After working on back-to-back period Eastwood films set in the 1940s (Flags of Our Father and Letters from Iwo Jima), Deborah Hopper knew of every major vintage clothing house from Los Angeles to Canada. She would employ all her contacts to find a range of clothing, undergarments and shoes for the close to 1,000 men, women and children that peopled the production. Additional research was necessary, however, to accurately depict the quantity of Depression-era clothing needed for the background actors.
From sharp wool suits for the police officers to knickers and long socks for the two Walters, “It’s always a challenge to try to find vintage clothes,” provides Hopper. “Especially with the earlier periods, because these fabrics simply don’t last; they fall apart. So we went everywhere around this country and then some.” She laughs, “We did come up with enough clothes, but barely.”
From working-class women to society matrons of the day, the late 1920s style included a demure silhouette of dropped-waist dresses, substantial fur-trimmed coats and cloche hats (to set off close bobs and finger-waved hair), pulled down low and worn with hand-knitted gloves. The decorum of the period was more formal; even the most casual looks appear quite conservative by today’s standards.
Luckily, once Hopper began to research archival footage on Christine Collins, she was able to compile enough information to pull together an accurate and complementary design palette for Angelina Jolie. The costume designer’s attention to detail and collaborative design aesthetic proved to be an integral part of Jolie’s approach to the character. “The wardrobe choices are really the first steps toward Christine,” Jolie comments. “There is something about the style of clothes of the ’20s that is very sweet. They make you feel a little softer and just so delicate, hidden behind it all. It helped me very much.”
One unexpected wardrobe item needed for several of Jolie’s scenes as a supervisor at the telephone company in which Collins oversees a staff of operators was a pair of leather-strapped roller skates…over heels. Jolie would have to learn—thanks in part to photos from the period that documented the practice—to stride up and down the film set in this unique transportation device.
“Roller skating in heels for a role is one of the funniest things I’ve done in my career,” laughs the actor. “It’s great that it’s in the story, though, because it’s an example of the nutty things that people did in the ’20s.”