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The Imitation Game’s Costume Design: What do Code Breakers Wear?

18 Nov

Film costume design analysis is a rare venture for this site (TV is in the title for a reason) and it is not because film doesn’t offer up plenty of talking points; The Imitation Game takes me into my first foray into movie costuming with a look at Sammy Sheldon’s excellent work. The muted tones we come to expect from a production that is set in World War II* are present, however there is actually a lot of color and pattern throughout showing this period as far more than the sepia/earth tones it is often portrayed as featuring an endless stream of. Austerity doesn’t mean a strict uniform of clothes and there are plenty of outfits worn by the women in The Imitation Game that would not look out of place today (someone start an Etsy store for the cardigans featured in this movie please). Some spoilers ahead.

*I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I have yet to see the TV show Bletchley Park (it’s on my list) and when I do I would love to do a comparison piece between the two.

The Imitation Game Alan TuringAlan Turing’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) introduction to Bletchley is in stark contrast to the man we see in the latter years of his life. A well put together and somewhat clashing tweed suit, Prince of Wales check shirt and Prince of Wales tie complete his interview look when we first meet Alan. The man we see during the later period is not interview ready as a bathrobe is part of his everyday attire and even when he is out in public his clothing is on the rumpled side; he is a broken man and as the narrative weaves between the three time periods (Alan’s schooldays, Bletchely and Manchester in the early 1950s) costuming is an indicator of his mental state and how barbarically he has been treated.

The Imitation GameWhen the first Imitation Game trailer was released the piece most coveted was Joan Clarke’s (Keira Knightley) cardigan, which looks like a code in itself.  This vintage item is one of the many patterns we see throughout the film and it is something Joan wears on more than one occasion (I can’t tell you how much I love it when costumes are repeated). Suit wise the guys all have their own distinctive style and levels of dishevelment are at varying points depending on how futile the code breaking task is at that point. There are a lot of long sleepless nights as they try to crack Enigma and Alan’s lack of tie/jacket/rumpled shirt are all indicators for how terribly it is going.

Imitation GameAlternately Matthew Goode’s Hugh is the most put together of the team, even when things have reached peak awful; the waistcoat and dark blue color sets him apart emphasizing his confident demeanor and alpha status (and as Joan points out that he’s a bit of a cad). Clashing tie/shirt patterns (sometimes in a three-way pattern off with suspenders) is part of the code breaker look with Peter’s (Matthew Beard) sweater vest looking much like Joan’s cardigan as a code of its own making. While some of Joan’s attire would look perfectly fine if worn today and not at all like 1940s dress up, the high waisted trousers and shorter ties worn by the men are very much of this time. Unless Her has predicted the future of male pants fashion. Tweed is very much Alan’s staple jacket choice and they all look like the academics that they are; chosen to be part of this very important top secret mission for their intellect.

The Imitation Game Keira knightleyOne person who isn’t from the academic field is Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) and the double breasted pinstripe suit jacket has a way of demonstrating that he is a powerful man for a not yet know about organization and one of the key figures in this overall operation. Charles Dance is another commanding office and his military prowess is easy to convey through his uniform, plus he’s Charles Dance so it’s not a hard thing to sell.

The Imitation Game JoanBack to Joan and the main injection of femininity into the film and just because her clothing has a slight frivolous edge (polka dots and later Peter Pan collars) she is still a vital part of the team and Alan’s closest friend at Bletchley. The picnic scene (which I sadly don’t have a photo of) is another strong blue outfit for Joan and it is one you can see on display at Bletchley Park along with various other costumes and props from The Imitation Game. It’s also worth noting that most of Joan and Alan’s emotionally charged scenes occur when Joan is in blue; this is visual reminder of their bond. Joan’s hat game is strong and I’m wondering if this is something that can be pulled off in 2014.

Come award season (which we are currently dipping our toes into) Sammy Sheldon will hopefully be recognized for her excellent work as she has created not just one but three timelines worth of pieces (I haven’t mentioned Alan’s school uniform, but it does an excellent job of showing his traditional education and formative years). As I have already mentioned the pleasant surprise comes from how colorful Joan’s wardrobe is without detracting anything from her intellect or value to the Enigma breaking team. You can wear pretty clothes and still be a genius.

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3 Responses to “The Imitation Game’s Costume Design: What do Code Breakers Wear?”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Out of the Box: Look of the Week | TV Ate My Wardrobe - November 21, 2014

    […] Imitation Game cast looks just as good in red carpet attire as they do in their code breaking costumes; The Good Wife’s Matthew Goode and soon to be Downton Abbey co-star (for the Christmas […]

  2. Nominees Announced for the 17th Costume Designers Guild Awards | TV Ate My Wardrobe - January 8, 2015

    […] wise I don’t have too much to grumble about and The Imitation Game inspired TV Ate My Wardrobe to dip my toes into film costume design analysis; I have yet to […]

  3. The 17th Costume Designers Guild Awards | TV Ate My Wardrobe - February 18, 2015

    […] in terms of costume design (and you can read my thoughts on the costumes of The Imitation Game here) and Milena Canonero continues her Grand Budapest Hotel winning streak; is the Oscar next? The […]

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