After writing a costume plot for Peggy Carter I realised how much I enjoyed writing about costumes in the films so I’m going to try to do a semi-regular feature of this – including a wide range of films (mostly DVD releases so I can re-watch and pause to get the most from them).
This post concentrates on Amy Adams’ character Delysia Lafosse from Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008). I’m very fond of this film, based on the novel of the same name by Winifred Watson, for its simple yet effective story, time period, characters, performances, set design and, of course, costume design. the costume designer was Michael O’Connor who is most famous for his Oscar-winning work in The Duchess (2009). This was his first nomination as well as first win – he has subsequently been nominated for his work on Jane Eyre (2012). Delysia has the largest number of costume changes in the film, especially considering that this is all in one day – pretty much.
First introduction to Delysia
The first time we see Delysia she is “dressed” in a silk dressing gown trimmed with feathers – ostrich I think. Straight away this person is different from everything we’ve seen in the film. Miss Pettigrew’s London is dowdy, full of browns, greens and beiges – and definitely not silk and feathers. Delysia’s dressing gown lights up the room and successfully fulfils the task of an introductory costume – it tells the audience who this character is. The soft colour of the dusky pink also suggests youth, if not quite innocence (given what we know) but naivety. The costume also works for story-telling. Delysia has had an extravagant night, she’s rolled out of bed and this is the first thing she grabs. How I wish that were true of my life.
Changing for meeting Nick
Following the fear of being seen in the dusky pink dressing gown by Nick, Delysia quickly disrobes and grabs a long brown fur coat – as you do. I wish I could guess on the type of fur (or the type of fur it pretends to be) but I have absolutely no idea. Sorry. The coat itself has a very interesting collar with wide-ish lapels – giving off that distinctly ’30s vibe. Discussions have already been made about Nick owning the flat so one can presume that these extravagant clothes (at this point we’ve only seen the gown and the coat) are due to Nick’s “generosity”.
Changing for the negligee show
Before we see Delysia dress for the fashion show we see her underwear briefly – interesting to compare with the first negligee range shown at the fashion show. It’s established that the first range is all whaleboned, support-wear and corsetry whereas Joe’s collection is beautiful fine silk negligee – with no “support”. This is the style of underwear that we see Delysia wearing. Negligee that just flows and doesn’t leave unflattering VPL underneath flowing, bias-cut ’30s dresses. And she’s wearing seamed stockings as well. Of course.
Then there’s the dress itself. In an interview with Michael O’Connor he mentioned the colour:
And it’s in relation, because Miss Pettigrew’s in dowdy browns, so you don’t have to be so bright with Delysia, so she’s wearing a light blue, to start with, which is a brightness in the street where all the extras are in darkish colours. And so she stands out, as if she’s living in a fantasy world in her own head and that was the plan.
The cut of the dress itself is beautiful. The flow of the skirt very effectively shows off the bias cut and the graceful flow of the fabric. The emphasis on the shoulders, using shoulder pads and slight gathers at the sleeve head, are very symbolic of the period. And the dress has accessories galore – as one would. Despite it possibly seeming a little fussy to modern audiences this is how wealthier women in the ’30s would dress – brooch, hat, gloves and stole.
Now here’s a rather tenuous “costume” change. The head scarf is to maintain the curls – not quite tied in the ’40s style though. The colour of it is in the same dusky pink tones as the silk dressing gown – possibly made from the same fabric. This would then suggest that the dressing gown was constructed for the film rather than being sourced. As the dressing gown was Delysia’s “introductory” costume this doesn’t seem too unlikely – it needs to make an impact.
From the bath scene, via the Venus pose, comes the very boring towelling dressing gown. If anything, this is merely to aid Delysia’s drying and make Guinevere feel more at ease – she’s clearly uncomfortable with Delysia wandering around just holding a towel to herself. The towelling dressing gown is seen for a very short amount of time and you only ever see the top section of it.
This then moves into dusky pink underwear underneath a light pink dressing gown. Delysia has moved on from being mothered by Guinevere and back into her “glamour” stage. The underwear seen is very similar to that of Joe’s range at the fashion show – as Delysia had spoken of her intention of buying underwear from there to wear that evening. This underwear is “smaller” than the black set she wore underneath her day dress – intended to make the right impression…
The Pile on the Pepper party
The pink dress Delysia wears for the party shows a slight lean forward to ’40s fashion. The dusky pink colour is close to that used in her lingerie. The colours that Delysia has been dressed in (excluding the black lingerie) have all been soft tones. I mentioned the youthfulness and naivety and O’Connor mentioned her living in a ‘fantasy land in her own head’ but the tones also allow Guinevere to be a more nurturing, motherly influence. The ruching at the shoulder seams adds to the material at the bust and compliments the interesting plunging neckline. Delysia is positive that this party will include the announcement of her starring role in Pile on the Pepper so she needs to stand out – or at least overshadow Charlotte “The Rabbit” Warren. The diamante detailing on the dress focuses the attention on the two key features of ’30s (and ’40s) clothing – the shoulders and the waist. The patterning is minimal and subtle but ensures that Delysia catches the light and is always the focus of the audience (and party guests).
Delysia’s final night singing at the cabaret
This scene is only shown briefly for Delysia to tell Guinevere the truth about her life. She shows her frailty in this scene and by being drenched in soft white feathers she seems even more at risk. And more able to be cared for by Guinevere.
For this scene Delysia needs to stand out and feel secure more than ever. Her last night singing at the club and also interacting with Nick (the owner of the club), Michael (her accompanist) and Phil (audience member) – all together, in one place. The dress needs to make her feel safe, so the gold is a little bit like armour. The draping of the dress is very similar to Grecian dresses. Is this a callback to the Venus pose in the bath scene? Or because those three men see her as a goddess? On a pedestal, although each places her on a very different pedestal.
Delysia’s final costume is much more structured than her other costumes – she is happy, safe and secure and no longer living in her fantasy world. The grey and white stripes on her dress (and the lapels of her jacket) give the hint of ‘wedding’ wear but this is a travel dress. It is reminiscent of suiting and a much more mature choice for Delysia. The cut of the dress is still in keeping with the cut of her previous dresses – she hasn’t changed her entire personality – but the subdued colours highlight her internal change. Maturity shows through, and although Delysia would never want to be overlooked, she doesn’t need to ‘stop traffic’ by standing out so completely.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings. I’m not sure how much of this makes sense! But I enjoyed thinking about it all – the reason I took a costume degree. Any thoughts or things I missed/mis-read? Please let me know your opinions.