The costumes and accessories created by Jenny Beavan certainly conform to the era in which the movie is set. The Victorian fashion for men are known to be dark colored for practicality, it minimizes the visibility of the discoloration caused by soot and grime which was abundant 19th century London. Customarily, men would wear top hats, sport walking sticks, cummerbunds, and jackets of plain, smoky shades over brilliantly patterned waistcoats (Ruby, 1987). As the Industrial Revolution progressed, the lines between social classes blurred so that “a man born into wealth looked very much like a man who had made his wealth” (Ruby, 1987).
Jenny Beavan, in designing the costumes of a historical period for a film, would often argue that although the period decides the assortment of garments to wear, it is the character that decides how they are worn and that is what makes a character a character (Ryan, 2009). To Jenny Beavan, the question should always be that (and is expected to be asked of any costume designer): If I were in the character’s shoes, what would I possibly garb myself with? A character’s likely choice for attire would reflect (at the very least) the personality, profession, and relationship he/she has with other characters, such as the way their creators intended. And I believe that Jenny Beavan had once again succeeded at the answer.
SHERLOCK HOLMES (Robert Downey Jr.)
This classical character had been played by several actors already. He was largely portrayed as the stiff, prim, and proper Mr. Holmes in Sidney Paget’s illustrations. Although Watson describes him as “cat-like” in personal hygiene (The Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles), Sherlock Holmes is known to be cold, eccentric; a “bohemian”, perhaps, due to his faint regard for contemporary fashion and orderliness evident in most of his stories. I think the great detective would have fitted very well into that gloomy, course jacket; peppery trousers; and upturned collars hiding a curious tie beneath them. About the slovenly hair and “unshaveness”, well, I thought it would be quite a stretch of imagination to see Holmes that way. I have nothing against Downey’s physique being not the “thin, angular, and wiry” sort but Beavan worked some optical tricks with that waistcoat pattern.
DR. JOHN HAMISH WATSON (Jude Law)
I’ve always seen Watson to be the yang of Holmes (not to be tinted with homosexuality). They are at the opposite ends of the Number Line as intended by Sir Doyle. Of course, Watson spoke of himself as a former athlete and military man. Military men, of all middle class individuals in that era, would most likely have “crisp tailoring”, as Beavan put it. And by look of the fabric of Law’s costume, Beavan had even considered the fact that Watson is a practically (often unimaginative man, Holmes tells him), who prefers nice but inexpensive clothing. Once again, I have nothing against Jude Law’s physique as the faithful Watson and simply because he does make Watson look soldierly and “doctorly” in every attire he’s worn in the film.
LORD GEOFFREY BLACKWOOD (Mark Strong)
Jenny Beavan had once mentioned that she had much trouble with Lord Blackwood’s look (Ryan, 2009). Not surprisingly so because unlike the rest of the characters, Blackwood does not come with the pages and pages of classic descriptions and portrayals that the others did. He had to be aristocratic, sinister, and “depraved” being an occult practitioner (I thought that was not so difficult). Judging by his plots, he is to appear with an intellectual air as well. Finally, after consulting with a Mason, Beavan gave Blackwood a three-dimensional presence by garbing Strong with a black, heavy, furred overcoat over perhaps leather frocks with a flaring collar. Black had always been a villainy color and what could have been a more appropriate theme for a villain named Blackwood claiming to possess dark powers in 19th century London? Like Holmes, he was meant to look out of place; he is the agent of change he says. Personally, I cannot imagine a Lord Blackwood not having that furred coat and leather frocks.
Ruby, J. (1987). Costume in Context: The Victorians.
Ryan, M. (2009, December 23). Sherlock Holme’s Costume on the Case of the Missing Deerstalker Hat. Retrieved April 3, 2010, from Vanity Fair: http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2009/12/sherlock-holmes-costume-designer-jenny-beavan-on-the-case-of-the-disappearing-deerstalker-hat.html
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