Ocean's 8 Should Be a Costume Design Case Study

Credits: Photo - Kaycee Foy, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location - Victoria Park, Calgary


Throw your hands up in the air if you devoured Ocean’s 8? Ah yeah. There’s something about a fast paced, heist movie that gets me going. Add a nearly all female cast in the mix and I am besotted. I have been playing Beyonce’s, “Who Run the World: Girls” in my head nonstop since walking out the theatre.

Women supporting women is – yes, girl, yes - ultra important. We also need to talk about the costumes, am I right? To paraphrase my favourite gossip columnist Lainey Lui from Lainey Gossip, women – like men - contain multitudes. We can have careers and families and lives and – cue the cis white male gasp - also care about clothing. It's almost like women are humans or something? Preach.

During this movie there was so much fashion porn in the costume design. I’ve written in the past about the integral role of costume design; both for storytelling and character development. I shared then what Colleen Atwood, award winning designer of Silence of the Lambs, Big Fish, Edward Scissorhands, and more recently, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Into the Woods, explained in an interview, but it warrants a reprise:

“Costumes are the first impression that you have of the character before they open their mouth-it really does establish who they are.”  

This movie was costume design at its very best, in my opinion. If I ever get the pleasure to create a fashion and style curriculum that includes a costume design portion, Ocean’s 8 would be a ‘how to do it’ case study. I am so very pleased that this latest movie in the franchise has continued to prioritize costumes at the forefront. The designer, Sarah Edwards, made sure of it. She shared with The Hollywood Reporter that this film, like the others, was,

"Going back to the original in the 1960s, fashion was a character in the movie,"

In another interview with Fashionista, Edwards goes on to explain her work.

“For me, it's always a collaborative process, part of my job is not only working with the writer and director, but also working with each actor to help them find their characters and to give them the skin — to design the character as much as designing the costumes.”

The clothes aren’t simply there to cover a body or to make it somewhat believable; no, the wardrobe is there to elevate what we can get to know about a character. They take a heavy lifting, non-verbal yet vital part of the storytelling. Why not give them their own IMDb listing under “cast.” I kid, sort of.

Each of the eight female co-stars – oh, yes, we need to shout out eight dope AF female co-stars – not only had specific skills and expertise to share with the overall heist, they each had a unique, personal style point of view. They were multi-dimensional characters. With so many leads and only so much time it is no small feat that each of the characters were so vividly realized. Indulge me as I recap the awesome sauce of each of the Ocean's 8 ensemble.

The Conductor

Sarah Paulson starred as the former con-women turned pure as gluten-free cookies suburban mom in her designer knit sweaters and collared shirts complete with sensible heeled booties. Though she may have given up her past to focus on a family, the audience knows that she can’t quit it no matter how put together her life appears.

The Creator

Helena Bonham Carter’s has-been or hasn’t-she-been fashion designer performance had just the right balance of purist artist meets eccentric, Victorian era witchy dressed don't give AF nonchalance. She is a peculiar delight that warranted their guidance and support.

The Diva

Anne Hathaway purred as the a-bit-too-much-mega-movie star that surely knows she’s a brat yet leans all the way in. Let her live, would you? She slinked around the movie in body skimming cuts, luxurious fabris and colours, all the while resplendent with diamonds.

The Hacker

Rihanna’s character provided digital, hacked-like-a-boss access to the team while clad in Rastafarian meet military vintage – ponchos, baggy jeans, flat boots. Even though she’s tough and capable there was a tiny sliver, too, of a sisterly heart of gold.

The Pick Pocket

Akawafina starred as the streetwise skater girl with hands like magic in floppy toques and graphic tees. I suspect that her somewhat juvenile clothes suggest that just because she has talent it does not mean she isn’t looking to belong to something bigger. She’s finding her way.

The Perfectionist

Though loyal to her mom, Mindy Kaling’s character could not stay away from the opportunity to stand on her own. The heist would give her the security to live independently while still working in the family jewel business. Her tailored, tidy, and measured outfits suggest her precision and attention to detail is no joke.

The Mastermind

As the recent freed prison women - with the heist of her life locked away in her mind - Sandra Bullock gets it done. Her smart, luxuriously fine, neutral coloured wardrobe suggested that she was all business. Further, nothing would get in the way of getting the riches and revenge that she has been pinning for.

The Hustler

Whereas her wing women Cate Blanchett saturated our eyes – and maybe our loins - with rock star pant suits fit for a badass. Menswear inspired layers, waistcoats, brocade, velvet, and sequins were all on sumptuous display. Her sex appeal was palpable but it was secondary to her skill as a scheming, squeeze every last dollar, successful club owner.

If you haven't already noticed, this movie had everything for me:

  • Women characters who pass the Bechdel Test 
  • Each are skilled specialists or experts
  • Showcase that expertise for a greater cause
  • Dressed purposefully as individuals
  • Bonus points: Fancy event as part of the plot (this movie included a fictitious Met Gala for goodness sake)

They did all that. I want this to go on my record that this is how you do it. Snaps. Now, for the feminists out there: are you the leading lady in your own life? Are you dressing like it?