one above, just with the waistcoat added (I'm fairly certain Eames is wearing the same thing on this day as he did then, thus making it more confusing). But that's definitely not the same tie, I think the shirt is different (hard to tell but it looks more brown than maroon), and I think the pants are brown, not grey.
Ah, the return of the green raincoat (you can catch a brief glimpse of it in this behind the scenes video and it does look more green there). I love the combination of the gold and white checked tie and the white shirt with its blue and brown stripes. He's wearing his waistcoat beneath the raincoat when he arrives with Saito (I like to think they've been off having dinner and discussing their mutual admiration for Francis Bacon) but no jacket, matching or otherwise.
Thus far in all of Arthur's ensembles in reality, one element has been the same: his shoes.
They are John Varvatos Spectator Boots and apparently cost US$598 (similar ones in black available here for US$698). The top of the boot is generally hidden by the pant leg so that they look like Oxfords - it's only when he's tilting his chair back like a fourteen year old boy that we see they're actually boots. They go really well with both his style - which is more formal than Cobb and Eames but still less corporate than Saito or Fischer - and his colour palette: you shouldn't wear brown shoes with a black suit but I think they go fine with grey. Considering they'd be more supportive than your average brogue, they're kind of perfect when you're always on the move and have a limited wardrobe and want as much suitcase space as possible for your eight or nine shirts, seven ties, and however many suits.
He even brings them into Yusuf's dream level as a part of his cab driver/kidnapper ensemble. Arthur's leather jacket here is gorgeous and it's constructed so well. Whereas the front of Cobb's jacket is cut on the horizontal to emphasise the width of his shoulders, Arthur's is cut on the diagonal, from the collar to the arm pit: this keeps him looking slim and tall, instead of boxy (you can see it in more detail here). There is a knockoff available but it isn't cut in the same way and lacks the stitching detail around the pockets.
Also, again: he's wearing a pattern.
This is the navy suit in reality, on the plane. My favourite element is the double-breasted waistcoat which is unusual but gorgeous. This is a more executive look but he still finds an opportunity to include some patterns - a dotted burgundy tie and a Winchester shirt with white collars and cuffs and white, blue, and green stripes - and this keeps it young and modern. Oblong gold cufflinks on the cuffs.
Watching the film in the cinema, I thought he wore the same outfit in the dream but he doesn't.
The suits are cut to the same pattern but in different navy fabrics - this one has a subtle pinstripe. The tie is still predominantly burgundy but now the pattern is paisley. Here the entire shirt is striped and in white, blue, and grey. Even the cufflinks are different: in the dream they