Carol‘s Costume Designer Explains Those Luxe ’50s Clothes

We expect a certain amount of glamour from movies that are set in the mid-20th century, back when everyone still got dressed up for dinner and always wore hats. We picture Grace Kelly or Marilyn Monroe in silk, fur, and diamonds. In Carol, however, director Todd Haynes created a 1952 that is a bit less glossy and perfect — and much more like the world as it really was.
"Because it's [the] 1950s, Cate Blanchett, Todd Haynes, everyone's expecting it to be super glamorous and colorful, and it's not," says costume designer Sandy Powell, a three-time Oscar winner who also created the wardrobe for Haynes' Far From Heaven. "It's very low-key and very restrained. But it's real. We wanted it to be about real people in a real situation."
Those real people are Carol (Blanchett), an unhappy, wealthy, suburban New York housewife in the middle of a divorce from her husband (Kyle Chandler). He knows she's had affairs with her best friend (Sarah Paulson) and Therese (Rooney Mara), a young department store clerk and aspiring photographer who's instantly intrigued by Carol when she wanders by her counter.
"After the Second World War, the city and the country are still recovering from the trauma," production designer Judy Becker explains. "It's not the optimistic 1950s that's kind of known in popular culture through television shows and certain movies. It's a sort of depressed, traumatized city. You want it to look more like the 1940s...dirty and kind of beaten down and soiled and gritty." The costumes are beautiful, by the way, but they're not attention-seeking movie clothes; they're part of an overall mood of unease that permeates the film.
How do you make gorgeous stars like Blanchett and Mara part of a "beaten down and soiled" world? These photos show how Becker and Powell worked their magic.

More from Movies

R29 Original Series