WHO WORE IT BETTER: Romeo and Juliet vs. Romeo + Juliet

Taking style—not relationship—cues from theatre's most iconic couple

A long, long time ago, musical duo The Everly Brothers recorded a song called “Love Hurts.” Now, history was never my strongest subject, but I’m 98% sure Billy Shakespeare had that song in mind when he wrote his tragic love story, Romeo and Juliet (his other point of reference was clearly the classic romance, Pretty in Pink).

To truly understand this tale of woe (this of Juliet and her Romeo), one must look beyond what one learned from their Grade 10 English teacher, and instead refer to the styling choices made in the two most iconic film adaptations. I’m talking, of course, of the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli and the 1996 Baz Lurhmann versions. Come join us in Fair Verona where we lay our scene.

ACT ONE: Just a Good Ol’ Fashioned Family Feud

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a well thought out costume is worth pages of backstory. Costume designer Danilo Donati won an Academy Award for his job on the 1968 film, and it’s easy to see why: what better way to convey the gang like confrontations between the Montagues and the Capulets than with colour-coded tights? The entire movie is like a 1960′s retrospective of the Renaissance, where even characters with violent tendencies are draped in lush fabrics and faded colours. This explains the following:

PINK TIGHTS!! Just hanging out in the background on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it extra.

Luckily for us, the overenthusiastic viewers, Baz Luhrmann also just does not do subtlety. Romeo + Juliet was, believe it or not, the first movie for costume designer Kym Barrett, though as a surprise to no one she has an extensive background in theatre costuming. (She would later go on to work on the hacker-tastic Matrix). If you’re gonna have an out-and-out brawl at a gas station triggered by nothing more than some inappropriate thumb-biting, you’re going to need flamboyant looks including shocking pink hair and lots of leather. Is this movie timeless? Hell no. And that’s why we love it.

ACT 2: It is the East, and Juliet is the Sun

And so we come to our star-crossed lovers. Olivia Hussey as the 1968 Juliet was probably the mane main reason why I went a year and a half without cutting my hair. Every scene in which she wears it pulled back, her hair still dominates the scene with its glossy locks and center part. You know the girl was just waiting for any opportunity to shake it out like she was in a Herbal Essences commercial. In keeping with all the soft edges of the film’s aesthetic, is it any wonder that for Romeo they cast Leonard Whiting, who looks like he could be Zac Efron’s great uncle? Gotta love a dude who can effortlessly pull off two-tone tights while getting into a fight.

The relationship between early-teenager Juliet and nearly-adult Romeo probably would not be that palatable to contemporary audiences, yet Lurhmann was able to keep the age difference consistent but not skeezy by casting another baby-faced blue eyed actor named Leo (that’s DiCaprio. Keep up, now). Simultaneously non-threatening and able to piss off the parents of his amour, he proved to be the perfect Jordan Catalano for Claire Danes’s Juliet.

I believe the costume designer for this was given the assignment: “try to put everything about the ’90s into one outfit. Then amp it up by 11.” A shiny, button-up, halter wedding dress WITH a high ponytail and two skinny face framing hair wisps? Is she getting married or auditioning as an extra in a Smashing Pumpkins video? Next you’re going to tell me that the best man in this wedding is the guy from Bring it On.


ACT 3: Ain’t No Party like a Capulet Party

In a play filled with excesses, the visual cues come to a glittering pinnacle with a riotous masquerade. It serves as the backdrop for the first meeting between two of pop culture’s most melodramatic teenagers, so low-key it ain’t. Zeffirelli goes for a hazy nightmarish vibe with unsettling metallic masks, at once animalistic and skeletal.

Lurhmann skips the vague drug allegories and goes straight for an ecstasy high, creating a kaleidoscope of colours heightened by the surrealism of having his entire cast in costumes that mirror their personalities.

They can star in as many gritty shows and movies like Homeland and Django Unchained as they want, but will we ever see these two as anything beyond an angel and a knight, kissing by the book?

ACT 4: The Supporting Cast Needs Your Love, Too

Ice queen Lady Capulet (Natasha Parry in 1968) drapes herself in black, curtaining her perma-scowl. Even if the Montagues and Capulets weren’t feuding, methinks Romeo would still be nervous around his mother-in-law.

