“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