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For a movie like The Wolf of Wall Street, which features both innumerable Wall Street brokers and prostitutes, a costume designer has to think about neckwear and underwear. 

Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street is a movie about excess. His Jordan Belfort is a man whose crooked financial successes buy him a life of drugs, prostitutes, yachts, and mansions. And it all takes place against the backdrop of the broad-shouldered, big-haired 80s and 90s. Still, with so many insane scenarios on screen, the clothes do some of the most subtle work conveying the lifestyle and attitude of these people. 

The movie was costumed by Sandy Powell, who has a number of Scorsese movies on her resume (Gangs of New York, The Departed) in addition to some other modern classics (Shakespeare in Love, for instance). We asked her some questions about dressing these financial jerks via email. 

On terrible clothing: 

The Wolf of Wall Street does not take place at a terribly good time for fashion, but the movie doesn't dip too heavily into nostalgia for ridiculous '90s clothing. In fact, though some of the clothing is, yes, absurd, it's (in a way) one of the more understated parts of this movie of excess. 

It was important not to overwhelm the look of the film with exaggerated versions of '80s and '90s fashion. Because the film is a comedy, a lot of the action and dialogue is played for laughs, it was important to keep the balance with the clothes and not do comedy caricatures. However, it was great fun to use humor subtly, especially with Jonah's character and his aspirational dressing.

On the importance of ties: 

Powell had to contend with what amounted to a sea of men in work attire, who had to wear the Wall Street suit-and-tie uniform, but had to differentiate between the characters.

That was one of the biggest challenges as there are SO many men wearing suits, the differentiation had to be achieved with ties and how the suits are worn. Because of the uniformity of the classic conservative suit, the only place to express individuality is with the tie.

On her other challenge: 

In addition to dressing a bevy of suit-wearing traders, Powell had to find the minimal clothes worn by the innumerable strippers and prostitutes they hire. When asked who the hardest character to dress was, she pointed to this collective. 

Probably finding period underwear in quantity for all the hookers and strippers was the hardest but not impossible!

On taste, or lack thereof: 

How do you dress a bunch of, well, jerks? Powell explained that she worked to "convey the vulgarity involved in people wearing the most expensive clothing because it's expensive rather than tasteful or attractive." When we asked Powell about dressing the women—a "relief after all the suits"—she turned to the "Versace super girl" look of Naomi, Belfort's second wife: 

Naomi really displays her earth in her clothes, wearing the latest fashions from the best designers, although not always in the most tasteful way. If she wore Versace, it would be from head to foot, such as the scene where she walks in on the gay orgy.


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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