Birth of a Costume Designer

How Clare West revolutionized film fashions forever

There’s a mythical quality to the costumes worn in silent films. Maybe it’s the way the lighting hits them. Maybe it’s the Edwardian and flapper-esque cuts. Or maybe it’s just me, but the clothing always adds a special touch to the filmic experience. It’s surprising then that in the silent film era, costumes weren’t that important. Actors often wore their own clothing, a trend that continued well into the 1930s, and it was common for actors with better personal wardrobes to win better roles (a prime example: Lilian Gish had most of her costumes made by her mother). Things remained pretty much the same until Birth of a Nation, when director D.W. Griffith created Hollywood’s first costume department and hired film’s first-ever costume designer: Clare West.

Along with Birth of a Nation, Griffith later hired West to design for Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages. After making her name, she was hired by the great Cecil B. DeMille and created some of the most memorable costumes of the era. Despite working with the big names, West’s role as costume designer was less than glamorous. She received no credit for her work on Griffith’s films, and was left off the end credits in a few of Demille’s. Still, her costumes helped characters transcend the silent medium, allowing them to communicate through costume. Here are three of our favourite examples of her work:

1 // Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages, dir. D.W Griffith, 1916
An apologetic sequel to Birth of a Nation, Intolerance is a mighty long epic spanning four eras, each hundreds of years apart. It was West’s second and final film with Griffith, and while many of the ancient costumes West designed weren’t historically accurate, they left a lasting impression in both their evocative charm and complexity. Particularly striking were the scenes in ancient Babylon, where the Queen was decked out in ensembles that looked more Josephine Baker than anything ancient. The decadence worked perfectly with the over-the-top and complex scenery that Griffith employed, making everything appear larger than life.

My favourite character in Intolerance is the Mountain Girl. She is both jovial and brave, and takes shit from no one. She fights and dies for her city and doesn’t get plopped in to the role of helpless love interest (like most female characters of the era). West perfectly defines who Mountain Girl is through her spunky fruit head dress and leather armour, which is totally reminiscent of Xena: Warrior Princess—only 70-plus years ahead of Lucy Lawless’s time. Plus, she fights in a tin cone helmet. How can you not love her style?



2 // Male and Female, dir. Cecil B. DeMille, 1919

DeMille is famous for one quote: “Creativity is a drug I cannot live without.” True to form, his films never lacked outside-of-the-box flair. Many of his movies were popular because of their costumes, which were regularly designed by West. Male and Female was the first film they worked on, and West’s costumes were as over-the-top as the characters in the film. The outfits, particularly those of Gloria Swanson, epitomize the beginnings of the jazz age and the era’s obsession with luxury. The headpiece Swanson wears, and the beautiful silks she rocks, make you want to jump into this film and live like a 1920s aristocrat.



3 // The Affairs of Anatol, dir. Cecil B. DeMille, 1921

For this film, West created one of her most iconic costumes for actress Bebe Daniels: a dress in the shape of an octopus. The outfit’s whimsy flawlessly captures the unique visual creativity of Demille’s films. Daniels plays the cool Satan Synne, a high-class prostitute with a chilly demeanor, armed with a bat-shaped dressing table in her sensual boudoir. Despite not getting a lot of screen time, she is totally eligible for the title of “Grandmother of Goths.”

What to Wear When Hot on the Trail

Whether solving crime or cracking codes, it's best to do it in style

Fashion has always been filled with mysteries: What is hiding behind Karl Lagerfeld’s sunglasses? How can there be more than 52 fashion weeks in a year? Lotion and denim—meant to be?

Then, there are some things we don’t even need to question. As long as there have been sleuths—whether in fact or fiction—there has been clothing to covet, be it elaborate disguises or the more traditional trench coats. We got our Wornettes to get to the bottom of the case in figuring out who the best-dressed detectives are.


Dr. Julia Ogden (CityTV/CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries)
As Murdoch Mysteries‘ token “New Woman,” Dr. Ogden is a doctor, early forensics specialist, and women’s health advocate. She is also intellectually and temperamentally a perfect match for the series protagonist, Detective William Murdoch, and their partnership is the heart of the show. Her style reflects her position as a woman in a world of men, and she is almost always wearing menswear inspired pieces like ties, vests, and separates. But as the show has progressed and her presence has become more accepted (and she has moved away from the autopsy table), her dress has grown softer and more feminine. In the season 5 finale, she sexed it up completely in a black and red, low cut, sleeveless, beaded and sequined ball gown, the perfect outfit for a woman who is about to leave her husband for another man in 1900. Intelligent, brave, and forward-thinking, she’s the woman I would want to be if I were alive in Victorian Toronto—heck, she’s the woman I want to be now. // Megan Patterson


Hercule Poirot (multiple Agatha Christie novels)
“The neatness of his attire was almost incredible,” Captain Arthur Hastings remarked about his old friend Hercule Poirot in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. “I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.” Useful, when one’s job is solving crimes.

