Will we die, just a little?
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Spencer and I belong to a few fandoms. We both love Star Wars, Marvel, and Harry Potter. While two out of those three choices are hard to analyze with a menswear-eye (although Han Solo has great style), we’re happy that the latest movie in the Wizarding World series, being a 1920s period piece, allows us to stretch our sartorial chops.
In fact, when the first Fantastic Beasts film came out, it seemed to rock the vintage world! Threads on the Fedora Lounge, Vintage Menswear, and other FB groups were dedicated to the film, gushing about how nice it was to finally have a mainstream film that got vintage “right”. While there have been no shortage of period films (Imitation Game comes to mind, which has great menswear), its true that nothing in the huge blockbuster realm has had vintage menswear. Definitely not since 2013’s Gatsby, which has some bad fashion.
One of the [small] reasons why I was interested in this film, apart from my love of HP, was going to see the ramifications that would result. Gatsby, in my eyes, further cements the death of “traditional” (read: sartorial) vintage style, as many “1920s” themed parties and events have turned wearing cream trousers and a navy blazer (or even just a bowtie) into the realm of costume. While Fantastic Beasts isn’t a vibrant party movie (Yates continues Cuaron’s direction of a bleak Wizarding World palette), it could turn wearing a bowtie from being a 1920s Gatsby party-goer to an errant auror. Still, that’s a pretty negative view and isn’t all too important in the reasons why I get dressed.
Overall, I was just excited to see a period-costumed film that wasn’t too serious, though it tries hard to be. Obviously, spoilers abound.
Let’s briefly talk about what wizards wore in the original films. Now if I follow the lore correctly, the books take place in the 90’s and while the Harry Potter saga finished in 2011, it take place in the same timeline as Fantastic Beasts. In terms of everyday style, it’s pretty apparent that the Wizarding World is anachronistic and odd. Sure, the students wear ties and sweaters (or hoodies and jeans when in Hogsmeade), but the adults are all over the place. Ministry people wear old school 3PC suits while Hogwarts professors wear tweed or elaborate robes, with some of the baddies opting to look like a Karl Lagerfeld impersonator. I’m looking at you, Lucius.
Overall, most of the adult style tends to be a mix of soft-goth, victorian, renaissance faire, and vintage/steampunk. I think it’s pretty interesting, to stay the least.
I think it’s pretty clear that wizarding style is vastly different than muggle (no-maj? No-majique?) style. Sure there are some clear overlaps like the use of suits in interesting fabrics (not to mention a slight victorian-yet-1970s spin), but you could bet that if you saw a wizard on the street, it would be pretty weird.
The Late 1920s
Now before we get into the Fantastic Beasts costuming, it’s important to understand the actual dress of the era.
The series starts off in 1926 for the first film and moves into 1927 for the Crimes of Grindlewald. As you may remember from my old “guide to eras”, the early 1920’s (ie, the Gatsby period) are quite odd; you get flared skirts, high button stances, and narrow leg openings. Since this takes place in the latter half of the twenties, you wouldn’t expect to see too much of this “odd” sartorial style, though I’m sure people still owned the pieces (since people used to wear things until they fell apart). People were shifting to wearing more dress shoes, but balmoral boots were still very common (especially after being popular in the early twenties).
The late 1920s were definitely a transitional period and have somethings in common with the 1930’s, which is considered the “golden age” of menswear. There shouldn’t be too much “wide leg” in trouser variation or heavy shoulder padding. In fact, most vintage enthusiasts today tend to agree that the late 1920s have a lot in common with classic-contemporary tailoring, like what you’d expect from Steed. The main differences would be the variances in lapels and cloth.
Like I said before, the costuming for both the first and second films are fairly accurate to the time period. If you read the plethora of interviews (like GQ, Vanity Fair, or Collider) that costume designer Colleen Atwood, you’ll find that she took inspiration from the 1920s to the 1930s. It’s not a huge deal, as the way Atwood does it is a lot better than 2013’s Gatsby, which feels more like an H&M collection than a period piece. The tweeds don’t look skinny, the lapels are wide, the trousers have turnups, the ties are deco/ivy, and no one is simply in suspenders and a boater. For blockbuster-fandom films, the’re pretty good.
