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A Love Letter to Fashion: How Fashion in “The French Dispatch” Represents Deeper Plotlines

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

Photographs Courtesy of Esquire Magazine, Twentieth Century Fox, and The Playlist

Set in the quaint, fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, The French Dispatch traces a collection of three stories published in “The French Dispatch” magazine. Despite being attributed as a “love letter to journalists” based on early The New Yorker pieces, The French Dispatch contributes as much value to the fashion world as it does to the film industry. From the setting to the characters of this romance/comedy movie, director Wes Anderson offers nuanced dimensionality through specific fashion choices. Anderson’s cinematography has always been known for being symmetrical—combined with retro touches and wide ranging color palettes of jewel and candy tones to muted, earthy shades—and detailed down to the typography and insignias (Dick). Most notably, Anderson’s fashion choices for his works serve as a point of distinction for both his characters and plot.

Anderson's most recent film, The French Dispatch, features vibrant shades of yellow, pink, mustard, and orange, sharp tailoring, and the big trend of sweater vests. Drawing application to everyday life, Anderson’s choice of fashion in The French Dispatch suggests styling bright pastel pieces without too much embellishment while complementing them with white, greys, and blacks will help it shine brilliantly or serve as a good juxtaposition. Some specific pieces have become so popular in real life that the fashion world has coined terms symbolizing them. Tilda Swinton’s effervescent tangerine caftan has generated a whole new category: canastacore. Mimicking the free flowing wings of a bird, Swinton’s caftan was painted to “look like it has yellow feathers hanging off of it” while the enormous sleeves allow “Swinton’s arm lots of room to gesture loftily” (Cohen). Playing off of this orange color, the caftan incorporates wavy lines with deeper orange tones to showcase streaks of color from the evening sun.

Beyond this, the film incorporated waistcoats and chunky wool blazers to emphasize texture while patterns of pinstripes and polka dots helped accentuate fashion looks in black and white scenes that Anderson took inspiration from French cinema. Daring pieces such as safari styles and jaunty hats also became a staple while berets were a French classic. Paying tribute to Angoulême, the original crafting spot of Charentaise (traditional felt and wool slippers), Anderson had all prisoners in the film wear the slippers, adding a sense of deep history of the film’s location to the costume choices. Moreover, the costumes of the film’s characters signified a piece of history of their past with something that they haven’t let go of. In each of these details, Anderson captures unique beauties that demonstrate memories and events that complete the overarching plot of his film and characters.

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