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Costume Design: Dressing Certain Women

I wish I could find some info on the costume design for Certain Women. Other than the designer’s name—April Napier—and her imdb credit list, there’s nothing online about how Napier came up with the wardrobe for Certain Women. No sketches, no interviews, no featurettes. Drat the small budget indie world! Failing that, let’s take a whack at chatting about the clothes ourselves.

I mentioned in my take on the movie yesterday, that Kristen Stewart’s wardrobe seemed like clothing picked up at a thrift store, bought by someone accustomed to shopping for bargain basement clothing, which fits Kristen Stewart’s character’s past. Beth Travis doesn’t come from money, indeed as a new lawyer, having just passed the bar, she took the night class teaching job because she was afraid she wouldn’t get real work in a lawyers office. She feared she might end up selling women’s shoes, and explained that selling shoes would have been a step up in her family. 

At this stage, her character doesn’t care about the clothes she wears to teach the class and has little time for them. A look at her on-the-job wardrobe—short outdoor jacket over her conventional skirt and blouse, and sad, sensible shoes which do nothing to flatter her legs, shoes more appropriate for an older woman who worries about comfort—fill in the story. It all fits with the harried young legal eagle so concerned with finding her own way, she doesn’t quite see the young woman sitting across the table from her. 

As for Lily Gladstone who gives a breakout performance as a ranch hand infatuated by Stewart, she told the Detroit News that she bought a flannel shirt to ‘slip into the rancher’s skin’, and prepare for the role. “The way I looked at it,” Gladstone says. “I wasn’t prepping for an audition, I was getting ready to go to set. And that’s what I did.”

Is the shirt she wears in the film (above) the same shirt she bought? In director Kelly Reichardt’s low budget indie world, every little penny saved helps. Notice how it's sized too big, slouching off her shoulders, the long underwear underneath serving to flatten her chest, to de-feminize her. 

The hat, the mega-down filled clothes serve a practical purpose for the ranch hand charged with doing the cold, dirty job of looking after the horses in the early winter days of Montana. They also erase her femininity, covering her body, casting her in a more androgynous light. Is she gay, bi? Or does she just have a girl crush? It hardly matters. What counts is the pain of the missed connection with Stewart’s character.

While Stewart’s young lawyer hasn’t developed a personal style, Laura Dern’s more established lawyer dresses in keeping with her profession, the soft camel coat with pocket detailing would cost a pretty penny, way, way out of Beth Travis’ budget. Underneath she wears a rose colored cashmere sweater and a denim button up skirt. More casual than what Marcia Clarke would wear to court but fitting for the small town and the wintry weather. Accessorized with what looks like the classic Dooney & Bourke purse, large enough for Dern’s lawyer to stash all kinds of goodies. 

As regular readers know, I'm no fashionista but I do love seeing how clothes help actors become their characters. I bet some of you more fashion-savvy types out there can identify the makers of both the purse and the coat on sight. Maybe it’s not a Dooney & Bourke, don’t hesitate to clue me in.

Yesterday I noted Michelle William’s character stood out in her chic, skinny girl attire. Black leggings, a pale blue denim shirt, topped by a chunky grey sweater and a denim over-shirt. The kind of garb you wouldn’t be surprised to see Williams herself wearing. Let’s be honest, Michelle Williams can put on any old thing and look amazing. In fact, searching for info on the clothes Williams wears in Certain Women I found a nifty post on how to dress like Michelle Williams. I’ve included that link below. Unlike Lily Gladstone’s ranch hand character, Michelle William’s character would never wear simple long underwear beneath her clothes. Instead she favors a body-hugging lycra layer. 

I wish I could share the designer’s sketches with you, give you some facts rather than my amateurish speculation. If you run across any pieces that discuss April Napier’s clothing design, please give me a holler. You don’t have to scream or anything but a comment would be great. You can always tweet me @simcarter or get in touch on my Chapter1-Take1 facebook page.

How to dress like Michelle Williams

PS And if you want to dress like Kristen Stewart—not in this film—there are plenty of websites devoted to helping you do just that!