While I am largely in support of the style, the film does present issues with the lore. This Daily Dot article spells it out: wizards dress exactly like muggles! This film does 1920s well enough that it forgot to make the magical people quirky in comparison to their non-magique counterparts. In the original films, the suits that wizards wore were simultaneously anachronistic and flat-out weird. As you’ll soon see, Newt Scamander and his friends/enemies don’t do much other than look like a cool guy in the 1927 who just so happens to have a wand.
With that said, let’s dive in.
Newt is the main character of this new series and unlike Harry Potter, he is an adult who has no need to wear a school uniform. His iconic look is made up up of blue overcoat, bowtie, brown waistcoat, slim grey trousers, and boots. According to Atwood, the costumers wanted him to stand out and emphasize his slightly quirky nature. The blue overcoat definitely accomplishes that; the brown waistcoat is meant to ground him and make him similar to his creatures (where brown is a common fur color). I’m guessing the bow-tie is there for nerd reasons, but the thin, square ends make me think 1950s/60s rather than the Jazz Era. Props to them for using a lapeled waistcoat though, since it definitely gives off an older vibe.
I think the attire fits Newt well, despite looking slightly hipster-nerd for me. And that’s mainly because I can see a lot of guys taking after this style (similar to how guys dressed like Don Draper in 2010).
For some reason, Hollywood (and fandoms) have a weird fascination with coats. If Sherlock’s popularity is any indication, people love them with big collars and dramatic proportions (which Atwood echoes). Newt’s first iteration is fairly straight forward with an ulster collar, single breasted closure, and slightly roped shoulders for some structure. The color is definitely nice, which isn’t as loud as some of the stuff from Boardwalk Empire. My only complaint is that is way too fitted and short, which isn’t exactly period (but works well for Hollywood). I also wish we saw more of his suit, which he clearly wears under his coat!
The sequel follows the magical gang in Paris, where they try and figure out what the freshly escaped Grindelwald is up to. In essence, the film gets darker and so does the costuming. Atwood trades the nearly petrol blue for something desaturated. Its basically the exact same coat as before just in a herringbone grey that nearly matches the brownish-tones of his suit (that we still never see). Apparently there are some blue threads woven in to bring the old coat to mind.
Other than the color, short length, and tight fit, the coat is still nice. I really like the giant flapped patch pockets, as they remind me of a polo coat (though polos are typically DB). The breast pocket is curved and welted, which is something you typically see on edwardian-inspired novelty suits of the early 1920s.
As Newt’s muggle best friend, Jacob is the audience surrogate. He also functions as the only “normal dressed” character, though as we noted with Newt, most of the wizards don’t wear anything too weird. In Crimes, Jacob is a bakery owner (do they explain how he takes off work to adventure in Paris?), but he starts out in the first film as a budding entrepreneur trying to get a loan at the bank. To fit the bill, he’s wearing a rather normal ensemble made of all separate pieces. I like that the designers keep Kowalski’s trousers high despite his size; this elongated leg effect is emphasized with the appropriate short-length waistcoat.
It’s a good example of classic tailoring on a larger guy!
The second film gives him a bit of an upgrade. Instead of bland, solid-grey separates, Jacob gets to wear a guncheck 3PC suit, complete with a spearpoint collar, and fancy abstract brocade tie. He even gets to join in on the coat madness with a great brown windowpane number. Because he’s “normal”, his coat is decidedly less detailed than Newt’s despite the cooler fabric: his peak lapels lay flat and the shoulders aren’t structured.
Overall, it’s a good example of vintage style that isn’t too over the top or dandy. He looks straight out of those illustrations I posted earlier in the article.
Gellert Grindelwald has the weirdest outfits out of the entire cast of characters and actually makes the most sense, considering the universe. As this series’ principle villain, Grindelwald follows in the steps of Lucius Malfoy (or rather, opposite?) and dresses like a steampunk vampire/pirate, which is exactly how evil wizards dressed in the original films. It’s so blatantly obvious that this guy is evil. Johnny Depp had a bit of input regarding Grindelwald’s outfit (as he normally does), but Atwood general direction was that she wanted him to look like an “Alpine rock star” according to that GQ article. I think that’s an accurate description!