Whatchu brewing in that apothecary, 1968 Friar Lawrence (Milo O’Shea)? Could it be CINEMATIC ATMOSPHERE??? Somebody use this as the backdrop for a photo shoot, stat.

1996 Friar Lawrence (Pete Postlethwaite) has such an intense relationship with God he doesn’t even bother buttoning up his shirt, granting the Almighty a straight route to his heart.

1996 Nurse (Miriam Margolyes) looks like somebody to whom you could confide all your problems before raiding her accessories drawer. Those shades!

ACT 5: Call it Funeral Chic

This is a tragedy, after all. That ooey-gooey puppy love can’t compete with the power of deep rooted hatred, poison, fake poison, swords, daggers, and (if you’re Baz Luhrmann), pistols. Still, if you’re gonna fake your death, you might as well do it in style. Can we see some more gauze on that ensemble, Juliet?
That’s better. And how much do we love the girls of Capulet house, treating Juliet’s not-not-funeral as a place to show off their duds? We love them. We love them a lot.

Romeo and Juliet, together and colour-coded for eternity.

Not to be outdone, 1996 Juliet shies away from wearing black when depressed, opting instead for an equally moody midnight blue. I mean what are you going to do, not wear a velvet dress with a pointed collar and matching beret when planning to fake your own death? That right there is exactly why you’re single.

Finally, my favourite set out of both movies. LOOK AT ALL THOSE CANDLES! What I love about this is that Juliet’s family didn’t know that Romeo would break his way in, or that Friar Lawrence was planning to rescue her, and still they go all out in snazzing up her crypt. What does your job title have to be to ensure the lighting of dozens and dozens of ornate candles surrounding a dead body? And is there any room for advancement in that profession? Is the life expectancy at least better than a Montague in Verona?

Winner: I could waste my time trying to calculate which film had the better wardrobes, but really in both scenarios it is the audience that wins. Still, I have to give the “Best Dressed” title to anybody, we all know that 1996 Mercutio owns it.

Please don’t kill yourself in the name of romance.

Backwards In High Heels: A Fred & Ginger Supercut

A look at the classic Hollywood style of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

When WORN held its redesign Indiegogo fundraiser last fall, the top perk for support was a film supercut of the bidder’s choosing. One of the supercuts was snapped up by Nathalie Atkinson, Style editor and culture columnist at the National Post. Atkinson’s choice was a supercut of every single outfit Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers wore when they appeared together on-screen in their ten musical pairings. Here, she explains why.

My taste—and to a degree, what I do for a living—was shaped in my teens, by whatever TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies host Elwy Yost felt like watching every weekend.

Elwy loved old movies and particularly the RKO musicals of the ’30s, and as a consequence so do I. I love the costumes in many of his favourite Silver Screen classics—Rosalind Russell’s striped topcoat and hat from His Girl Friday, everything Myrna Loy wears in The Thin Man, by costumer Dolly Tree, the pre-Code bias satins and boas of Dinner at Eight. But the grace, elegance, and wit of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ costumes in their musical comedy pairings remain my favourite. Their panache not only affected dance: it popularized the American songbook (Berlin, the Gershwin) not to mention a fantasy world of stark black and white Art Deco interiors and beautiful evening attire. “The Continental” from The Gay Divorcée won the very first Academy Award for best original song.

The legendary dance duo spent eight hours a day for six weeks rehearsing and perfecting choreography with Hermes Pan prior to shooting a film (which they did, in long takes, on perilously glossy floors). Note that as a 1982 “Frank & Ernest” newspaper comic strip by Bob Thaves later coined, Ginger did everything Fred did, only backwards. And in high heels.

They were the perfect complement for both banter and ballroom: Fred’s dancing is debonair and classy; Ginger’s is graceful but sassy (or as Katharine Hepburn put it: he gave her class; she gave him sex appeal.) Did they or didn’t they? Reading Rogers’ 1991 autobiography, Ginger: My Story, you’ll learn that while both were performing in separate Broadway shows before she was lured to Hollywood (when they made their first picture together, it was her 21st and only his 2nd), she and Fred had been more than a little warmly acquainted. They’d been on a few dates and even shared a real clinch or two (which is more than they ever did on film, given the newly cordial and reserved relationship with Astaire, by then married and, according to Ginger at least, his wife Adele was jealous and possessive).

