Of course, I know, but checking costumes are probably not your favorite hobby while watching a Hollywood movie in a crowded and dark cinema with a box of popcorn on your lap.
Nevertheless, you have to face reality, that clothes are important cultural reference and speak volumes about a character or situation the hero is facing in a film.
So while everybody else waits for the next punch or crack, stretch your mind further and help me unveil some cool secrets and hidden messages found in some unsuspicious fashion items that you have probably overseen.
Let’s start and dive deep into cultural learning with one big actor we all love:
1. Jonah Hill‘s Baggy Pants gave Channing Tatum his Role Name in 21 Jump Street
As you probably know, movie role names often hide a secret meaning about the character but even more often, it’s very hard to find out what the director wanted to tell us.
At least, I have found it for Jenko aka Channing Tatum, when I tried to find Schmidt’s (Jonah Hill) baggy pants that he wears in the flash back 2005 high school scene, when he pretends to be Eminem.
Yep, Schmidt’s denim pants are actually from clothing manufacturer JNCO, which is a legendary fashion label from the 90s.
The brand with the remarkable dope smoking and colorful stitched comic character logos became very popular amongst Hip-Hop musicians not only for their wide cut, but also for their pot vulgarizing image.
The interesting part is that the label is not only pronounced ‘Jenko‘ but that JNCO is the abbreviation for ‘Judge None, Choose One’. BAAAAMMMM!
In fact, the brand gave not only Channing his role’s name but the full name of the jeans label is also a great metaphor for Schmidt‘s and Jenko‘s relationship and common destiny. Why?
Because they started as enemies then formed a cooperation of convenience but ended as best buddies.
Therefore, it was a great move by costume designer Leah Katznelson that she found one of these authentic vintage pants of the label that already closed its main production in 2000.
Good news though, the label just started a new collection in February 2015.
Wearing the cool brands of your idols is also the topic of Sofia Coppola’s movie Bling Ring, but not only the robbing girls are infected by the label fandom, but also the shy Marc is, as you can read here...
2. Israel Broussard says that Actors Suck in The Bling Ring (2013)
Hey, the title is not really actor bashing and despite the fact what you think about the acting performances of the Bling Ring gang, movie director Sofia Coppola put a lot of effort into creating an genuine atmosphere.
In fact, the semi authentic movie contains a lot of love for costume details and hidden messages like Emma Watson’s oriental HAMSA t-shirt or Marc‘s (Israel Broussard) dark blue t-shirt.
Come on, what’s so special on his blue t-shirt, you ask? If you think so, then you’ve probably overseen it, because the print logo states "Actors Suck".
The fun part is that Marc wears it when he is partying with the girls in the expensive VIP club where all the stars and Hollywood actors like Kirsten Dunst are hanging around.
While Marc’s t-shirt graphic is a bold and ironic statement on the L.A. celebrity lifestyle that the rather coy Marc and his gang are trying to accomplish, the tee contains also another marker of authenticity. Why?
Because they bought it at the legendary Kitson fashion store in Beverly Hills, which is the place where a lot of celebs are really shopping for clothes and thereby a hot spot for paparazzi.
And when digging even a bit deeper, I found out that the top is from the fashion brand "Local Celebrity," which gives the t-shirt another cynical side of the antihero Marc and his attempt to become a real local celebrity or hero in Los Angeles, because that means so much for their narrow minded bling ring world.
Sure, it’s not officially documented that Sofia Coppola and costume designer Stacey Batta really had chosen this tee with these associations in mind, but it sounds like nice trivia. Apropos heroes and antiheroes…
3. The Symbolic Meaning of Robert Downey Jr.'s Metallica T-Shirt in The Judge (2014)
Since the Iron Man and The Avengers franchise and Robert Downey Jr.’s remarkable performance as Tony Stark in his iconic Black Sabbath t-shirts, it’s well known that the actor is a fan of Heavy Metal music.
Therefore, it‘s no wonder that Robert also wears a metal band t-shirt in his role as Han Palmer in the movie drama The Judge (2014).
It‘s actually a vintage band tour t-shirt from the legendary US Heavy Metal group Metallica that Hank finds in his parents’ house and that he then wears when he cruises with his bike through his home town.
While the vintage tee from 1988 fits to the authenticity of the scene because it‘s a beloved item from Hank’s wild youth 25 years ago, the tour name is even more meaningful.
Because it‘s from Metallica‘s ‘Damaged Justice’ tour, which is a great comment on Hank who is a lawyer and tries at this point of the movie to literally fix justice against his father, a judge, who has been accused of murder.
