Costume DesignFilm & Television

Spotlight On Fantastic Beasts’ Period Costumes

The latest film in the Harry Potter franchise, called Fantastic Beasts And How To Find Them, has now been released. Set in 1920s New York, it features a range of fabulous period costumes, helping carry viewers away to this early 20th Century wizarding world. Helen Beaumont explains why below.

Dressing Harry Potter

One of the core tasks of costume designers is to create outfits which make fictional tales seem real to viewers. The costume designers who worked on the Harry Potter movies faced a unique challenge. How do you bring the wizarding world to life, through clothing, while avoiding tired clichés?

Rising to this challenge, they developed very distinct outfits for characters like Albus Dumbledore. Regarded as a legendary magician, Dumbledore was garbed in sparkly, star-spangled robes, along with fine metal accessories, perfecting reflecting what the character means to the audience. Players like Harry and Hermione though, who were more relatable to viewers, were dressed in a mix of wizarding/normal clothing, helping them serve as entry points into this mythical realm.

Fantastic Beasts fashion

However Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them was a very different animal.  We know the world of 1920s New York far less than that of Harry Potter, so how do you emphasise the story’s magical nature, without alienating viewers? The Daily Dot argues that the costume designers of Fantastic Beasts modelled its outfits on familiar period fashions, spanning the length of history.  This introduced us to characters that unlike with Harry Potter, we do not go into this movie already knowing and loving.

Costumes are used effectively in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. The protagonist, Newt Scamander’s, ‘dorky’ personality is expressed through his tweedy suit/slightly-too-short pants getup. Queenie Goldstein’s free-spirited personality is reflected in her frivolous 1920s wardrobe, while her sister Tina’s more practical nature is channelled by her urban look. Also the movie’s antagonist, anti-magic campaigner Mary Lou Bone and her group of New Salemers wear sober bonnets and dresses that wouldn’t feel out of place in the Salem witch trials, emphasising their distaste for the wizards.

Amazing accuracy

Daily Dot argues that in contrast to Harry Potter, there is far less distinction between wizarding and normal fashion in the costumes of Fantastic Beasts. There is plenty of character and variety to the casts’ outfits, but most of them could pass for non-magical, 1920s New Yorkers. This accurately reflects the desperation of American wizards in the film to keep their world concealed. Meanwhile even someone like Mary Lou Bone, whose puritanical look is very distinctive, would fit into 1920s New York.

Fantastic Beasts’ costume designer, Colleen Atwood, did an especially good job with the New Salemers, particularly Mary Lou and her daughters. The group’s scrubbed-clean faces and subdued, grey-toned clothes just scream puritan. Also the Barebone girls’ modest caps and bonnets channel fashions seen in The Crucible, the most iconic depiction of the Salem witch trials. There’s even a bonnet-feel to Mary Lou’s 1920s-esque cloche hat, while the black, broad-brimmed item worn on Credence Barebone’s head looks very much like a traditional pilgrim hat called a capotain.

Fantastic example

If you’re performing period costume research, look at Colleen Atwood’s work in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, as an example. Instead of just compiling historically accurately outfits, Atwood ensured that clothing mirrored the personalities of the characters, helping viewers get to know the movie’s major players. Look at Credence Barebone. Credence’s second-hand outfit contrasted sharply with the suits worn by characters like Newt, highlighting his status as an outcast. This allowed viewers to understand where the narrative was going, drawing them into the new Fantastic Beasts world.

About Helen Beaumont

Helen Beaumont’s career started at Camberwell College of Art, where she studied the History of Art and Design, specialising in costume during her final year. After completing study, Helen became a costume buyer for theatre and opera. She has since become a professional costume designer, with a keen interest in period clothing. Throughout her career, Helen has created authentic costumes for prestigious companies such as the Universal Studios, Disney, BBC, Tiger Aspect and the Young Vic Theatre.

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