What is the purpose of clothing? Is the sole raison d’etre of wardrobe merely to keep us warm or covered up? Arguably not. Since the first figs sewn for Adam and Eve,  socio-cultural identity points to subtle hints and inflections as to the meaning of clothes. Each ensemble, from colour right down to the details of print or texture, each and every element, however minuscule, plays a major role in telegraphing personal identity. What we wear, intentionally or not, mirrors our desire to attract, convey a message or to show our discretion. In the movies though, every garment and accessory is a conscious decision made by the costume designer to substantiate each character.

“Mama always said there’s an awful lot you can tell about a person by their shoes. Where they’re going, where they’ve been.” – Forrest Gump

Behind every memorable movie character is a meticulously chosen wardrobe – a hidden layer of movie magic. Whether a costume is flashy or nondescript, gives us an insight to not just the characters but the world around them and the experiences they have been through. Costume design is undoubtedly an important tool for filmmakers to tell their stories, and when intended, projects influence and power, for one of the world’s wealthiest individuals – John Paul Getty in 2017’s All The Money in the World.

Dressing the Part: The Wardrobe of All the Money in the World Movie

In many of cinema’s most iconic movies, costume designers are the unsung heroes, the people who immerse us into the inner worlds of the characters seamlessly (pun intended) and effectively.

Left to right: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Williams and Maurizio Lombardi in frame

Gail Harris: “You carry a gun, Mr Chace?”

Fletcher Chace: “I never bother. It ruins the line of your suit.”

‘All the Money in the World’ is a crime thriller with a cynical heart. A story adapted from the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, the 16-year-old grandson of billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. The philosophical musings about power and the nature of money aside, the story was told with a solid style (which may or may not have been due to the affluence of the characters). Costume designer Janty Yates shrewdly finds her inspiration from the real-life characters of the same era.

J. Paul Getty, played by Christopher Plummer

The main protagonist of the film is a thrifty oil tycoon, who has police documents would note “dresses well but inexpensively”.  Getty is a dreaded patriarch who has all the money in the world but not penny to spare. The role of John Paul Getty was originally portrayed by Kevin Spacey but was quickly replaced by Christopher Plummer at the last minute (following criminal allegations). Plummer eventually won an Oscar award for his flawless embodiment of the world’s richest man.

While this clearly signifies the importance of having the right person with the right image embody the role of a character, his amazing wardrobe was ably curated by Yates, serving to accentuate the larger than life figure. The iconic billionaire’s wealth was directly translated onto his clothing. Always dapper in a three-piece suit (relatively dark colours), Plummer was able to channel the authority of John Paul Getty. More importantly, it proves one crucial point – classic elegance need not be overly expensive. Elegance is more a matter of personal bearing and stature rather than mere branded goods.

Fletcher Chase, played by Mark Wahlberg

Fletcher Chase is John Paul Getty’s “fixer”. While he’s more at home negotiating land use rights to drill for oil in Saudi territory, when John Paul III gets kidnapped, he’s tasked by the namesake Getty to secure his grandson’s release. The former CIA operative and Getty Oil negotiator helps Gail Harris, mother of the kidnap victim. Yates describes his character to be one who usually goes unnoticed (as befitting his previous career in covert ops) and slides through life (for his quick wit and fleet of thought), and so she wanted to portray his quiet intelligence through his very well-tailored suits – depicting the style from Steve McQueen.

Gail Harris, played by Michelle Williams

The female protagonist Gail Harris, although lacking access Getty fortune, no thanks to her ne’er-do-well husband. asserts her confidence and influence through her wardrobe. Yates channelled Jackie O. Kennedy with a touch of Grace Kelly to represent the elegance of the character despite desperate times, which can be seen in the flashback scene where she won full custody of her son, and later again in the same suit to sign an important paperwork – an exemplar of the sophistication and resilience of Williams’ character through her style.

“That’s an original, and we brought it out twice, because we thought she wouldn’t have enough money. By that time she was living on her own, looking after the children. It basically fit her like a glove,” – costume designer Janty Yates

John Paul Getty III, played by Charlie Plummer

Finally, the kidnap victim himself – John Paul Getty III’s style for the movie is sort of equivalent to a modern-day second-generation monied hipster: an aimless, trust fund kid living up sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll lifestyle in 1970s Rome. Yates got spot on for this character’s overall appearance. Christopher Plummer’s wardrobe was filled with bell bottoms and contrasting printed shirts to match his long limbs and curly hair – almost a splitting image to the actual figure. His wardrobe was sourced from King’s Road clothiers – Mr. Freedom, Granny Takes a Trip and La Closure in London.