She mentions that she loves Tirolian style, including lederhosen, and basically did a dark and updated version. This is clearly seen in the waistcoat and trousers, which have embroidery and piping. Grindlewald’s leather trousers (with a strap-laden girdle?) are also vaguely jodhpur-esque (riding pants), which help accentuate the European nature of his character. Like the other characters, he too gets a badass coat, this time taking cues from an 18-century frock coat rather than a strict 1920’s repro. The pewter buttons accentuate his hardcore look while giving him a vaguely militaristic vibe. The look is finished off with a propped collar and ascot.
Is it bad that I kinda dig the look?
The moment we’ve been waiting for and perhaps the character that cause the most controversy. In this film, Albus Dumbledore isn’t the purple robed, elderly man that we’ve come to know in the originals. Instead, he’s young, hip, and quite normal in his dress. His first appearance has him in a period accurate (short brim, tall crown) fedora and an amazing corduroy coat. The long length gives it some contrast against Scamander’s short, tight fitting one.
When the aurors come to visit Dumbledore in school, he wears a smart tweed ensemble, sans jacket. The cut is rather nice, with a trim fit that is short in the body to accompany high waited, pleated trousers. Again, it’s kinda boring (all greys) which is odd to place against the wild pinstripe suit and dotted scarf he would wear to visit Tom Riddle in the 1930s (only 10 years away).
The point was to make Dumbledore look approachable and professor-like, which is why he looks so mind-numbingly basic. They could’ve at least put a robe on top of the tweed clothing, but at this point, there is really no difference between 1927 Albus Dumbledore and a random dude walking in the background.
While his outfit is nice and period like, there is one flash back scene where it’s shows Newt Scamander as a young child, developing his relationship with Dumbledore. According to the wiki, Newt first attended Hogwarts in 1908 which means that this is between 1908 and 1915 (students are only there for seven years). Dumbledore seems to be quite fashion forward as he looks no different than his 1920s self. There aren’t any edwardian-inspired, odd, slim-fitting suits as seen in 1910s Leyendecker illustrations. With a more classic design, wider leg, and a ribbed sweater vest, it appears more 1930s than 1910s.
Then again, English tailoring has been more traditional and standard than American, so there probably are 1910s examples of suits that look close to 1930s or even to suits of today.
One point of interest: Dumbledore seems to wear deco shoes (look at the “sunburst” near the captoe are). It’s a small detail, but I like that they included it! If you compare them to true vintage pieces, it’s almost identical. These deco shoes were a short lived fad, which makes originals (and reproductions) pretty prized in the menswear community.
Credence (or Aurelius?) is this ensemble’s dark horse. In the first film he’s an adopted orphan, living with an abusive mother who seeks to purge the world of magic. The Barebone family is definitely meant to look like puritanical christians, so they have a bit of an older look when compared to the sleek suits and flapper-ish dresses of the twenties. Credence has an almost-morning dress outfit thanks to a late 19th century looking jacket (note the rounded lapels and piping) and waistcoat on top of striped trousers. The fit is close to the body and short, making him look like he’s wearing a little boy’s clothes. Add in a wing collar and a slim ascot/early-necktie, it definitely has an anachronistic appeal.
In the sequel, he’s on the run (from Aurors, Newt, Grindlewald, etc) and working as a laborer for a traveling wizard circus. His outfit looks like something straight from Mr. Freedom or Inspiration LA. The shirt has a cool burgundy shade and a slight woven pattern, which contrast well with his trade mark, high rise grey stripe trousers (which now has workwear connotations rather than morning dress). The waistcoat looks like a normal sartorial one, though with the flecked brown wool, it seems to evoke a Brown’s Beach Vest.
As Credence is a fugitive on the run, he doesn’t need to be in tailoring like the other characters and has a cool outfit accordingly.
We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the other well dressed characters in the film! In general, most extras or background characters wear true vintage whereas the main cast have costumes made for them. As a result, the extras have more interesting or period correct outfits.
