The Best Costume Designers in the United States: A Guide to Their Work and Style

If you are a fan of fashion, movies, or both, you might be interested in learning more about the best costume designers in the United States. Costume designers are responsible for creating the outfits and accessories that help bring characters and stories to life on screen. They work closely with directors, actors, and production teams to achieve the desired look and feel for each film or show. Costume designers also have to consider the historical, cultural, and aesthetic aspects of the setting and genre, as well as the practical and technical challenges of making costumes that are comfortable, durable, and functional.

Do you want to know who are the most talented and influential costume designers in the United States, and what makes their work and style unique and remarkable? In this article, we will introduce you to some of the top names in the industry, who have worked on various projects ranging from period dramas to sci-fi adventures. We will also give you some examples of their work and style, and explain why they are considered among the best in their field. Whether you are looking for inspiration, appreciation, or education, this article will help you discover the amazing world of costume design and the people behind it.

The Best Costume Designers

What is Costume Design and Why is it Important?

Costume design is the art and craft of designing and creating the clothing and accessories worn by the actors in a film, television show, or theater production. Costume design is an essential part of the visual storytelling, as it helps to establish the mood, tone, and atmosphere of the story, as well as to define the personality, background, and motivation of the characters. Costume design also helps to convey the historical, cultural, and social context of the story, as well as to create contrast, harmony, or conflict among the characters and the setting.

According to the Costume Designers Guild, the professional association of costume designers in the United States, costume design is “a unique art form that is an integral part of the overall look and feel of a film or television show”. Costume designers work with the director, the production designer, the cinematographer, the actors, and other crew members to create a cohesive and consistent visual style that supports the narrative and the artistic vision of the project. Costume designers also have to research the period, the location, the culture, and the genre of the story, as well as to source, fabricate, fit, and maintain the costumes throughout the production.

Costume design is a complex and creative process that requires a lot of skill, knowledge, and imagination. Costume designers have to balance the artistic and the practical aspects of their work, as well as to consider the budget, the schedule, the availability of materials, the functionality of the costumes, and the comfort and safety of the actors. Costume designers also have to be flexible and adaptable, as they may have to deal with changes, challenges, and surprises during the production. Costume design is a collaborative and rewarding profession that allows costume designers to express their vision and talent, and to contribute to the magic of the screen.

Edith Head: The Legendary Oscar Winner

Edith Head is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential costume designers in film history. She won a record eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, making her the most awarded woman in the Academy’s history. She worked at Paramount Pictures for 44 years, designing costumes for over 400 films, and then moved to Universal Pictures, where she continued to work until her death in 1981. She dressed some of the most iconic stars of Hollywood, such as Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, and Marlene Dietrich, and collaborated with some of the most acclaimed directors, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, and Cecil B. DeMille. She also became a recognizable personality in her own right, thanks to her distinctive personal style, her signature glasses, and her forthright personality, which inspired the character of Edna Mode in The Incredibles.

How Edith Head Became a Costume Designer?

Edith Head was born in San Bernardino, California, in 1897, to Jewish parents who divorced when she was a child. She was raised by her stepfather, Frank Spare, a mining engineer, who moved the family frequently. She studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University, where she earned a master’s degree in romance languages. She became a Spanish teacher, but was interested in design. She enrolled at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where she learned to draw and sew. In 1923, she applied for a job as a costume sketch artist at Paramount Pictures, using sketches that she borrowed from her classmates. She was hired, and soon proved her talent and creativity. She became the head of the costume department in 1938, and remained there until 1967, when she was invited by Alfred Hitchcock to join Universal Pictures.

Edith Head’s Style and Approach to Costume Design

Edith Head had a distinctive style and approach to costume design, which made her stand out from her peers. She was known for her meticulous research, her attention to detail, her use of color and texture, and her ability to adapt to different genres and periods. She was also known for her close working relationships with her subjects, with whom she consulted extensively. She would study their personalities, their preferences, their body types, and their roles, and design costumes that would enhance their features, their characters, and their performances. She would also make adjustments and alterations according to their feedback and comfort. She once said, “What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage. We create the illusion of changing the actors into what they are not. We ask the public to believe that every time they see a performer on the screen, he’s become a different person.”

Some of the examples of her work and style are:

  • The sarong that she designed for Dorothy Lamour in The Jungle Princess (1936), which became Lamour’s trademark and a fashion sensation.
  • The elegant and sophisticated outfits that she created for Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), and High Society (1956), which showcased Kelly’s beauty and glamour.
  • The stunning and extravagant costumes that she designed for Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951), which included a white ball gown that became one of the most famous dresses in film history.
  • The simple and chic costumes that she designed for Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday (1953) and Sabrina (1954), which reflected Hepburn’s personality and charm.
  • The colorful and detailed costumes that she designed for the historical epics of Cecil B. DeMille, such as Samson and Delilah (1949), The Ten Commandments (1956), and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), which won her three of her eight Oscars.
  • The subtle and suggestive costumes that she designed for the thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, such as Notorious (1946), Vertigo (1958), and The Birds (1963), which enhanced the mood and the suspense of the films.

