“From here, she looks beautiful”: The Costumes of Dr. Zhivago

I can name more than a few reasons to watch and revisit the 1965 film Doctor Zhivago: the cinematography, the passionate love story, the incredible acting and, of course, the costumes that won the film the 1965 Oscar for Best Costume Design. With its lush costumes creating a stunning depiction of the time period’s trends, the gripping tale takes the protagonists from a lavish life of leisure to the poverty of war. Set against the Russian Revolution and subsequent civil war, the film takes place mostly between 1912 and 1921, creating a vastly different view of pre and post-revolutionary Russia.

Geraldine Chaplin plays sweet and supportive Tonya, Yuri Zhivago’s step-sister turned wife. Her introductory scene shows Tonya hopping off a busy train from Paris at the Moscow train station in a fitted, pale pink dress and overcoat with matching fur hat and grey muff. The costume garnered much attention from Director David Lean, a stickler for details in the film, who insisted on a few revisions to the design before it hit the set. In Doctor Zhivago: The Making of a Russian Epic, Costume Designer Phyllis Dalton explains, “That was a sad argument I had with the Director at the time because I designed that same costume in pale grey with a black fur hat because I thought she would be so sophisticated she would want to go with the utterly grown up thing, and a rather tight skirt that she could hardly run in, which was very in in Paris in those days.” Geraldine Chaplin recalls the conflict, saying that Dalton then had a white version of the outfit made, which Lean rejected since it made Chaplin’s teeth look “too yellow.” Dalton goes on to say, “David didn’t say he didn’t like it but he was quite adamant that he wanted a pale colour. He said ‘try pink’ …and it’s the most beautiful outfit in the whole film.” The look is elegant early 20th Century Parisian, a chic yet glamorous show stealer. Among the details Lean is known for implementing in his films, he is said to have made all his actors wear period undergarments beneath their costumes for added authenticity, though they were never visible in any of the film’s scenes. Continue reading

The Charlie Browniest

Just to show you all how incredibly fickle I can be when it comes to my sources of inspiration, I will transition from the senior-citizen-inspired post I wrote last month to something considerably more childish… Charlie Brown.

Peanuts has been my favourite comic strip and cartoon for as long as I can remember. I think there is something about the sarcastic, sad, and sort of morbid way that Charlie Brown talks that always just made me feel like I could relate to him a little. Whatever the reason, Mr. Schulz is responsible for some of my very favourite holiday specials, from Halloween to Christmas and Thanksgiving, too. It wasn’t until this year when I was desperate for some form of inspiration in the middle of dreary, uninspired January that I actually saw myself looking to Lucy’s and Charlie’s little sisters’, even to Peppermint Patty’s, wardrobes, and noticing a characteristic style I could latch on to.

Now I’m sure that I’m beginning to appear a little desperate, looking to cartoons for wardrobe inspiration, and maybe that’s true to a certain extent. Every January I wind up suffering from a serious case of “closet full of clothes but nothing to wear,” and this January was far from the exception. The excitement of layering wore off after Christmas and all the wonderful spring collections are starting to rub their pretty floral prints and sweet flouncy pastel dresses in my face, but I know there are still several months of boots and tripled tights and scarves and hats before I can bust out my dainty little oxfords and prance around without worrying about falling down and breaking my hip on the icy sidewalk! So I guess seeing the young ladies in C. Brown walking around in cute little saddle shoes and easy-to-slip-on long-sleeved frocks with their hair all done up made me at least a little bit excited to get dressed in the morning again!
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Style icon: Clementine (or, What a Fictional Character’s Hair Colour Taught me About Myself)

When we first meet Clementine Kruczynski (played by Kate Winslet) in Michel Gondry’s 2004 film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, she has blue hair. Introducing herself on a bus to Jim Carrey’s Joel Barish, she explains her reasoning behind the dye job. “It changes colour a lot,” she says. “It’s called Blue Ruin…this company makes a whole bunch of colours with equally snappy names. I apply my personality in a paste.” In watching this movie for the first time I may or may not have yelled at my TV screen, “Geez Clementine, why don’t you just wear a sign around your neck that says ‘tra la la, I’m so quirky!’” (I might have a problem with contrived one-dimensional “offbeat” film characters – yeah, I’m looking at you, Natalie Portman in Garden State). Of course, to the film’s credit, Clementine turns out to be a well-developed character and the movie escapes many typical clichés, earning Oscar nods for both Winslet and the screenplay. The reasons behind its success are evident – but since we are on a fashion blog, I will be focusing solely on Clementine’s hair.

