What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage. We create the illusion of changing the actors into what they are not. We ask the public to believe that every time they see a performer on the screen, he’s become a different person.Edith Head
In everyday life people use clothes for identity maintenance, carefully picking and choosing items to display their inner personality to the world around them. We each decide how we want to be represented, highlighting certain features and minimizing others—putting out the very best version of ourselves.
When it comes to the silver screen, it’s the job of the costume designer to get into the mind of the characters, deciding how to best visually represent the personality to the audience. This is one of the most important keys to captivating an audience and making them connect on a personal level with the characters in the story. Across the board there are certain articles that costume designers use to give obvious cues. Eyeglasses display intelligence, fur coats and pearl necklaces reference wealth, low-cut necklines give off a risqué impression, cardigans and turtlenecks portray a conservative attitude. But what about our coveted bow tie? How is our favorite accessory used in film’s world of nonverbal language?
A look at the history of bow ties in film shows a change in the accessory’s meaning. Once reserved for harlequins, old-fashioned fops, and nerds, the bow tie has come to represent so much more. It is now a symbol of stature, wealth, class, endearing style, and even rebellion in the world of the silver screen—thanks to a few particularly debonair characters.
Considered one of film’s most revered characters, Indiana “Indy” Jones (mostly known for his trademark bullwhip, fedora, and leather jacket) did his part to change the bow ties connotations. Lecturing to his archaeologist class, professor and adventurer Dr. Jones wears a bow tie with his tweed jacket. Making the bow tie the action-adventurer’s tie of choice brought it into a new light. Indy would never weird anything nerdy (the fact that the character was played by the suave and debonair Harrison Ford helped a bit, too).
The Godfather – Marlon Brando Wearing a Bow Tie
He gives you an offer you can’t refuse, all the while wearing a bow tie and stroking his cat. Don Corleone from The Godfather set off a minor craze for narrower batwing style bow. He gave the bow tie a dose of badassery, sporting the necktie as he made life and death negotiations, threatening naysayers, never wavering his mafia boss attitude.
Marlon Brando has always been known for being a rebel, so there’s no wonder that he could not only pull of The Godfather character to a T, but do so all the while wearing a previously considered geeky accessory.
Timeless Black Tie Bow Tie
Gossip Girl, an American television series about a group of over privileged teenagers matriculating at a private high school in Manhattan, stars arguably the most fashionable characters ever (save for the women in the Sex and the City series, of course).
One character, the “bad boy” of the Upper East Side is most often shown wearing a bow tie. It’s a stark contrast from the show’s “golden boy” character Nate Archibald who always wears a long tie or none at all. Putting Chuck, the maverick and rebel of the crew in a bow tie gives the accessory new meaning. Not only is it portrayed as a “rich” item, but seeing his devious, cunning, extremely good looking character conduct his Machiavellian schemes while wearing a bow gave the accessory an edgy and mischievous connotation that it had never seen before.
Matt Smith At Doctor Who Series 7 Filming
The space travelling “time lord” Doctor Who from the long-running BBC science fiction series has gained quite a cult following in the recent years, known for his TARDIS (a spaceship/time-traveling machine in the shape of a police telephone box) and bow tie. But he didn’t always wear the accessory.
As a centuries-old alien, Doctor Who morphs or “regenerates” as he call it, into different appearances after suffering from a potentially fatal injury. His most recent form (the eleventh Doctor), always sports a bow tie, claiming repeatedly, “Bow ties are cool.” A statement that has appeared on T-shirts, posters, and other Doctor Who memorabilia, ushering the bow tie into the limelight and giving it a newfound appreciation and modernism by today’s young generation.
So, it seems. Clothes not only make the man, but sometimes, the man makes the clothes.
Additional Image Credits
- Los Angeles Skyline by Thomas Pintaric, LosAngeles03, CC BY-SA 3.0