Fashion in Film: Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

I have always been transfixed by clothing in films, and over the years I’ve read everything I can about costume design. I was inspired to start a Twitter thread, but wanted to explore the topic without a word count. And this series, Fashion in Film, was born! Here we will take a deeper dive into notable costume design in film.

Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet (1996) has frequently been touted as Shakespeare for the MTV Generation for its wholly unique way of telling the classic tale of star-cross'd lovers. Today we will be throwing the spotlight on R+J's costumes - which serve as eye candy with Hawaiian shirts, angel wings, and reoccurring motifs of flaming hearts, crosses, and other religious iconography (bringing the religion focused Elizabethan era into the 21st century).

Boasting a puppy-eyed Leonardo Dicaprio as the lovesick Romeo and Claire Danes as Juliet, Luhrmann's R+J wove authentic Elizabethan language into a modern-day landscape - where swords became guns and Verona Beach became a florid hybrid of Miami and Mexico City. The infamous divide between the two fighting houses, Montague and Capulets - was clearly marked by their respective wardrobes. Montagues sported Hawaiian shirts, loud pink dyed hair, and oversized suits (Luhrmann once describing their style as "new money") - whereas the Capulets wore highly stylized, romantic clothing with a Flamenco twist.

Juliet and Romeo's first meeting, a masquerade/costume ball hybrid, became the perfect opportunity for visually communicating key character archetypes through their costume. Juliet is outfitted literally as the "bright angel" Romeo calls her in the play - wearing a simple white dress, angel wings, and trademark cross necklace (which she offers to Romeo at the end of the scene). Romeo meanwhile, is a knight wearing chain mail - and a silver mask to hide his Montague identity in enemy territory.

Meanwhile, Juliet's cousin and main antagonist Tybalt (John Leguizamo) is dressed as a devil (foreshadowing his hand in Mercutio's death and Romeo's cause for exile later in the film), and even Paris (Paul Rudd), a somewhat minor character, is dressed in a way that is "amplifying his haplessness dressed as an astronaut while having to dance."

Twenty years later, the effect it has had on pop culture is clear. From runways to malls, brands like Wildfox, Palm Angels, and ASOS have all released collections inspired by the film. Meanwhile, Halloween costumes (like from celebrities including John Mulaney and the HAIM sisters), and photoshoots (including Paper Magazine's cover shoot with Carly Rae Jepsen) are still providing reasons to don angel wings and chainmail.

Not to mention the countless pieces of media that reference the film - most recently Euphoria going as far as outfitting one of their main characters, Jules, as Juliet's bright angel. Forever 21 also recently dropped a collection inspired by the film with t-shirts emblazoned with the star crossed lovers themselves. If you see crosses, flaming hearts, Hawaiian shirts, angel wings - that could be R+J’s lasting influence.

Get the Look:


  1. Kailey as a 24 year old when R+J came out (there's me showing my age, lol!), I absolutely ADORED the clothes in the film. I've always been a fan of costume in movies so this series is just my sort of thing. Can't wait to find out what others you pick!

    Catherine x

    P.S. I'll be adding this to my November Best of the Blogosphere post (Sunday 24th) :)

    1. Ahh Catherine, this comment means so much to me, thank you so much! I'm really interested in hearing from your perspective as somebody who loved the movie when it was first released! <3


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