Tis the season for spooky movies whether they be horror or suspense. Some directors in particular come to my mind: Alfred Hitchcock, Guillermo del Toro, Hiyao Miyazaki, and Tim Burton. Tim Burton gets the most play by the entire family this time of year. He is ever a favorite in our house, regardless if he is the writer or director. We watch The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) every Christmas Eve. “What’s This?” and “Making Christmas” are a holiday jingles, the first to be played in December .

It’s also that time of year where costumes are on the mind. The above photo is of N when she was 5. This is Cinderella part 1. Parents know that you have to dress up your child more than twice every year. N is going to be Alice this year.  (no. I still do not know what I am going to dress-up as, if at all. yes. I am becoming quite Lame.)

We were watching Burton directed Sleepy Hollow (1999) the other night. I love the humor and the eerie, and the dread.  I love the costumes. Sean and I have conversed on the matter of Burton’s Film’s costumes a few times. There seems to be a definite sensibility that threads many of his films. While each are fitting, I wondered why the designs are fitting and yet still Burton-esque. I finally looked up the designer for Sleepy Hollow. Colleen Atwood is responsible for those magnificent costumes the cast wears.

Do Johnny Depp or Christina Ricci need introduction?

I took a gander at Tim Burton’s Wikipedia page, knowing Film-makers tend to favor certain collaborators. “Colleen Atwood served as costume designer for nine of Burton’s projects, her latest being Alice in Wonderland (2010).” The Alice in Wonderland costumes are Wondermous!

drawings of  two of the Alice costumes.

Remember Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Depp’s black contraption?

What about Sweeny Todd (2007) and Helena Bonham Carter’s gowns? I particularly loved her and Depp’s beach outfits (though I couldn’t find a good crisp picture of them).

I sometimes forget that Big Fish (2003) is a Burton directed film. It is also an Atwood collaboration. Although a different kettle in a way, certainly more brightly lit, the thread still holds–doesn’t it.

Atwood is oft quoted as saying: “Costumes are the first impression that you have of the character before they open their mouth-it really does establish who they are.” When you think about her productions, and other Costume Designers’ efforts, they do work from this understanding. When I look at Sleepy Hollow (as well as the others), there is not just the spectacle, but the meaning behind it as well. The costume is read and consumed subconsciously–and quick; but it is read nevertheless. Something to remember when costuming yourself this year?


Colleen Atwood is a very successful Designer, has worked on several notable projects outside of Burton’s Films, and won Academy Awards for two of those other Films: Chicago in 2002 and Memoirs of a Geisha in 2006. Her Filmography is impressive, do check out her Wiki-page. Atwood has done, and continues to do Fantastic! work.


Her Wiki-page, which includes her Filmography and awards/nominations; both of which make for long lists. Her IMDb page. And a nice little article from the Palm Springs Life (Jan 2004) by Keith Bush titled “From Sleepy Hollow to Chicago, Colleen Atwood creates beautiful costumes for beastly characters.” The first five minutes of this edition of ThreadHeads has an interview with Ms. Atwood. But you shouldn’t miss this Wired interview.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. ibeeeg says:

    I whole-heartily agree with you that Burton’s films have great costumes that are very fitting. Each film does have a burton-esque flair to them with the costumes. Just by looking at the characters, and not knowing anything about the film itself, I can pretty much peg that it is a Burton film. Thanks for bringing to my attention the person responsible for the fabulous costumes. Indeed, Colleen Atwood does have great talent.

    Also, thanks for bringing to my attention Sleepy Hollow; nope, have not seen this one because well…like I already told you, I am a scardey cat but I am bringing myself to watch movies of suspense that does feature Depp because well….he needs no introduction in this little sliver of the world. 🙂 I am a fan, for sure.

  2. Richard says:

    Off topic to your post here, but wanted to say thanks for your comment on my blog about my leaving my long-time home and heading to Portland. I appreciate it.

    1. L says:

      your welcome.

  3. Carl V. says:

    One of the many things I love about Tim Burton and his work is the fact that he often works with the same people, be they in front of the camera of behind the scenes. While some may feel that his work has a sameness to it because of this, I personally feel that he continues to successfully create his own particular breed of magic on the screen and I love that some expectations, regarding look, etc. will be met every time. Sleepy Hollow is one of the most creepy films made in the last 20 years, in my opinion. There is just something about it that Burton captures so well and it does not fail to give me chills each year when I watch it.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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