2019 Oscars Look: Best Costume Design

Welcome to our annual Oscar Look series, formally known as “Oscar Circuit” – our deep dive look into each and every category that will be presented at the upcoming Academy Awards.  Each writer of will tackle a different category, offering up their own perspectives on those specific races.  If you miss a piece, click on the tag titled Oscar Look 2018. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions for that particular race by clicking on the link here or at the bottom of each article.  Make sure to include your own predicted winners in the comment section too!

And the nominees are:

  • Black Panther“- Ruth E. Carter
  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs“- Mary Zophres
  • Mary Queen of Scots” – Alexandra Byrne
  • Mary Poppins Returns” – Sandy Powell
  • The Favourite“- Sandy Powell

Costume design defines a film’s characters, enhances plot, and can even impact pop culture. This year’s nominees for Best Costume Design provide an interesting mix of films. The nominated films feature attire from the American West, Africa, 16th Century Scotland, and 18th century and 1930’s England. Once again, the Academy demonstrates its preference for period films, but it has shaken things up with its recognition of superhero films this year. This season’s designers are all industry veterans, each with multiple Oscar nominations her belt. With the exception of one, the remaining three designers return with pieces similar to their past nominations. Will the Academy reward another period film, or will it award its first superhero film?

Here is a look at the nominees:


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Costume Designer: Ruth E. Carter

Oscar Scene: The King’s Ceremony

Over the course of her career, Ruth E. Carter has proven herself to be a pioneer in black cinema. “Marshall,” “Selma,” and “Lee Daniel’s The Butler” are a few of her more recent contributions. Carter is also the designer behind several of Spike Lee’s films, which include “Do the Right Thing,” “Crooklyn,” and “Chi-Raq.” An industry veteran, Carter was nominated for her work on “Malcom X” and “Amistad.”

Of the nominated films, “Black Panther” is the largest in scale, with over 1,500 costumes. What makes “Black Panther” special is its proud display of African culture. By doing this, the film transcends the superhero genre and becomes a statement of pride. The looks of Wakanda are inspired by African tribes such as the Basotho, Ndebele, Zulu, and the Maasai. The ceremony is a monumental scene because its showcases the diversity of Wakanda, and the cultural richness of the country. If Carter wins the Oscar, it will be historical. Carter will not only be the first black woman to win, but it will be the first time that a superhero film will win.


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Costume Designer: Mary Zophres

Oscar Scene: “The Mortal Remains”

A frequent collaborator of the Cohen Brothers, Mary Zophres joins them once again for “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” In a previous collaboration with the Cohens, Zophres won the Oscar for “True Grit“. She was also nominated for “La La Land” in 2016. Since the early nineties, Zophres has been a staple on the costume design scene, creating looks for films such as “The Big Lebowski,” “Interstellar,” and “Catch Me if You Can.” In addition to “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Zophres designed the looks of another Oscar-nominated film this year, “First Man.”

In her latest film, Zophres had to design looks for a series of vignettes. While the entire film is distinctly Western, each of the six stories has a unique look. Each one has a different feel, ranging from comical (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”), to edgy (“Near Algodones”), to whimsical (“The Mortal Remains”). For inspiration, Zophres used illustrations of NC Wyeth, texts and diaries from the late 1800’s, and old films. Of the vignettes, “The Mortal Remains” is the standout. It’s fun, and deviates from the somber tones of the other five. If Zophres wins, it will be her second western, and her second win with the Cohens.


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Costume Designer: Alexandra Byrne

Oscar Scene: Queen Elizabeth’s Resurgence

Even though Alexandra Byrne is an Oscar-winning designer for period film, Byrne has outfitted much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She is the designer behind the first two installments of the “Avengers” in addition to “Dr. Strange“, “Guardians of the Galaxy“, and “Thor“. While Byrne is great at dressing superheros, her winning talent has been recreating looks from the Elizabethan era. “Mary Queen of Scots” isn’t the first time that Byrne has recreated the look of Elizabeth I. In 2007, Byrne recieved on Oscar for her work on “Elizabeth: The Golden Age“. In 1998, she was also nominated for “Elizabeth“.

The costumes for “Mary Queen of Scots” are extravagant, and incredibly intricate. Since the film is a more fictionalized version of history, Byrne had more creative control in her designs. In this film specifically, color was used to tell the story of the two queens. “Mary Queen of Scots” follows Mary (Soaoirse Ronan) and Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) for a number of years. After Elizabeth beat small pox, she reintroduces color into her wardrobe. Towards the conclusion of the film, Elizabeth’s color equates with her power. With the Academy’s love for Elizabethan costume, it would be no surprise if Byrne takes the Oscar home again.


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Costume Designer: Sandy Powell

Oscar Scene: The Royal Doulton Bowl

The most honored designer on the list, Sandy Powell is a double nominee for the second time this year. Her last double nomination was in 2015 for “Carol” and “Cinderella.” Her past wins include “The Young Victoria,” “The Aviator,” and “Shakespeare in Love.” Powell has an extensive experience in creating gorgeous period costumes, and her work this year represents two very different times and atmospheres.

Mary Poppins Returns” had a lot to live up. A beloved Disney classic, Powell was tasked in recreated some of the magic from the original. Luckily, she delivered. Powell adapted the looks of the original to fit actress Emily Blunt, and the shift to the 1930’s. The costumes embody hints of whimsy and magic, and utilize explosions of color. The film’s crowning achievement is the looks from the Royal Daulton Bowl. To improve from the original, Powell handpainted each costume to match the animated sequences. While the costumes are three dimensional, they have a flat, hand-drawn appearance.


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Costume Designer: Sandy Powell

Oscar Scene: Bird Shooting

Sandy Powell has a very busy awards season. A stark contrast to the lively colors of “Mary Poppins Returns,” “The Favourite” features a muted palette of black and white. In this year’s nomination, Powell has shown her versatility for design. “The Favourite” turns back time to 18th century England. The film draws inspiration from Ingmar Bergman‘s “Cries and Whispers,” and the luxurious interiors of Hatfield House in Hertfordshire.

It was difficult to select an Oscar-worthy scene, since the film is full of them. However, Sarah Churchill’s (Rachel Weisz) pantsuits alone are worthy of recognition. They demonstrate the power dynamics of the estate, and provide a contrast to the more elegant, ladylike attire of Abigail, (Emma Stone) and Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). Will Powell take home a fourth Oscar? She has pretty good odds since she has two films on this list.

Will Win: “Black Panther”

Could Win: “The Favourite”

Should Win: “Black Panther”

Should Have Been Nominated: “A Wrinkle In Time” (Paco Delgado), “If Beale Street Could Talk” (Caroline Eselin)

Who do you think will won for Best Costume Design at the Oscars? Who do you think deserves to win? Let us know in the comments!


What do you think?

Written by Adriana Gomez-Weston

Georgia born, North Carolina raised, Adriana is now California living. She is a former fashion student and marketing coordinator. She now writes about film, fashion, and life.

You can find her on Twitter: @cinemasoloist.


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