One thing that often gets said to Costume Designers is ‘what is there to design for a modern day script?’ Unless there is a fantastical costume complete with wigs and accessories some people seem to think that the actors turn up to set wearing whatever they want. In actual fact, in a modern script there is almost more difficulty in defining a character or situation. One of the best ways to do this quickly, effectively and subtly is by using a colour palette for certain scenes or characters. Putting it simply if you have a boring office scene, the Costume Designer might choose dull browns and greys to reflect this. Ricky Gervais’ ‘The Office’ springs to mind here, where the costumes were further enhanced with lighting to give them an even duller and slightly green sea sick effect.
Having worked in film and TV I often find it hard to switch off and just enjoy the programme that I’m watching… there’s always that thought at the back of my mind of how the scene was shot and what went into the planning of the costumes. One such TV show that I have really been enjoying lately (and yes I know I’m a little late to this particular party) is ‘Breaking Bad’. I’m up to the third series and the point has come where I have to get the costume bee out of my bonnet so that I can just go back to enjoying the show.
‘Breaking Bad’ has one of the boldest colour palettes I have ever seen in anything other than a children’s show where character distinction is essential. And I don’t mean this as an insult, it’s not. To have such a strong look in a drama is a very bold move. However, the designer has done so with ease and the final result isn’t distracting, rather it manages to define characters and reflect their emotions miraculously subtly considering how obvious the costumes are once you have noticed them.
Hank and Marie Schrader
Hank is typically in browns with a few other earthy tones thrown in along with some great Hawaiian patterned shirts. Whilst his wife Marie is almost exclusively in a very specific plum purple, which extends not only to her clothes but jewellery in the form of big necklaces and long earrings in a matching colour.
Walter White Jr.
Walter Jr. has a less specific colour scheme tending to be dressed in polo shirts with spaced apart stripes in pale earthy and pastel tones, though in the third series he is frequently seen in orange, which is an unusual colour selection for a character costume scheme.
Saul doesn’t have a specific colour scheme, but his costumes brilliantly reflect his arrogant and self assured personality by way of grey suits worn with a very bright shirt and patterned tie.
Walter tends to be seen in pale earthy tones; beiges, creams, browns and white. However, his costumes tend to be linked through pattern rather than colour, almost exclusively wearing shirts with checks or stripes. Whether obvious and large or narrow and subtle this is a particularly strong look for Walter.
Jessie has one of my favourite wardrobes in this show he has some great hooded jackets and t shirts, mostly along the colour scheme of black and red with a few hints of white thrown in. He occasionally wears other colours as well depending on his situation often seen in yellow worn with black and grey.
Skyler has probably the strongest colour palette and look in the series so far. She is almost exclusively in blue tones, which at times for me was pretty distracting once I had noticed. However, her costumes do branch out quite obviously depending on the situation she is in. When being a good housewife and mother, or in some cases the injured party in her marriage she frequently wears white. And on the other hand when she is in the wrong (and a slight spoiler alert here if you haven’t seen up to series three) singing Happy Birthday… the Monroe rather than kids party version, to her boss or having an affair, her costumes switch to black. With her wearing tight fitting dresses and shirts.
I would recommend watching ‘Breaking Bad’ for its own brilliant self… but hopefully now you can have the added fun of costume colour spotting as well. And if you have seen any films or shows with similar obvious costume colour palettes please leave a comment and let me know!