Poor Things Just Won Best Costume Design At The 2024 Oscars

By Charlie Colville

3 months ago

Grab your condom coats and vagina blouses

Since its release earlier this year, Poor Things has had the internet in a chokehold. If it’s not the award-winning acting or the downright wild storyline (forewarning: this is not a film to watch with your parents), then it’s the wonderfully weird fashion choices donned by Emma Stone’s character Bella Baxter. That creative vision has just been recognised at this year’s Academy Awards, where Poor Things bagged Best Production Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Costume (while Stone also walked away with the Oscar for Best Actress). Here’s how the creative team behind Poor Things created the character’s iconic wardrobe – and how you can bring these tenets to life at home.

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How To Build The Bella Baxter Wardrobe

Ramy Youssef and Emma Stone in POOR THINGS

Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

Who Designed The Costumes For Poor Things?

The costumes for Poor Things was created by designer Holly Waddington – whose work you’ll recognise in Lady Macbeth and The Great – who collaborated with director Yorgos Lanthimos on what each character looked like. It was their combined vision which spawned the discombobulating mish-mash of Bella Baxter’s wardrobe.

While set in the past, Poor Things is unlike other period dramas when it comes to its visual language. ‘I knew that Yorgos didn’t want this to look like a sci-fi or period film,’ said Waddington in an interview with British Vogue. ‘Anything like lace, beading or embroidery felt absolutely wrong.’ Instead, you’ll find exaggerated silhouettes, vivid colour palettes, modern fabrics and rather a lot of sexual innuendos (yes, we’re looking at you ‘condom coat’ and ‘vagina blouse’).

What’s also worth remembering is that, throughout the film, we’re watching Bella grow and find herself – and her wardrobe is a reflection of this evolution from childlike wonder to sexual exploration and later into philosophical seriousness. But one thing remains rather consistent up until the end of the film: the eccentricities and weirdness. We won’t spoil anymore of the plot for you, but if you want some idea of the premise of Poor Things click here.

4 Things That Make Up The Poor Things Wardrobe

1. Puff Sleeves

One must-have item of any Bella Baxter wardrobe is a good puff sleeve – the bigger, the better. ‘We really went for the shoulders,’ Waddington said on the Poor Things red carpet in London. ‘They’re all about empowerment. I think Yorgos was very keen on the big shoulders. They’re almost like lungs, full of air – and she’s a reanimated woman. They can distort the proportions of the body so they alter her physicality.’

Speaking further on the role of the puff sleeves,  Waddington told The Hollywood Reporter: ‘There was a very brief window in the 1890s where women wore these huge sleeves, and once we started filming, the size of the sleeve blocked the camera angles. The big sleeves felt quite empowering and were like lungs full of breath and air that ignited and reanimated Bella.’

You can get your puff on with our edit here.

Emma Stone as Bella Baxter in Poor Things

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

2. Ruffles

And what pairs best with puff sleeves? Ruffles, of course. From her early years in knickers, bloomers and baby doll dresses (‘I wanted really childlike fabrics: quilting, ruffles, seersucker, things that felt a bit nappy-ish,’ Waddington tells British Vogue) to her more grown-up stages in blouses, bustles and gowns, Bella is often spotted in some kind of ruffly appendage.

It’s perhaps one of the more staple details of Bella’s wardrobe, as it ties in with the themes of sexuality and playfulness while still evoking a general Victoriana feel.

Emma Stone as Bella Baxter in Poor Things

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

3. Playful Colours & Textures

As Bella explores her likes and dislikes, we also see her experimenting with her wardrobe in a way that is playful and unruly – a bit like rummaging through a dress up box as a child. Despite the typical strictness associated with the Victorian era, Waddington wanted to infuse Bella’s character with a sense of child-like wonder; so while much of the general look was inspired by the era, a lot of its rules when it came to colour, texture and print went out the window.

‘I was looking at very light fabrics that were beautiful and luxurious but not too grown-up,’ Waddingham said to The Hollywood Reporter. ‘To me, it was important there was a sense of organic in every detail. Victorian clothes are decorated with lots of beads, feathers and lace, which was a hallmark. I decided to forget that and go with my own dressing. Victorian dresses are heavily textured and involve a lot of bits of dead animals, such as feathers, so I found embossed silks and a beautifully woven mix of silks and linens to get these unruly textures.’

The only time we see Bella adopt more dark, heavy tones is when she enters the world of academics – although the quirkiness and puff sleeves remain. ‘Bella realises she’s going to be a doctor, so she gets herself a proper suit,’ Waddington explained to British Vogue. ‘She and her friend, Toinette, have these big jackets that were very popular in France during that time… but Bella hasn’t put the skirt with it, because she still hasn’t learned to do these things, so she just has bare legs and these Victorian boots. I think we see her in this look sitting down first, so you think, “Oh, she blends in now with all of these men in suits.” Then she gets up and you see her legs, and think, “No, she’s still Bella…”‘

Emma Stone in POOR THINGS

Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

4. Innuendo

Sexual exploration is a core theme in Poor Things, and as Bella ‘grows up’ she finds that she rather enjoys sex – so much so, that she signs up for a job at a brothel. Waddington and Lanthimos mark this shift in the character through not-so-subtle references to genitalia in Bella’s wardrobe; starting with strips of ruffles, distorted flaps and soft flesh-tones.

‘I was exploring everything that had a connection to the body,’ Waddington said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. ‘I used a soft palette of pinks that look like human skin, and everything started to look like female genitalia.’ A style of blouse Bella is often spotted in, decorated with a centre pleat packed with ruffles, apparently even became a bit of joke for the designer and director, who dubbed it the ‘vagina blouse’.

Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo in POOR THINGS

Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

And then there’s the infamous ‘condom coat’. Crafted from latex and designed in the colour of real Victorian-era condoms, it marks the moment that Bella enters her brothel era. ‘Bella has this cape – a little pac-a-mac that she brings with her for emergencies,’ the costume designer told British Vogue. ‘When she first gets to Paris and she and Duncan are broke, she puts on this latex, cheese-slice-coloured thing. It’s hilarious because it’s freezing and she’s wearing that, but also because she wears it for her first sexual encounter in the brothel and she is, essentially, wearing a giant condom.’

Featured image: Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos, Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.