Fred is known for the white tie, black tie, and tails, and Ginger’s loveliest bias-cut ballgown costumes are those made in collaboration with Howard Greer, a fashion and costume designer who stayed on in France after the Great War to work at Molyneux, Lucile, and Poiret before returning to Hollywood. (Fun fashion fact: Rogers didn’t make her first trip to France until 1952, but she made up for lost time. In Paris she stayed at Le Meurice, where Earl Blackwell squired her to a fashion show and later, numerous private fittings with designer Elsa Schiaparelli. And in the 1970s, Ginger collaborated on a capsule collection for J.C. Penney!)

Carefree’s “The Yam” dress by Howard Greer is one Rogers describes as “chiffon panels of red flame and steel gray.” In this film she also wears a bold original dress design of appliquéd arrows piercing a heart by costume designer Howard Greer and Edward Stevenson (you may recognize it from its recent contemporary copycat: a few years ago New Zealand designer Karen Walker did a very, very similar frock she called “Cupid”). There’s “Change Partners,” also by Greer: “a beautiful black marquisette gown, with a picoted bodice with silver threads, which caused a slight glimmer of reflected light as I danced around the floor.” The dress for “Color Blind” made her feel “like the fairy godmother in Cinderella.” For The Barkleys of Broadway, the first number in the film was the “Swing Trot” and costumer Irene made her a gold lamé dress to contrast with the purple chorus gowns. “My dress had a very full skirt and when I whirled, it filled with air because of the way it was sewn—balloon-style at the hem.”

It’s in 1949′s The Barkleys of Broadway, their final film together—in Technicolour—that you see the beginnings of Astaire’s more casual personal style, later recognizable in films such as The Band Wagon and Funny Face: the necktie as belt, the kerchief, the brightly coloured shirts paired with shortened trousers that showed off his intricate footwork (which inspired Michael Jackson to crop his trousers the same way). Here, the menswear is by MGM costumer J. Arlington Valles.

The Fred and Ginger movies follow a loose formula—a meet-cute dance number, a solo, a casual one, a romantic seduction dance (such as “Cheek to Cheek”), and one grand production number to close. And while they’re elegant, my favourites of their 1930′s costumes aren’t the formal suits and gowns but their more playful, casual attire. Fred was daring, for his day and American audience, because he emulated the English tweed sport jackets and Savile Row suiting style of the Prince of Wales (he traveled to London himself to be fitted by purveyors Hawes & Curtis or Anderson & Sheppard). Ginger wore witty, sometimes goofy costumes like satin sailor suits (Follow the Fleet), like jodhpurs and roller-skating skirts, in the looser numbers. There is also, of course, some dish about the infamous costume at the heart of the legendary fight she had on Top Hat with Astaire and their longtime director Mark Sandrich, the director on five of their nine RKO musicals together (their 10th was in colour, at MGM). Rogers had specifically asked for a pale blue dress with front and back neckline trimmed in long ostrich feathers. Fred didn’t care for it, especially since with every movement and quiver, it shed feathers—all over his tuxedo, for example.

She got her way and the dress—and all its feathers—floats languidly and sensually through the number; it now resides in the Smithsonian, along with her glittering dress from The Piccolino. The dance partners reconciled and from then on, his nickname for her was ‘Feathers.’

And if you look closely, around the 50-second mark you’ll see the high-gloss dance floor littered with the ostrich feathers that have slowly drifted over the course of their dance.

text // Nathalie Atkinson
video // Daniel Reis

Every one of the costumes they wore on-camera together during their partnership, in chronological order:
Flying Down to Rio
The Gay Divorcee
Top Hat
Follow the Fleet
Swing Time
Shall We Dance
The Story of Vernon & Irene Castle
The Barkleys of Broadway

further reading >
Astaire & Rogers by Edward Gallafent
Fred Astaire by Joseph Epstein
Puttin’ On the Ritz: Fred Astaire & the Fine Art of Panache by Peter J. Levinson
Ginger: My Story by Ginger Rogers
Fred Astaire: His Friends Talk by Sarah Giles
The Astaires by Kathleen Riley

Lady Snowblood: Queen of Kimono (and Death)

There's a whole lot of pretty hiding under all the blood

Lady Snowblood is a Japanese grindhouse flick from the ’70s, and is probably best known as being “that movie that inspired Kill Bill.” It’s based on the manga series Shurayukihime by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Kazuo Kamimura, and it follows the story of a young woman named Yuki, who is conceived and born for the sole purpose of avenging the rape of her mother and the murder of her mother’s husband and son. It takes place in the Meiji era (1868-1912), right after Japan reopens itself to trade with the West, and the fall of the 250 year old Tokugawa Shogunate. The government was pretty much completely overhauled, the previously defunct emperor given back the reigns of power, and a parliament created. Needless to say, this was a period of unrest in Japan’s history, and what happens to Yuki’s mother is a result of that unrest.

