Wardrobe Secrets From Behind The Scenes Of Tim Burton Movies

Director Tim Burton's costumes are almost as defining as the characters he creates. Throughout his prolific career, Burton has worked closely again and again with a handful of collaborators, including costume designer Colleen Atwood. Together, Atwood and Burton have conceived some of the most memorable costumes and outfits. Tim Burton's characters would be nothing without Atwood's dedication to her craft, as these behind-the-scenes stories about his characters' costumes prove. 

Photo: Beetlejuice/Warner Bros.

  • 'Beetlejuice': Lydia’s Look Came From Vintage Shops, Winona Ryder’s Personal Touch, And A Real Wedding Gown Turned Red

    Beetlejuice's Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder) became something of an instant style icon after the film's premiere. Her wardrobe embodied teenage angst in the late '80s, and that's likely because the then-teen Ryder helped Beetlejuice costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers pick out some of the outfits. Rodgers told Elle that she and Ryder would shop at vintage resale shop American Rag together. Ryder was only 16 at the time, so her parents tagged along, as well. By the end of filming, Ryder had such a strong hold of her character that she suggested the school outfit for the film's final scene. 

    As for Lydia's memorable wedding dress, Rodgers talked to Tim Burton about options. As Rodgers showed Burton options for Barbara (Geena Davis), Burton suggested something less traditional for teenaged bride Lydia:

    "This wedding dress of Geena, how do you like it?" It was just a series of photos of people in bridal dresses that Brenda's always cranked out. He picked one and I said, "How about for Winona we make her this same dress in red?" And that is how we got that ridiculous dress. 

  • 'Edward Scissorhands': Edward’s Victorian-Inspired Look Was Made Of Spare Leather Parts To Reflect His Frankenstein-Like Existence

    As a teen, Tim Burton drew a character with frizzy hair, dark, looming eyes, and knives for hands. Years later, his character came to life in Edward Scissorhands. Costume designer Colleen Atwood brought Burton's character to life, telling Dazed, "I’d seen the image and I knew what I wanted, but how I wanted it made was very [particular]." 

    Atwood used various scraps of leather, clips, and buckles to create Edward's look. The idea was to make him look like he had been assembled of leftover scraps, like Frankenstein's monster. She worked with a man who constructed the costume with her discovered pieces:

    I had a great time finding all the elements for it in food markets. Back then there was a leather district in New York where I got a lot of scraps of leather, and then all the details and stitching I did samples of and showed the guy how I wanted it. It was a journey, it was really homemade in a lot of ways, which is good for the story.

  • 'Alice in Wonderland': Helena Bonham Carter's Head Weighed 3 Pounds

    In order to create the cartoonish Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter) for Alice in Wonderland, director Tim Burton and costume designer Colleen Atwood had to use a combination of practical and computer-generated effects. The Queen of Hearts' head is humorously large, and this heavy head was one of the practical effects of the film. Every day, actress Helena Bonham Carter had a little over 3 pounds of forehead prosthetics attached to her face. 

    "Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re just supporting it, it really is," Alice in Wonderland hairdresser Terry Baliel told WWDAfter they added the prosthetics, her head was digitally enlarged three times.

  • 'Batman Returns': Michelle Pfeiffer Had To Be Vacuum-Sealed Into Her Catsuit - And She (Initially) Couldn’t Pee Out Of It

    Tim Burton's take on the Batman franchise is memorable for many reasons, but Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman suit might take the cake. Pfeiffer explained to The Hollywood Reporter how difficult it was to get in - or do anything, really - in the provocative latex suit:

    It was the most uncomfortable costume I've ever been in. They had to powder me down, help me inside and then vacuum-pack the suit... They'd paint it with a silicon-based finish to give it its trademark shine. I had those claws, and I was always catching them in things. The face mask was smashing my face and choking me... we had a lot of bugs to work out.

    One of these so-called "bugs," Pfeiffer revealed, was the inability to use the restroom. At first, there was no way for Pfeiffer to relieve herself once she was vacuumed in. Fortunately, the costume department fixed that issue for the actress. 

  • 'Batman': The Costume Designer Based Joker’s Wardrobe On Jack Nicholson’s Personality - And His Love Of Fancy Clothes

    Batman costume designer Bob Ringwood wasn't familiar with Bruce Wayne's world before Tim Burton asked him to collaborate on costume designs. Ringwood said he "had never even read a Batman comic. So I went out and bought about 200 of them from all the different time periods - including the really early ones." He also got to see variations of Batman's nemesis Joker throughout the decades, but it was the film's actor, Jack Nicholson, who inspired Ringwood the most:

    He adores clothes. So all we did was just re-interpret the clothes that the Joker wears in the drawings to work with Nicholson's personality. To do clothes with him is a joy ride, really, because he just loves them. He is really with you and he's suggesting things and inventing things and doing things. He's wonderful.

  • 'Sweeney Todd': According to Colleen Atwood, Sweeney Doesn’t Care What He’s Wearing - But Mrs. Lovett Is The Opposite

    Costume designer Colleen Atwood was immediately taken by the music from Sweeney Todd, telling USA Today"[The music is] the starting point of all of it. It's a moody piece, so I wanted a lot of texture in the costumes. I wanted you to be able to feel them on screen." Atwood wanted the characters' costumes to reflect what they had been through. For example, Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) wears recycled, sometimes tattered, clothing. "His costumes are simple. He's not conscious of what he's wearing," Atwood explained to the publication. 

    As for Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), Atwood says the opposite is true. As Mrs. Lovett starts to earn extra pocket money from their meat pie side business, she starts cleaning up. "Everyone is a little grimy in the movie. As she got more money, she got a couple of new dresses... Her dresses were a range of color but subtle and controlled." Atwood's attention to detail didn't stop at what the audience could see, either: "Underneath she had fantastic underwear you never see - great bloomers and corsets."