Agatha Christie introduced her diminutive, fastidious, and arrogant detective in the ’20s. She couldn’t have known that the transplanted Belgian, with small mincing steps, would follow her the rest of her life. Poirot was laid to rest the same year as his creator, in 1975. By then, his three-piece suits, bowler hats, and patent leather shoes were ludicrously out of date. But it’s fitting that a character that Christie described as a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep,” would stubbornly cling to his jazz age style in the era of punk.

Poirot’s most famous attribute was without a doubt his moustache—a small handlebar, always perfectly waxed. In some Poirot films, he’s even shown wearing a moustache-net while sleeping. When dressing actor David Suchet, the definitive Poirot from the BBC series, the costume designers tested 40 fake moustaches in order to find the most symmetrical one. For costumers, as well as detectives, details are of the utmost importance. // Max Mosher



Jessica Fletcher
(CBS’s Murder she Wrote)
It ain’t easy maintaining a sleepy east coast lifestyle while catching crooks on the regular in rural Maine, but Jessica Fletcher pulls it off with as much flair as guile. Whether she’s unearthing a crime at a Native American archaeological dig, dining with one of her countless nieces and nephews, or sleuthing with Magnum PI on a trip to Hawaii, she does so with an elegance that can only come with knowing that her night out will end up with her talking to the cops (seriously, does nobody question that wherever she goes, reckless murder tends to follow?). With clip-on earrings, jaunty hats, houndstooth jackets and a scarf collection that would earn jealous glares from the likes of Nancy Drew, her mix of belted, shoulder-padded mackintoshes and smart button-down vest combos offer up the best of nor’eastern fashion that makes us all want to curse, “clam dip!” // Whitney Wager


Carmen SanDiego
Where in the world is Carmen SanDiego? We never actually figured that out, but her tomato-red trench coat remains unmistakeable. Sandiego was the title outlaw of the 1980s children’s computer game where players scoured the globe looking for clues of the thief’s whereabouts. SanDiego wore the classic bank robber’s uniform of all black, topped off with a bright red floor-length trench coat and matching fedora, always poised for the getaway. It’s a testament to her stealthiness that she could remain perpetually untraceable while wearing some of the most noticeable clothes, earning her the apt nickname of “The Lady in Red.” Sure, unlike the other names on this list, SanDiego was more a crime starter than a crime solver, but her conspicuously coloured trench was the ultimate subversion of classic detective attire. // Isabel Slone


Mata Hari
Marilyn might have sung “Diamonds are a girls best friend,” but it could have easily been said by the French courtesan Mata Hari, who was executed during WWI for being a supposed double agent. Often seen lavished in exotic diamond head-pieces and decadent silks fit for a bold spy disguised as an Egyptian goddess, Mata Hari’s glamour possessed an intruding sexiness uncommon during the still reserved days of Edwardian Europe.

When Greta Garbo played her in the 1931 film Mata Hari, the velvets, the furs, and the intoxicating amount of bling undoubtedly became one of the strongest focal points in every scene; so exuberant are they that it puts every modern-day Kardashian’s luxury to shame. But it’s not the excess of luxe that makes Mata Hari a fashionable dream—with a hazardous history of prostitution, seduction, and espionage. It’s the way in which all her diamonds are threaded with dangerous mystery, intrigue, and two-facedness that allow her and her style to become the quintessential archetype for dicey femme fatale glamour. Even James Bond called her his first true love. // Paulina Kulacz