Furthermore, the skull logo functions here great as a ‘vanitas‘ - a symbol that reminds the beholder of the fugacity of life – for the situation that Hank has to face when he helps his father who has terminal cancer.
Of course, it‘s not clear if costume designer Marlene Stewart really had these dark associations in mind, but costume designer Leah Katznelson probably had them, when she chose Schmidt’s tee, because…
4. Jonah Hill‘s Elephant T-Shirt Tells the Story of a Historic Fight in 21 Jump Street
You probably remember the famous wild drug-fueled high school party scene where Schmidt (Jonah Hill) gets stabbed in the back, but it is so full of adrenaline and synthetic drugs that he doesn‘t feel it. And when you recall the party you may also saw Schmidt‘s black tee with the beige elephant print on the front.
In fact, it’s the so-called 'Elephant with Glasses' t-shirt and a subtle reference to the US America 1964 presidential campaign of republican Barry Goldwater.
Probably not everybody knows that he lost the election against democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson and that the loss didn‘t weaken his political power.
In fact, Goldwater remained a powerful conservative who had been even afterwards big political influence in southern US states throughout the 70s and 80s.
And as you can guess, the hardliner who died 1998 wouldn‘t have been very happy with this wild party where underaged high schoolers get drunk and take chemical drugs. Therefore, the t-shirt seems like a subtle yet bold affront against conservatives.
Or furthermore, the logo and blade might be a hidden message that the Latino looking party intruder just killed the conservative mentality – that Schmidt represents as an undercover officer - symbolically by stabbing the knife into his t-shirt.
But Schmidt with the blade in his back, unworried about his injury cheers the party crowd about the great feeling.
Sure, it’s not documented that the producers really had any of these associations in mind, but it sounds like a reasonable historic reference and bold theory.
Another interesting pop-cultural reference in movie fashion can be spotted on the jacket of the angry Ryan Gosling during his furious vengeance in Drive…
5. The Anger in Ryan Gosling or why the Scorpio is Rising in Drive (2011)
Many of us want to be as dead cool as Ryan Gosling because he has girls falling all over for him. And while Ryan represented the elegant womanizer in Stupid, Crazy, Love (2011) – a movie every woman loves – he turned just a few month later into an iconic role model as a deadly and silent avenger in Drive.
In particular, Ryan’s silver white scorpio bomber jacket instantly became his remarkable trademark. That led into a little fashion hype as guys started to buy a replica bomber jacket, while only very few knew the true story behind his iconic style.
In fact, costume designer Erin Benach created this jacket in cooperation with Ryan Gosling, who had a sort of big influence on his iconic role character. The High Society tailor Richarl Lim in Los Angeles was then the man of choice to custom tailor it.
The satin style of the blouson jacket is, for instance, inspired by vintage souvenir jacket from Korea, which became very popular during the war in Japan in the 1950s.
Erin and Ryan liked the silver tone from the beginning, but the reflection of the material drove the movie lighting department crazy, and therefore, they also tried a few other colors like red, black or green.
In the end, they stuck to this initial silver tone. While this is not very impressive, the interesting part is the big yellow Scorpio emblem on the back of the jacket, which was Ryan‘s idea.
In fact, the logo was inspired by the short X-rated underground movie Scorpio Rising (1964) from the iconic Californian avant-garde movie director Kenneth Anger. The 30 minute experimental film contains no dialogues but a lot of famous 1950s rock ‘n roll songs like The Chrystal‘s “He’s a Rebel”, Ricky Nelson’s “Fools Rush In” or Kris Jenson’s “Torture”.
The hero of the movie is The Scorpio, played by Bruce Byron, who is a biker mechanic and a rebel in a rocker gang. In his black leather jacket and tight denims and fake police hats, he looks like his heroes in mind: Marlon Brando and James Dean.
The controversial movie is full of obscenities and plays with Nazi and Jesus symbols as well as with homoerotic images of bikers and of course: the Scorpio sticker. In an interview filmmaker Kenneth Anger stated that he wanted nothing less than to create a visual rollercoaster that shows the American culture in a mirror of death.
In fact, the blasphemous movie is not really worth the time it takes to watch but it obviously had an impact on Ryan’s role as the silent Driver.
Nevertheless, all these historic and pop cultural references seem like a great metaphor for Ryan Gosling’s also iconic but taciturn anti-hero character, a role created with his outriders Brando, Dean and in particular the silent Scorpio in mind.
Sure, presumably not many movie goers have spotted this media reference but it’s interesting to see how the film team carefully crafted every detail of the Driver’s iconic style.