As the film unfolds in a non-linear fashion (hey, it worked hard for that best original screenplay Oscar!), Clementine’s hair colour changes from blue to orange to red to green. While I gotta love any movie that treats a personal styling choice as a plot device – the hair colour helps keep track of the movie’s constantly shifting timeline – more appealing still is the way that it is unapologetically treated as a realistic artistic outlet. Clementine isn’t the first film character to express herself via hair colour; honourable mentions go to My So Called Life’s Angela Chase, Ghost World’s Enid Coleslaw and Whip It’s Bliss Cavendar. However, there’s something to be said for a woman who is more than a couple of years past teenager-dom willing to repeatedly experiment with crayola-coloured hair.

My own adventures with hair dye start a bit younger; going to summer camp in the ’90s, hair mascara was all the rage. The smelly, sparkly, purple-y goop joined Bonnebelle lip smackers and Caboodles nail polish as the must-have beauty products for the preteen girl set. Once I got to middle school, I was met with a strict dress code that deemed any unnatural or dramatic hair colours to be an “academic distraction.” My mother used to take me to her hair salon to get blonde highlights (occasionally I would be able to sneak by with a little bit of red in there). I made it through the eighth grade with the secret knowledge that at the back of my closet hid a bottle of L’Oreal do-it-yourself hair colouring in Purest Black.
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Braids: A Tale of Love and Hate

In my earliest memory of having my hair braided, I am maybe four or five, sitting in the living room in a tiny pink kiddie chair. I am getting ready for a Ukrainian dance performance, two very tight French braids being the necessary hairstyle for that sort of thing. My mom kneels behind me, getting organized, and although she hasn’t touched me yet her methodical movements send a shiver of uneasy anticipation up my neck. She picks up a spray bottle full of water and wets my hair, and then draws the tail of a comb slowly and carefully down the centre of my scalp, parting my hair in half. Her long fingernails separate first the teeniest, tiniest hairs at my temples. A chill runs down my spine as I feel the first tug of what I know will be a long, torturous series of hair pulls. I am terrified. My lip quivers. Braiding time inevitably becomes crying time.

I hated braids first because, being little and a wimp, they hurt my head. But dancing required that I endure the torture of French braids often enough that eventually I learned to keep my loathing to myself. Later still, I had to learn to braid my own hair, which was another kind of tragedy entirely because, when you’re 10, French braiding your own hair is hard. Your arms get tired and your braids get lumpy in funny places and nothing ever looks as smooth and neat as it did when your mom was doing it for you. Braids went from frightening to frustrating, and I didn’t much like either.

Even when braiding my own hair got easier, I didn’t ever do it unless dancing required it. The idea of wearing them for fun, because they looked nice, did not occur to me – I had no love for them at all.

Then, one evening about four years ago, I came across the 1949 version of Little Women on television. Throughout the movie, Meg (played by Janet Leigh), wears half of her hair in a thick braid wrapped around her head like a headband. The rest of her hair hangs in loose curls at her shoulders. To me it looked so elegant, and so unlike the tight-enough-to-give-you-a-facelift French braids I have always known and mostly hated. Braids could be pretty. The next day I fought with my hair until I had a Meg March hairstyle of my own.

I’ve loved braids ever since. Meg March, it turns out, was just the first in a long line of characters that wearing braids allowed me to pretend to be. Braiding my hair has become my own secret game of dress-up, allowing me to feel like someone else when I am otherwise bored with regular old me. I can be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. I can be Heidi, or one of Pride and Prejudice’s Bennet sisters, or any number of romantic and princess-like characters from centuries past. I’m not sure what it is about braids that make them feel so transformative. It might be that their first job in my life was as part of a performance, or that they seem to pull so strongly from history, appearing over and over again in different ways from century to century.

It’s true that in the past few years, braids of all styles have become very popular, and maybe even trendy – but I am okay with that. To me they seem timeless, and are so versatile that it is hard for me to find them boring. Maybe they are especially “in style” lately, but I don’t know if they’ve ever really been out – and either way, despite our troubled past, we have managed to become very good friends.

-Hailey Siracky