Lana Kane (FX’s Archer)
Archer is one of those cartoons in a post-Simpsons world in which you can’t let its animated facade fool you—this is not a show for kids. It constantly straddles the line between delightfully subversive and obnoxious bro-humor with its frustrating Don Draper-meets-James Bond protagonist, secret agent Sterling Archer. Lana Kane (Aisha Taylor) is Archer’s ex-girlfriend and coworker, her no-bullshit attitude providing him much needed foil. And though the way she is drawn recalls ridiculously sexist notions of female anatomy seen in many male-targeted comic books (seriously, her chest-waist-hips ratio makes Barbie look like a stick) she actually gets to fight crime wearing relatively sensible clothing. OK, her high-heeled boots are a little nuts (though impeccably badass), but she’s got a whole wardrobe of these turtleneck sweater dresses that she wears to the office that scream, “I Enjoy Being an Attractive Lady But Also it is Important That I am Comfortable While Doing Behind The Scenes Intel Work Yet if Need be I can Also Easily Kick Your Ass in This Skirt, Also: Check Out My Gun Holsters; I Have Two of Them.” If only my own knitwear could be so badass. // Anna Fitzpatrick


Harriet the Spy (1996 film adaptation of Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh)
Forget typical trench-coats and fedoras. Eleven year old Harriet M. Welsch does her best secret snooping in classic ’90s grade-school style. Solid tees are layered over long-sleeved stripes, jeans and hoodies are very baggy, and plaid flannel is never far out of sight. On duty, Harriet (played by Michelle Trachtenberg before she became an evil mastermind) wears a bright yellow raincoat and a matching utility belt (it holds up her massive jeans and carries vintage spy supplies); her ever-present “PRIVATE” notebook is tucked in the front of her jeans and binoculars hang around her neck. Harriet is always ready for action, whether she’s hiding in a rich lady’s dumbwaiter or hanging from her best friend’s window ledge. Most of the time she’s sticking to practical pieces in primary colours—except when she’s dancing to James Brown in an onion costume. // Stephanie Fereiro


Joan Watson (CBS’s Elementary)
Being TV’s first gender-swapped Watson wasn’t enough for Joan—she also had to have a pretty wicked sense of style. As a born and bred New Yorker, I suppose this only makes perfect sense. When we think of Dr. Watson from other adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, we typically think of someone very stuffy and buttoned up, and his style has always reflected that. Jane Watson on the other hand, exudes fresh breath of casual air, in her demeanor and her clothing. Her wardrobe is the exact opposite of the stuffy Victorian gentleman’s—flowy tops, leggings, perfect unstructured jackets, LOTS of New York-appropriate black, and miniskirts (girlfriend loves a miniskirt, and has on more than one occasion worn a leather one). Lucy Liu makes it all look effortless in that infuriating way she has, even the parts that involve dead bodies (which is, of course, most of them). // Megan Patterson

illustrations //
Jenn Woodall
To see more stylin’ detectin’, check out our Nancy Drew inspired editorial in issue 9 of WORN Fashion Journal.

The Motherloads

Everything we know about fashion, we learned from our TV mothers

Television opponents like to accuse parents of letting the boob tube raise their children. I gotta say—what’s wrong with that? For decades now, TV has been home to some effective mothers, from the lax and laid back to the strict and tough, with the wardrobes to match.

In deciding to profile some of the most stylish TV moms, we didn’t, of course, imagine this to be a comprehensive list—just a picking of some of our staff’s particular favourites. Want to gush about Jane Jetson or Peggy Bundy? Tell us in the comments. But first, sit down, read what we have to say, and don’t forget to eat your vegetables.

1 > Roseanne Conner from Roseanne (1988-1997)
Although comedian Roseanne Barr succeeded in turning her “Domestic Goddess” standup routine into a half-hour sitcom, the look of her character on Roseanne was anything but divine. Sweaters, simple button-downs and jeans made up Roseanne Conner’s wardrobe—that is when she wasn’t wearing her retro-kitsch waitress uniform.

The costumes were a way for the show to reflect the everyday authenticity of Lanford, Illinois. Roseanne battled with the wardrobe master over pricey clothes which made her “look like a show pony rather than a working-class mom.” As she wrote in New York Magazine, “I wanted vintage plaid shirts, t-shirts, and jeans, not purple stretch pants with green-and-blue smocks.”

The wardrobe master admitted that head office instructed her to ignore what the star wanted to wear because they did not approve of how Roseanne was portraying the character (despite the fact that the character was obviously based on herself). While not a trendsetter, Roseanne deserves credit for sticking to her guns and bringing some realness to ‘Must See TV.’ WORN celebrates Roseanne for wearing what she wanted, even if we never found out what the deal was with that ubiquitous chicken shirt. // Max Mosher


2 > Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show (1984-1992)
As a kid (and, okay, kind of recently) we’ve spent many a sick day watching re-runs of The Cosby Show and wondering how one family could be so sartorially spot-on. Mr. Huxtable had his iconic sweaters, and Denise—well, Denise’s style was clearly not dreamt up by mere mortals. But the one family member who is most deserving of our nail art-embellished and bracelet-jangling applause is Mama Huxtable (Phylicia Rashād) herself—er, let’s just call her Clair.

