Ann Roth and her assistant Gary Jones were in charge of the costumes of this film. Ann Roth is the legendary costume designer, whose first job in the field was working on The World of Henry Orient, made in 1964. The Owl and the Pussycat, Klute, Coming Home, Dressed to Kill, Sweet Dreams, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Sabrina were also her successful achievements. She was nominated for her first Oscar with the film Places in the Heart. In Hollywood where there are many sudden turns, this duo have constantly produced highly praised work. On her partnership with Gary Jones, she says “Nothing was ever written down or particularly defined; we’ve just gone forth, one project at a time.” Ann Roth and Gary Jones got the Costume Designers Guild Award nomination for excellence in costume design for a period of fantasy film for The Talented Mr. Ripley.
The Mr. Talented Ripley is a filmic adaptation of novel that has the same title. The American mystery writer, Patricia Highsmith wrote the novel in 1955. Based on the book, Plein Soleil was first made into a film in 1960, and The Mr. Talented Ripley was the second version of an adaptation, made in 1999. The time period in which the film takes place is after World War II. People had begun to back to composed lives and enjoy them. With regard to fashion, Dior was spotlighted with his New Look. In the film, Gwyneth Paltrow is a great example for showing this look.
The leading character, a typical working class man, Tom Ripley, lives in New York. One day, he meets Herbert Greenleaf, a wealthy shipping magnate while he is playing the piano at a party. Mr. Greenleaf hires Tom and sends him to Italy to persuade his son Dickie Greenleaf to come back home. In Italy, Tom introduces himself to Dickie and Dickie’s girl friend Marge Sherwood as an alumnus of Princeton. As Ripley becomes intimate with Dickie, he admires Dickie’s opulent life style and dreams of being a part of the upper class. To Tom, it seems that Dickie has an ideal life; he enjoys his life doing whatever he wants to do with his fortune. Tom admires Dickie, and is longing to be with him. However, contrary to what Tom expects, Dickie feels bored with Tom, and tries to have some distance. Tom and Dickie go for a trip to Sanremo together before they part from each other. They go on a sailboat, and they argued. Their heated controversy results in Tom killing Dickie unintentionally. Tom Ripley pretends that he is Dickie Greenleaf. To hide the murder of Dickie, Tom Ripley can not stop himself from killing several other people.
The two main characters Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf are in confrontation with each other over social class and personality. They have very contrasting characteristics. Tom is smart. He keeps himself neat and trim. He is reasonable, introspective. On the contrary, Dickie does not even how to spell. He is sensitive, emotional and short-tempered. Since Tom and Dickie are from such different backgrounds, their looks are distinctive from each other. Dickie’s wealthy, leisurely life is revealed by his stylish outfits. Dickie wears jackets and some linen trousers. He coordinates his fashion items casually reflecting his liberated spirit, but they still fit perfectly to Dickie’s body by virtue of being the finest quality of the clothing.
In most scenes, they put on different colors of outfits to individualize the two characters. Dickie’s garments have more elaborated ornaments and are detail-oriented. Dickie wears accessories for instance, jewelry and hats. If Tom’s choice of clothes is driven by needs, Dickie’s choice by his taste. If both are dressed in suits, Dickie has his hat on, wears the shirt that has pleated trimming or a striped tie, when Tom puts on basic designed and solid colored clothes. Yet, although they are in similar clothes, the clever costume designers distinguish the two by texture and the material of the clothing. In the scene where Tom kills Dickie, both wear black shirts, Dickie is wearing a black see-through shirt with white linen pants, his rings, and belt. Tom wears his with khaki pants, and his accessories are his wristwatch and glasses as usual.
Marge Sherwood is the only one who believes that Tom Ripley killed Dickie. At first, she wears bikinis, light color blouses and long skirts in the summer scenes. She is from an affluent family and what she wears is very high end, she is not restrained by her social and financial status. “She doesn’t buy her own clothes, they are her parents’ purchases she had from school… but if somebody said where’d you get those loafers, she wouldn’t have a clue. That was not interesting to her. It’s like the designer’s names now, the Tommy whomevers,” says Ann Roth. Marge is easy going and friendly, and enjoys her life writing in Italy. However, as time passes, she feels anxious that Dickie disappears without a trace and her wardrobe shifts. The weather also changes.
The colors are shown in the film including the set, props, and the wardrobes of characters, are toned down. Pale beige, bluish grey, dark brown, as well as black and white, are dominant pigments. Bleached colors create the mysterious mood of the film. Also Roth and Jones “tend to see the images in black and white terms innocence and simplicity”. In the interview with Ann Roth and Gary Jones, the costume designers of the film say that they were inspired by Life Magazine and Italian photography while they did the research for the film. As the plot develops and the conflict gets intensified between characters, the color palette becomes even darker and heavier.
Tom has two main fashion characterizations––Tom Ripley himself and his wannabe Dickie Greenleaf. These two fashion styles show the dual personalities. When Tom Ripley is being himself, he sticks to his style to an American look because he has never traveled to foreign countries due to his financial situation. When Herbert Greenleaf urges Tom to bring his son back, Tom says that he has always been dreaming of going to Europe. He wears jackets, shirts, ties and pants. Tom does not possess many clothes, and Dickie even makes fun of him about this. He frequently appears in his brown corduroy jacket. His look represents his sensitive, introverted nature. Tom wears his horn-rimmed spectacles. Dickie tries Tom’s glasses and says, “I don’t need these, because I never read,” and the glasses symbolize his intelligence. Ann Roth defines Ripley’s look as the “American East Coast Look from Sears”. His look is defined by a corduroy jacket, unadorned shirts, trousers, single color ties, and glasses.
As Tom murders Dickie, and puts on an act to become him, Tom’s style adjusts from head to toe. As Dickie did for himself, Tom gets custom suits in Italy. Not only does he imitate Dickie’s fashion look, he combs his hair back, and he mimics Dickie’s language, voice and behavior. Other than copying his appearance, Tom actually wears Dickie’s belongings such as the gold ring with the green stone that Dickie was given by Marge. This ring also serves as the trigger that makes Marge to distrust Tom because Dickie promised her that he would not to give the ring to anyone.
The film The Talented Mr. Ripley has influenced people to look back at the glamorous 50’s fashions. The heroes and heroines are featured in several fashion and cultural magazines. Even Vogue had an article that explains how to wear Marge’s look.