A quick shout out to Percival Graves, the head of security for MaCUSA and Grindelwald’s alter ego in the first film. Like Grindlewald, Graves’ outfit is more dramatic than his counterparts. He has what looks like a 4PC suit which includes an overcoat that has white sleeves to match the lapels of his waistcoat. Again, it makes sense considering his status as a wizard who are supposed to be dressed differently than no-majs. Though I give him props for a collar bar, despite it struggling under such a huge knot.
The Aurors (or magical police officers) in the first film are given a uniform of sorts, donning vintage suits under long leather coats. While vintage trench coats did exist, they weren’t exactly too common in the city, as they were mainly regulated to the country or workwear. The use over suits (along with wide brimmed fedoras) gives it a wanna-be gangster vibe, in addition to the steampunk connotations.
I will say that the suits, shirts, and ties aren’t half bad! I appreciate that they brought in the collar bar, which automatically makes things look old school.
The use of leather overcoats might just be a MaCUSA thing as the Aurors who confront Dumbledore during Crimes are seen in regular attire. Props to this particular, novelty-weave coat worn by an unnamed wizard in this scene! Pieces like this are fun to see in period films since they are accurate to the era, though were not as common as regular stuff. Think of it like the hype for Cassentino back in the early 2010s.
Theseus is Newt’s older brother and as such, is more reserved, level-headed, and conservatively dressed. Throughout the film, he wears a peak lapel 3-PC suit, plain spearpoint collar, and a deco tie. It’s nothing really out of the ordinary, but that’s probably the point as Theseus is meant to keep his younger brother in check. Thanks to promo pictures and certain screenshots, we can see that his suit has a birdseye pattern, perhaps to contrast against Newt’s flannel/tweed. Theseus’s coat follows the Auror tradition of being double breasted with a nice rounded belly; it’s brown to stand out against the grey of the suit, which is rather nice since it echoes Newt’s brown vest (under his new grey-blue coat).
Last but not least, we have Yusuf Kama, another party interested in Credence during Crimes. He is a French pureblood of Sengalese descent, whose family was torn apart by Corvus Lestrange. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, so I’m not entirely certain if the Kama family were prominent in France. In any case, Yusuf is seen in really anachronistic trappings: His overcoat is ratty, perhaps to signify how long he’s been after his unbreakable vow, and is worn over an old styled 3PC suit.
The suit is peak-lapeled (but very bellied) like so many of characters in the film, but the button spacing is quite narrow making it look like a jazz suit. The use of a standing collar and exposed, slim cravat brings Credence to mind, though with a full suit, it comes across as old nobility rather than awkward child.
Despite some of my nitpicks, I’m fairly pleased with the costuming in this film. Usually period films like this either go the mainstream/H&M route or just go straight up dapper/costume-y (crimes committed by Gatsby). Thankfully, the Fantastic Beasts series opted for something darker and grounded (similar to Orient Express) so the characters look rather normal, with a few fun stuff thrown in and the obligatory cool coat trope.
In fact, it’s so normal that it presents us with new questions for the lore! I’m glad that guys (with the exception of the villains) are wearing normal tailored suits with peak lapels, cuffs, moderate legs, and spearpoint collars, but at some point, they’re going to have to bring in the overtly pinstriped jackets, disco collars, and velvet waistcoats. I’m guessing that something had to happen down the line to make Wizards start dressing more oddly when compared to their muggle/no-maj counterparts.
The most important take away is that you can dress inspired by the characters without having to look too out of place. For Halloween, I can be an Auror by simply wearing a 3PC suit and a wand. Or I can just keep my moustache and carry a case to be Jacob Kowalski. The only character with any semblance of personal style are Newt, Credence, and Grindelwald; even our boy Dumbledore is relegated to an easily mimic-able grey flannel suit. But maybe that’s a good thing. Not everyone has to be in baggy zoot suits and wide fedoras to look period. Though someone should’ve told that to Ben Affleck when he made Live by Night.
Even though the film was slightly enjoyable (with too many plot lines unanswered), I’m excited to see where this goes in the next few films. We have three more to get through and I’m sure Coleen Atwood will continue to do a good job of dressing her characters in nice period-inspired wear.
Let’s just hope that things don’t get less saturated!
Always a pleasure,
Street x Sprezza
I do not own the pictures in this blog post and they are here for Fair Use (information).