Clair was a hard-ass, capital ‘M’ Mom (and lawyer) who could make you clean your room whether you liked it or not—and she’d wear a pile of jewels and a brightly coloured onesie while she did it. Then she would throw a matching apron over top and whip up a roast dinner without scuffing even one of her immaculately manicured nails. Even when she was working in the garden, Mama Hux was put together; she pulled weeds with style in oversized dungarees, a plaid shirt with rolled-up sleeves, and a straw hat.

It’s impossible to pick a favourite of Clair’s outfits, but a recurring look she owned and we’ve always envied was the oversized blouse and skinny trouser combo; there were usually shoulder-pads involved, and there was always a carefully selected set of jewelry on top, with the occasional belt to pull it all together. Mrs. Huxtable’s knack for style is simply undeniable. // Stephanie Fereiro


3 > Vivian Banks from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
Two actresses may have played Aunt Viv in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but it was the original who was the most memorable. Janet Hubert played matriarch of the mansion from seasons one to three. She was spunky, stylish, and a rare sight as one of the few dark-skinned, black women on TV.

Will Smith’s dayglo tanks were no match for original Aunt Viv who stole scenes with her classy, luxurious style. The sitcom mom was rarely seen without a piece of gold jewelry. She wore suits that were masterfully tailored and jumpsuits that cinched at the waist. Her nails were always manicured, her hair always full. Even when she was cuddling in bed with Uncle Phil (that’s her husband, Will’s uncle), the woman always looked beautiful. Producers eventually fired Hubert over contract riffs, replacing her with Daphne Reed from seasons four onward. And Aunt Viv was never the same. Her wardrobe wasn’t as fly, she wasn’t as forthright, and she probably couldn’t pull off this dance in a pink unitard. // Mai Nguyen

4 > Morticia Addams from The Addams Family (1964-1966)
Morticia Addams is the spooky mama of the Addams Family; played by Carolyn Jones in the ’60s sitcom that paired creepy, gothic sensibilities with a sense of humour. Morticia (the Frenchies amongst you will recognize the word “mort” means “death”) is the ultimate domestic housewife with a demented twist. Her dark yet refined look was a fixture of the show, and she is considered a style icon for classy goths both inside and out of the fashion world.

Morticia was never seen without her cascade of sleek, black hair, cat-eye make-up and clingy, floor-length black gown. She ruled her household with cool (yet perfectly manicured) hand, in contrast to her excitable husband Gomez, who could barely contain his sexual attraction to her. Morticia’s trademark style oozed glamour, and was somewhere between a silent movie star and a grim funeral-goer. // Isabel Slone

5 > Florida Evans from Good Times (1974-1979)
Florida Evans, played by actress Esther Rolle, was the lead character and fiery mother of three in Good Times. The series followed the Evans family and their lives spent in a housing project in a poor, inner-city Chicago neighbourhood. While working class families had been shown on television before, depicting the lives of black characters living in such impoverished conditions was a breakthrough in the genre.

So what’s a ’70s housewife in the projects to wear? Polyester, and lots of it. Florida’s outfits may have been tame compared to the funky wardrobes of her children, but she still had mad style. Her most memorable looks had her dressed in head to toe orange—just as fresh and bright as the fruit. Though this might be a clever comment about the state that Florida shares her name with, perhaps the choice was just a compliment to the autumn hues of the Evans’ ’70s living room. Dressed for a wedding in her “JC Penney Original”—a vibrant orange dress complete with matching bakelite necklace—Florida declares that her outfit for this uptown occasion is a little tight downtown. Like a good mother should—ain’t we lucky we got em!—Florida speaks the truth. // Jenna Danchuk

6 > Marge Simpson from The Simpsons (1989-present)
Marge Simpson has become so ingrained in pop culture as one fifth of the most iconic animated family, her style has become taken for granted. Sure, one could argue that she’s meant to represent the typical housewife (though what does that mean, really?) but quick—how many small town stay-at-home moms do you know who rock a green strapless dress, orange pearls, and a bright blue Bride of Frankenstein-style beehive? A mother of three, she understands the value of clothes to the extent that she can stop a counterfeit jean ring operating out of her car hole by recognizing their faulty stitching.

