Dog power clothes: the history of Western fashion design

A historical look at how Jane Campion’s fashion clashed between the modern world of the 1920s and Western icons.

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The hard hats, leather chaps, and button-up shirts of Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” evoke a century-old movie icon and reflect a world even earlier. Look closely, however, and the camera reveals something else: Many of these men are wearing suspiciously new dud munitions that look like freshly delivered from the Sears catalog.

Despite their frequent setting in the late 19th century, Western stories usually appear in a non-historical cinematic scene where the West always needs to win. But Campion’s film breaks that myth, and underscores how, by the 20th century, the modern world had encroached upon what had become a carefully constructed masculine fantasy of farm life right down to the mail-ordered 10-gallon hats.

Kirsty Cameron’s fashion designs extend to the modernity, glamor of the 1920s, and the ruthless timelessness of the American West in ways that reflect the rapidly changing world and those, notably of Benedict Cumberbatch’s toxic Phil Burbank, who reject the encroachment of modernity. In an interview with IndieWire, Cameron said, “I never thought of it as Western,” yet Western imagery and ideology are an unmistakable legacy that the film grapples with.

The exact balance of fashion

This complex orientation toward the changing world informs Cameron’s fashion for each character in Dog Power, all of whom inadvertently reveal how they would like to be seen through the way they dress. In the film’s remote Montana landscape (played by New Zealand’s South Island), Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst) emerges as the most ambivalent character, not only for her femininity on a male-dominated farmhouse but also for her embroidered dresses. “Rose has a classy look,” Cameron explained. “There’s that height in her costume by the time she gets to the farm,” a reflection of her newfound wealth and status as the wife of George Burbank.

Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst in “The Power of the Dog”

Kirsty Griffin/Netflix

Likewise, George Jesse Plemons always wears tuxedos (even when participating in a cattle drive), a visual connection to his wealthy family and a “fit for the life they lived.” His brother, Phil (Cumberbatch), and son Rose (Cody Smit McPhee) act as a study on contradictions, revealing the struggles between the old and new worlds. Hiding himself in the past and layers of dirt (which he especially refuses to shower away), Phil hides his Yale education as well as the deeper impulses of his soul. He is always preceded in spaces by his heavy and mystical classes as a kind of shield that keeps everyone at a distance.

Peter stands up to defying expectations in his loose-fitting store-bought jeans. Cameron suggests he’s at home with his sinister body: “He doesn’t mind being embarrassed.” In the end, it is his “disciplined simplicity” and defiance – wearing white shoes and shirts on a dusty farmhouse – that point to the future.

Taken together, the film’s many scenes of its carefully choosing and dressing characters show just how central their physical appearance was to Campion’s world—much more than typical Western Hollywood.

Authentic western design

“The Power of the Dog” arrives at a time when the West has long been reassessed, having mostly abandoned the age-old celebration of white supremacy and apparent destiny in favor of reflections on masculinity, isolation, and oppression. Along with this refinement of the philosophy of the genre, Westerners moved from “True Grit” (2010) to “The Assassination of Jesse James…” (2007) away from the unconventional, unfortified Western cities. Rack a cowboy costume from previous decades. In turn, they were celebrated for their cinematography, costumes, makeup, and artistic direction in ways the genre never had its heyday as a staple in B-movies.

For most of its history, its factory-like production has meant that the craft of the West has been largely ignored. Blindness to their design elements stems from their knowledge – they have become very naturalized by the time they are The academy began awarding fashion design as its own category in 1949, and icons of the West were so ingrained in people that their craft could not be shown.

“Days of Heaven”

Paramount Group / Courtesy Everett

It was the slow decline of the West as a celebration of apparent destiny that transformed this kind of timeless myth into a recognizable historically relevant genre for these design elements. Beginning with Terence Malek’s “Days of Heaven” in 1978, Westerners – few as they were at this time – have become known for their craftsmanship. In the 73-year history of the fashion design category, only 10 Westerns have been nominated, and eight of those nominations were for films produced after owner and costume designer Patricia Norris redefined the genre with “Days of Heaven.”

Like The Power of the Dog, Malik is set in the 20th century, when Hollywood was already promoting a West that was still being tamed.

However, more so in the previous film, Cameron’s “Power of the Dog” costumes reflect this clash of frontiers and modernity. Every time the immortal world of Phil that the West still needs to tame with white manliness seems to envelop everyone, Converse All Star is there to remind us that his world is the one dying.

Clothes make cowboys

The Western genre was a staple of early cinema even before the filmmakers moved to Los Angeles (in part because of its suitability for the genre). The cottage industry in Hollywood fashion stores was born specifically to serve the many Westerns shot around Southern California.

In 1912, Western Fashion was founded in order to provide clothing specifically for Native American characters, who locals admitted were portrayed unoriginally by these largely East Coast producers. On a research trip to Los Angeles for “The Power of the Dog,” Cameron scoured vintage stores for inspiration and went into Western fashion, still a staple in the industry, where they ended up getting most of the seasons worn by cowboys in the movie.

By 1925, the year Dog Power is set, Phil and his cohorts had infiltrated the early Western cinematic icons. As Campion explained to IndieWire’s Ann Thompson: “It’s only at the end of those legends when cowboys work there because they love old cowboys and they get their clothes off of mail orders and they wear cowboy clothes as a sort of cowboy quote.”

Kodi Smit-Mcphee and Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Power of the Dog”

Kirsty Griffin/Netflix

Denim, chaps, boots, and signature cowboy hats – which were made iconic by early movie cowboys like Broncho Billy Anderson and Tom Mix – can be found at the corner store or through the Sears catalog (introduced in 1889 and ubiquitous in the West) . A closer look at the cowboys who kept an elephant showing a mix of sloppy, worn clothing combined with new purchases with fringe and embroidery, which Cameron and her crew stitched into imitating early 20th-century mass-production styles.

But Phil, whose loyalty was to the previous version of the West, would not wear such flashy fugitive clothes. As Cameron put it, “The whole idea of ​​Phil was that he had been dressed for so long, that he rejected the idea of ​​progress, in some ways.”

Throughout the film, the costumes embody the turbulent coexistence of the modern world and timeless frontiers, trapping the characters between these worlds just as they are bound together by the vast void of the landscape. However, at the same time, the characters’ clothes offer a bit of a disguise for their inner selves. And only Peter’s acknowledgment of what lies beneath the layers of Phil’s armor ultimately opens a path forward for most of the film’s characters.

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