Behind the Costumes of Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things

Yes, let’s talk about the big sleeves because that was a big through line with all of Bella’s looks. How did that become the choice for her?

Early on, I had done a lot of concept work, and on my boards were many references of the 1890s, the end of the 19th century. There was this very brief period in the 1890s where they wore these really huge sleeves. I was also looking at earlier periods where sleeves were tight on the arms, so I was giving lots of options and throwing out lots of ideas. It was really Yorgos and [production designer] Shona Heath who really zoomed in on these big sleeves and said, “Look, we really should do these big sleeves. Let’s do that.” It was really them who felt strongly about the big sleeves and wanted to go for that for Bella. 

So then we went on this mission to look at sleeves. We had these patterns that we got from Portobello Market. There’s a vintage dealer there who sells Victorian magazines, and in these magazines, there were these patterns where women would have made clothes from them in the 1890s. What was surprising to me was how huge the sleeves really were in the 1890s—much bigger than we often see in films. That’s actually true of lots of periods in dress. When you look at the original source and look at how they actually make their clothes, they’re often very extreme. 

We had this initial fitting with [Emma] in Athens about 10 weeks before we started shooting. It was at the point where we were still very much in the pandemic, and it was not going to be possible to go to America to fit her, so we found a middle ground in Athens. I took all of these sleeves that Jo, the pattern cutter, had made, and I was amazed when I got in there. I thought, “We actually need the biggest ones, and we need them even bigger.” We just went for it with the sleeves and made them huge, and that became the defining look. It was also in that fitting that I carefully plotted this wardrobe. I knew that things looking half-dressed would be the way to dress her, so I had lots of different kinds of knickers to try on her. It was really these 1930s knickers that I loved with these big sleeves. They looked really good on her.

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