Yuki performs her revenge in a dazzling array of gorgeous kimonos, but first I just want to lay out what that means exactly. There are technically two types of Japanese robes for women: the yukata and the kimono. The yukata is typically made of cotton, and meant for the hot, humid summer months. The yukata is also considered more casual. Kimonos, on the other hand, tend to be made of silk and have two visible collars (called eri). The second collar is usually detachable and attaches to the juban, or under robe. Kimonos are typically worn in the winter, or on more formal occasions. The obi is the topmost silk sash that is usually tied in an elaborate bow at the back. It has more layers than you can see, but I won’t really be talking about them. If you want to know more about kimono terminology, here is a pretty good resource.


This is one of the first kimonos we see Yuki in, which is white with a blue flower motif along the bottom. The cerulean obi with gold detailing is probably one of the most beautiful ones she wears in the whole film. Kimono patterns are very seasonal, and the flowers on this one help to reinforce that this scene takes place in the spring/summer. Yuki wears a lot of white, which I think is to represent her innocence and youth, but often when she is wearing this colour, a whole lot of carnage goes down. However, white also ties her to her mother’s dead husband, who is essentially killed for wearing this colour, and white was the colour worn by samurai when committing ritual suicide, which she essentially is. Yuki knows she could die at any time committing her vengeance, and she dresses accordingly.


This blue striped kimono with red obi is one of the most graphic costumes Yuki wears in the films. The colours and the stripes are quite nautical, aren’t they? And very appropriate for assassinating someone on the seashore. You’ll notice that there’s not a lot of white showing here, and this hit is probably the most bloodless. It should also be noted that her juban here (and pretty much in all the scenes where Yuki is out for murder), is red. You can catch flashes of it throughout the film, and I think it’s there to represent both her true murderous intent underneath her innocent beauty, as well as for a hint of sexyness, as red is also considered a very sexy colour in kimono patterns.


As you can tell from the sword, Yuki is out to avenge her mother’s murderers. But the minimal amount of white here means no battle scene is about to go down, and, as it turns out, this target happens to be dead. Yuki also tends to wear purple during calm scenes, either on the kimono or her obi.

There is a lot of white going on in this outfit, and as you can see, the blood spatter gets pretty intense. Her juban during this fight scene is also red, and you catch flashes of it every time she slashes her sword.


Again Yuki is in purple, and again no fighting happens in the scenes where she is wearing this headcovering. My theory is that main purpose of this headcovering is to help emphasize the shock on Yuki’s face when a certain ally reveals who his father truly is (film studies students, eat your heart out).

This is the “final countdown” kimono, and you can see here that her juban is again red, and this kimono is predominantly white. The butterflies also symbolize the souls of the living and the dead, which is why she’s wearing what might be considered a spring motif in the winter. If she was going to go down, she would go down fighting – while making a sartorial impact.

For WORN’s Eyes Only

Daniel Wornette has a license to film

The footage above was taken during a top secret mission to infiltrate a new exhibition of James Bond costumes, props, and sketches at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Alright, I was invited. And I shot it on my iPhone, not microfiche. Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style celebrates half a century of the cinema’s most famous spy. Everything you could possibly want is here: Ursula Andress’s white bikini, Oddjob’s deadly bowler hat, Goldfinger’s gold tuxedo.

I had the privilege of interviewing Oscar-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming (Topsy-Turvy, The Dark Knight trilogy) about her experiences working on five Bond films, from GoldenEye to Casino Royale. Her insight into creating Bond’s wardrobe gave me a greater appreciation for the craft of costume design. An immaculately tailored tuxedo can announce 007′s presence more powerfully than his own signature introduction: “Bond, James Bond.”

Designing 007: 50 Years of Bond Style is running at the TIFF Bell Lightbox until Januray 20th, 2013.

text and video // Daniel Reis