As Mark Twain famously stated: “Clothes make the man”, and it doesn’t take more than five minutes of walking down your average high street to see swathes of people proving him right: from tracksuits to three-piece suits; battered boots to brogues; and beanies to bowler hats. People are the image they present to the world, and that image—like it or not—is first and foremost determined by fashion.
In much the same way, many of history’s most recognisable TV and film characters would be nothing if not for their (or rather, their costume designer’s) clothing choices. Let’s take a look at some of our favourite characters that are made iconic by their outfits.
As far as most viewers are concerned, Mary Poppins as portrayed by Julie Andrews in the 1964 Disney classic is the only ‘real’ version of the character out there. Forget about the three decades of books that preceded it, or the recent remake: Poppins was well and truly immortalised by Mrs Andrews.
So much of the character’s lasting appeal comes from her legendary —and dynamic— array of outfits: the image of Andrews in that iconic black overcoat, flower-adorned hat and striped scarf is perhaps the most recognisable of the entire film. And of course, it goes without saying that her flying umbrella and bottomless bag are among the most famous movie props of all time.
From the creepiest fedora of the 80s to the coolest. Indy is everything we wish we could be: brave, intelligent, smooth, righteous and as attractive as a younger Harrison Ford. What’s more, this archaeologist/Nazi fighting hero does it all while pulling off an outfit that wouldn’t look out of place on an elderly man.
An almost entirely brown and beige combination of worn leather jacket, fedora, tattered shoulder bag and khakis? On paper, the outfit is less adventurer, more pensioner; and yet, thanks to the character’s irresistible charm and that trusty whip, the ensemble comes together as one of cinema’s all-time classics.
If that ‘charity shop reject’ look of torn-up stripy jumper and battered fedora doesn’t send you running off like an Olympic sprinter on a caffeine high, then a glove with knives for fingers certainly will. Kreuger’s signature look takes an everyday—albeit unstylish—outfit and transforms it into the stuff of nightmares with a little help from Robert Englund in a career defining performance.
His genre counterparts (Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Leatherface and co.) may be just as iconic, but take away their masks and that quickly stops being the case. With Freddy, there is no single component of his outfit that you could remove that would shatter his recognisable image — as much as that jumper deserves to be torn away and thrown onto a fire.
There aren’t many people out there who can put in such little effort and still achieve a look as iconic as The Dude’s. In The Big Lebowski, the Coen Brothers’ cult classic, Jeff Bridges plays the quintessential slacker: found wandering up and down supermarket aisles in a loose fitting t-shirt, faded dressing gown and worn-out sandals.
If the legendary layabout needs to class up a tad—say, to hit the bowling alley or chase down a stolen rug—then he might don his patterned zip-up jumper, contrastingly patterned pyjama bottoms and white trainers. Whatever the occasion, there’s one thing The Dude will never be without: those sunglasses; the cherry on top of this slacker sundae.
Take an old and disfigured Anakin Skywalker; place him inside a badass black suit of robot armour with the voice of James Earl Jones, and voila: you’ve got the most fearsome villain cinema (and the galaxy) has ever seen. Vader’s elaborate getup has him dominating any scene he’s in; and with that iconic mask, the character’s existing air of menace and mystery is multiplied ten-fold. There’s a reason the most famous Star Wars villain is plastered over more pieces of merchandise than the Nike logo: his image is a near universal symbol for badass villany.
It’s funny to think that, for all the villainous and morally shaky characters on this list, it’s the innocent farm girl that committed a crime for her most iconic accessory: those ruby-red slippers. Snatched off the freshly squashed Wicked Witch of the East, the magical teleporting shoes both cap off the plot and Dorothy’s country-girl look. Her checkered blue and white blouse is recognisable in its own right, but without the shoes, the outfit doesn’t quite reach iconic status.
The flowing, black trench coats; buckled up boots and distinct sunglasses of The Matrix became staples of early-2000s fashion which would grow to define the era. Teenagers—and probably too many adults—all over the world would don their own all-black attire, inspired by The Matrix’s cast and certain that leather outfits were a cool fashion choice (hint: they aren’t). At the centre of the film’s influence on fashion is one figure: Neo. Played by Keanu Reeves in what—at the time—was his career’s most drastic departure from the stoner-comedy days of Bill and Ted; Reeves’ performance was a sure sign that he had the chops to pull off the lead role in an action flick long before John Wick made that an undeniable fact.
Okay, okay. I know Croft is technically a video game character; but, after three films, I’d say she’s earned entry into the ‘movie character club’, wouldn’t you? This daring adventurer has stolen more teenage boys’ hearts than treasures in her time thanks to her infamously enticing—yet wholly impractical—combination of tank top, short shorts and ankle-high boots.
At the very least, the Tomb Raider lead character’s iconic dual pistols somewhat make up for the paltry amount of protection her outfit provides. Still, if it were me fighting all manner of wildlife, mercenaries and supernatural forces, I’d at least want some sleeves.