Edith Head’s Legacy and Influence

Edith Head’s legacy and influence are immense and enduring. She is widely recognized as one of the pioneers and masters of costume design, and as a significant figure in film history and culture. She has inspired and influenced many other costume designers, such as Colleen Atwood, Sandy Powell, and Jacqueline Durran, who have also won multiple Oscars for their work. She has also influenced many fashion designers, such as Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and Giorgio Armani, who have cited her as a source of inspiration. She has also influenced many celebrities, such as Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Tim Burton, who have paid tribute to her style and work. She has also been the subject of many books, documentaries, exhibitions, and films, such as The Dress Doctor (1959), Edith Head’s Hollywood (1983), Edith and Mr. Bear (1996), and The Incredibles (2004). She has also been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a postage stamp by the United States Postal Service, and a Google Doodle on her 116th birthday. She once said, “I have yet to see one completely unspoiled star, except for Lassie.”

Deborah Nadoolman Landis: The Creator of Iconic Looks

Deborah Nadoolman Landis is one of the most original and influential costume designers in the film industry. She has worked on some of the most memorable and iconic films, such as Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and Coming to America (1988), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design. She has also created some of the most recognizable and popular looks in pop culture, such as Michael Jackson’s red jacket in Thriller (1983), Indiana Jones’ fedora and leather jacket, and John Belushi’s “college” sweatshirt. She has also worked with some of the most talented and famous directors and actors, such as John Landis, Steven Spielberg, David Bowie, and Harrison Ford.

How Deborah Nadoolman Landis Became a Costume Designer?

Deborah Nadoolman Landis was born in 1952 in San Bernardino, California, to a Jewish family. She studied at UCLA, where she earned a master’s degree in costume design in 1975. She then moved to New York, where she worked as a fashion editor and stylist. She moved to Los Angeles in 1981, where she met director John Landis, who hired her as a costume designer for his film Swing Shift (1984). They fell in love and got married in 1980. She continued to work with Landis on several of his films, such as The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London (1981), and Trading Places (1983). She also worked with other directors, such as Steven Spielberg, who hired her for Raiders of the Lost Ark, and John Hughes, who hired her for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).

Deborah Nadoolman Landis’ Style and Approach to Costume Design

Deborah Nadoolman Landis has a distinctive style and approach to costume design, which makes her one of the most respected and admired costume designers in the industry. She is known for her creativity, her humor, her attention to detail, and her ability to create costumes that suit the genre, the tone, and the character of each film. She is also known for her extensive research, her use of color and texture, and her incorporation of historical, cultural, and artistic influences. She is also known for her close working relationships with her directors, her actors, and her crew, with whom she communicates and collaborates effectively. She once said, “I think the most important thing for me as a costume designer is to listen to the director and to understand what they want to say with the film, and then to help them say it with the costumes.”

Some of the examples of her work and style are:

  • The humorous and rebellious costumes that she designed for the comedy films of John Landis, such as the T-shirts, the jeans, and the jackets for the college students of Animal House, the suits, the hats, and the sunglasses for the musicians of The Blues Brothers, and the African-inspired outfits and accessories for the prince and his entourage of Coming to America.
  • The adventurous and heroic costumes that she designed for the action films of Steven Spielberg, such as the fedora, the leather jacket, the shirt, and the pants for the archaeologist Indiana Jones, and the dress, the coat, and the hat for the spy Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • The iconic and influential costumes that she designed for the music videos of Michael Jackson, such as the red jacket, the black pants, and the white socks for the zombie dancer of Thriller, and the white suit, the black shirt, and the white glove for the gang leader of Bad (1987).
  • The realistic and authentic costumes that she designed for the historical films of various eras and locations, such as the military uniforms, the dresses, and the hats for the soldiers and the civilians of 1941 (1979), the suits, the dresses, and the coats for the gangsters and the socialites of The Untouchables (1987), and the shirts, the skirts, and the sweaters for the teenagers and the adults of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Deborah Nadoolman Landis’ Legacy and Influence

Deborah Nadoolman Landis’ legacy and influence are immense and lasting. She is widely recognized as one of the pioneers and masters of costume design, and as a significant figure in film history and culture. She has inspired and influenced many other costume designers, such as Colleen Atwood, Sandy Powell, and Ruth E. Carter, who have also worked on comedy, action, and historical films. She has also influenced many fashion designers, such as Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and Giorgio Armani, who have admired and emulated her style and work. She has also influenced many celebrities, such as Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Tim Burton, who have worn her costumes or paid tribute to her designs. She has also been the subject of many books, documentaries, exhibitions, and awards, such as The Dress Doctor (1959), Edith Head’s Hollywood (1983), Edith and Mr. Bear (1996), and The Incredibles (2004). She has also been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a postage stamp by the United States Postal Service, and a Google Doodle on her 116th birthday. She once said, “I have yet to see one completely unspoiled star, except for Lassie.”

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