Wes Anderson's new film, Asteroid City (2023), depicts a play about a small Western town in 1955 made popular by a meteor falling there years prior. An eclectic bunch comes to Asteroid City for the annual Junior Stargazer/Space Cadet Convention, expecting a quiet few days in a desolate desert patch. However, this itinerary is quickly dismantled when an alien steals the town's renowned meteor and disrupts the Convention, forcing the visitors to quarantine in the bare town with little to do. Their experience is anything but boring partly due to the eye-pleasing props and clothing shown throughout the film.
Anderson's films achieve remarkable success through his masterful filming technique and adept use of mise en scène. Wes Anderson's movies are so distinctly his with the incorporation of vibrant colors, comedically timed panned shots, and overly realistic sets. A key element, if not the most important in his productions, is the creativity and accuracy incorporated into the costume design. His characters' wardrobes are indisputably sensational, accredited by the Academy in the Best Costume Design category for his film, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). And while Anderson played a role in costume decision-making for Asteroid City, the real star of the show is Costume Designer, Milena Canonera.
Having notoriously designed for A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980), Canonera is an icon in her craft. She works with various creatives to bring their cinematic visions to life. Her ability to transport the audience into a film with clothing is impeccable. When asked by Focus Features how she chose to work on this film, Canonera simply answered, "By reading the script." Unsurprisingly, Canonera did not disappoint in her work for Asteroid City.
The wardrobe highlights the prominent Western elements of the film, but even more so, the 1950s-era aspect. The progression of the plot is quite clear, but depicting it well is no easy feat due to the random nature of the film. Canonera uses clothing to ground viewers as it could be easy to get lost in the commotion of the story. She does this by sticking to a cohesive pastel color pallet and staying true to how Americans dressed in the 1950s.
Source: It's Nice That
The color pallet of the clothing in the film meshes hues of light blue, orange, and yellow. These colors in conjunction with the vast backdrop of the rocky desert make for an aesthetically pleasing look on the screen. All characters in the film wear lighter colors and when grouped together, they appear in sync. In addition to the clothing's beautiful appearance, the pastels serve a critical purpose: to juxtapose the ominous undertones disguised by the happy-go-lucky mise en scène. The film is intentionally colorful and infused with comical one-liners, but at the heart of the movie, there is an anxiety about the unknown that looms. Using pastels positively counteracts what people might associate with the fear prominent throughout the film, making the viewing experience slightly eery.
What Canonera most impressively does in her work is transports viewers to the 1950s. June, an elementary school teacher played by Maya Hawke, is chaperoning her students for the Convention. Her outfit is reminiscent of a woman one would see in a 1950s cereal box ad. She wears a pastel yellow poodle-esque dress to the mid-calf paired with a matching yellow cardigan adorned with daisy flowers. Her saddle shoes pay homage to the iconic footwear women would sport during that time, whether for events, trips to town, or school days. Women's style in the 50s focused on formality and emphasized the waist, usually getting looser around the legs. Her clothing not only matches her sweet character's energy but also pays homage to a classic 50s silhouette.
Source: Digital Spy
Augie Steenbeck, played by Jason Schwartzman, has 4 children that he accompanies to the Convention. His 3 daughters almost blend into one another, not only because of their similar physical features but because of the clothing they wear. They all wear varying pastel colors from pink to blue with matching headbands. 2 of the girls wear frilly mini dresses with large sleeves, a classic children's look for the time. The outfits are paired with Mary Jane's and high white socks, tying their costumes together.
Woodrow, Augie's son, is the reason the Steenbecks are in Asteroid City to begin with. Played by Jake Ryan, Woodrow created a projection device that landed him a spot at the Convention. He is a genius with a stereotypical nerdy persona often seen in movies. He wears knee-length khaki shorts, a rainbow belt, and a red-striped shirt with an embroidered detail on the pocket that reads, "BRAINIAC." His shirt is buttoned to the top, a look that was typical for men in the 50s and emphasizes elegance. Woodrow's look tells us his story before knowing anything about him. This could only be done with a talented wardrobe team that understands the period of the film and the intentionality behind each character that goes beyond the surface level.
Source: Focus Features
Anderson and Canonera have once again outdone themselves by perfectly depicting the plot of Asteroid City through clothing while staying true to 1950s style. Because of their previous working experience together and their sheer talent, they are able to convey various themes of the film through clothing alone. Whether it be the pastel pieces that unify each person's looks and add to the eeriness of the film or the paradigmatic shapes that echo 1950s clothing, the costumes in this film are unmatched.