Mark Kennedy nails it about costume/story.. I will give anybody props who ref's the graduate:)
One of the most famous examples of evolving costume comes from the first
three "Star Wars" movies. In the first movie, Luke wears all white.
This seems to fit him well, because he's an idealistic guy who sees
everything in simple terms. He's pure, naive, and innocent.
In the second movie, Luke begins to question everything he thought he
knew. He realizes there are deeper meanings to a lot of what he's
learned and that things are messy, not simple. Good and bad are less
well defined than he thought before. He wears a grey outfit through much
of "Empire" that seems to reflect his new thinking: muddy and
In the third film, Luke appears in a black outfit. The major dramatic
question of the movie is: will Luke give in to his father's wishes and
become evil? Since black is the color most associated with his father,it
makes sense to put him in black throughout the movie. It's a visual way
to raise the question in the audience's mind: is he becoming his
father? Is he going to give in and become evil?
Going from white to black is a great idea for showing how the character
has altered and changed along the way since he first began his journey.
If Luke wore white in "Jedi", I don't think there would be a lot of
dramatic tension in the audience's mind. Subconsciously, the audience
would know that Luke is nothing like his Father because they look like
opposites. But when they both wear black, there's a lot of tension
created around the question of whether Luke has turned into his Father
Another one of my favorite examples of how to use costume in film is
"The Graduate". In the film, the main character, Benjamin, feels
disconnected from the world. He feels adrift and isolated from the
people around him, particularly his mother and father.
The film does a great job of showing this idea in visual ways. For
example, in one scene he sits in front of an aquarium. You can't see the
edges of the fish tank and it makes it look like Ben is floating
underwater and it makes him seem adrift and unconnected (this isn't a
costume example, but I like it nevertheless).
Another one of the ways the film makes this statement is with costume.
In the film, Ben's parents give him a scuba suit as a gift. He puts on
the suit and tries it out in the family pool.
The scene begins with him wearing his scuba suit in their kitchen.
That's such a great way to reinforce what the whole film is about: that
Ben's out of place and feels like he doesn't fit into his
environment...obviously, a scuba suit looks ridiculous and out of place
in a kitchen.
As he awkwardly plods towards the camera in his flippers, the point of
view shifts to what Ben is seeing from inside his scuba mask. The view
out of his mask is, again, a great way to both "get inside his head" and
show his isolation. As his parents gesture and talk to him, the viewer
feels very separated from them...not only by the "window" of the scuba
mask, but also by sound. They're talking and trying to communicate with
Ben, but he can't hear them. All he can hear is the sound of his own
breathing (and there's no other way to do this than to cut to his point
of view, it's worth pointing out).
Ben eventually jumps into the pool and then tries to climb out. But his
parents push down on his mask, forcing him underwater, where he is
(again) separated from them by the water between them. This is such a
great metaphor for feeling separated from them and isolated.
He sinks to the bottom of the pool and the camera pulls out to see him
alone and adrift, surrounded by water, alone and apart from everyone
I love how this sequence uses visuals (and the unique costume of the
scuba outfit) to describe the way the character feels. Costume is one
part of it, but obviously all the visuals are working together to tell
the same story.
So always think about ways to tell your story as effectively as
possible, and how to use the visuals to communicate what the story is
trying to say. And don't forget that costume can play an important part!