Marge is never more conscious of clothing than in the episode “Scenes from a Class Struggle in Springfield.” After rationalizing the purchase of a dramatically discounted Chanel suit (“It’ll be good for the economy”) she gets invited to a country club inhabited by Springfield’s elite. Marge desperately wants to be accepted by this new crowd, for whom living on a budget and meatloaf do not exist. It’s a world that the always resourceful Marge doesn’t understand, but nonetheless runs her sewing machine ragged trying to get the maximum mileage out of her Chanel suit. Eventually she learns that clothes are just textiles, capable of getting destroyed with the wrong amount of pressure on her sewing machine pedal, and that while they reveal a lot, they can never truly compensate for one’s values. Plus, let’s be real—her hairdo is way more chic than anything the women at the country club were sporting. // Anna Fitzpatrick

7 > Betty Draper from Mad Men (2007-present)
Ice-cold blue eyes shoot daggers through cat-eyed sunglasses, while fitted waists and full skirts cause children (even her own) to run in the other direction. January Jones as Betty Draper, or Francis rather—if we are able to picture her outside the golden era of her and Don and that blue velveteen headboard—is the ultimate in ’50s housewife style. If Grace Kelly put on an apron and went to therapy, she would be Betty. Never a blonde strand out of place or a smudged rouge pout—even while in a nighty, shooting the neighbour’s pesky pigeons.

To the world outside her suburban windows she is perfect. Her anxiety cramped hands hide in white day gloves, and as an audience we rarely see her looking dishevelled. Even sulking in polka dotted chiffon, she still manages to look way more put together than I would after a marathon Kleenex fest. For the most part, however, Betty’s costume is just that. A suit of tafetta armour, protecting the ideal she upholds.

And while the fashion thirsty Mad Men watchers in the past few seasons may have—like Don—found a new muse that’s more their cup of Scotch (cough, Megan), I would urge you not to overlook some of Betty’s sartorial adventures that prove she’s not just a cookie cutter gingham clad housewife. Remember when she recalled the story of being a muse to an Italian designer and pulled out that racy silk romper from the back of her closet? Or the time she bought that yellow bikini from the auction and confronted Don about wearing it outside (Hi, Feminism!…That is until he shamed her out of wearing it by saying she looked ‘cheap’—not cool, Draper). And, ummm, hello, this hair!? // Casie Brown

8 > Jo McGuire from Lizzie McGuire (2001-2004)
Lizzie McGuire was always one of the coolest 13-year-olds who managed to rock some the most flamboyant outfits the Disney Channel ever did see (your move, Hannah Montana). Her mom, Jo McGuire, on the other hand, was much plainer and often deemed by Lizzie as uncool. And yet, Mrs. McGuire was awesome—her look was former-hippie-turned-soccer-mom, who although plain, never lost her quirky flair. Jo’s hair was always in a simple yet complex up-do that even sometimes supported bright bandanas intricately laced. She also seemed to have a cardigan in every colour imaginable, and wore poignant thick rimmed glasses before they were the hip, go-to accessory. Still, what especially put Jo McGuire within the high ranks of super cool moms was the fact that she took Lizzie bra shopping with an enthusiasm and active motherly support that isn’t so common on television. She helped send a body-positive message to young girls wherein lingerie was seen as a part of growing up and womanly empowerment instead of a tool for male seduction with voyeuristic connotations too often seen in teenage dramas. // Paulina Kulacz

image compilation // Zoe Vos

“Rock and Roll’s a Prostitute. It Should be Tarted up, Perfomed”

“The music is the mask, while I in my chiffon and taffeta… Well, varda the message” – Brian Slade, Velvet Goldmine

Todd Haynes’s 1997 film Velvet Goldmine puts the glitter into glam rock. The film takes place in the ’70s and retraces the steps of the fictional (but oddly familiar) rock icon Brian Slade, whose every move and outfit are drenched in sequin and shine. It’ll make you want to pull out your David Bowie records and sing along to Starman at the top of your lungs while wearing bellbottoms, silver go-go boots and multicoloured boas. The outfits make and define the film’s characters; more than the actual music, Velvet Goldmine is about how a rock star’s image and style can define a generation.

Pastel Mini Mouse dress suits are a wardrobe staple

“A Man’s life is his Image” – Curt Wilde (Ewan McGregor)

text and screencaps // Paulina Kulacz