Share This Page

'American Hustle' is a portrait of swank '70s fashion

| Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

From Christian Bale's burgundy-velour blazer to Amy Adams' plunging sequin halter dress, “American Hustle” is a cinematic romp through the over-the-top styles of the 1970s.

Set in New York and New Jersey in 1978, the film tells the story of a pair of con artists (Bale and Adams) forced to work for a cocky FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) bent on bringing down powerbrokers and politicians. This decadent world of power, crime and big money comes to life through ostentatious fashions and outrageous hairdos. All the characters are reinventing themselves, and it shows in their clothes.

“They had ideas, they lived large, and they took risks,” costume designer Michael Wilkinson said of the '70s styles that inspired his designs. “Clothes were less structured, had less underpinnings — it was like people didn't give a damn.”

Though the Australian-born Wilkinson said his childhood was drenched in American pop culture, “I approached this as a research project, just like you would study about the Greek ruins or outer galaxy.”

He scoured Cosmopolitan magazine, along with advertisements, movies and TV shows of the era. “Goodfellas” and “Atlantic City” were particularly influential films.

“And ‘Saturday Night Fever' from 1977,” Wilkinson added. “(That) had the most pertinence to Bradley Cooper's character. He's a guy from the Bronx, and he lived life as a black-and-white moral shooter working for the FBI, and wears a cheap polyester suit that doesn't fit him so well.”

The character ups his fashion game after meeting the dapper con-couple.

“He ends up in a silk shirt and silk scarf, which are pop-culture references,” Wilkinson said. “And then he wears a leather jacket to the FBI.”

The designer relished time in Halston's vintage vault, to which he was granted access for the film, and he dressed Adams in authentic pieces from the '70s.

“The lines (of clothing silhouettes) of the late '70s, with designers like Halston, were reinventing the wardrobe of women,” he said. “It was about being comfortable in your skin and walking tall.”

Hair is so prominent in “American Hustle,” it's practically another character. Lead hairstylist Kathrine Gordon studied old issues of Playboy and high-school yearbooks from the '70s for inspiration.

She and Bale worked together to create his character's elaborate comb-over, complete with fuzzy, glue-on hairpiece. The film opens with a scene of its careful construction.

“I came up with this idea to stuff it,” Gordon said of the comb-over she cut into Bale's real hair. “And then (director) David (O'Russell) rewrote the script, and I taught Christian how to do it on camera.”

Adams wears styles reminiscent of disco parties, Studio 54 and “the Breck girl” ads of the era. Jeremy Renner, who plays a New Jersey politician, has a fluffy bouffant. Jennifer Lawrence, an unhappy wife in the film, wears bouncy, sex-kitten updos whether she's going out or not. And Cooper rocks a tight perm: He's shown wearing curling rods in one scene.

Wilkinson, whose film credits include “Man of Steel,” “Tron: Legacy” and “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part II,” said he especially loved playing with fabrics, colors and prints for Bale's charming con-man.

“I'm really proud of Christian Bale,” the designer said. “It shows the possibility of an expression of personality in menswear. He explores his character in his clothes, and he's a man of the world. He mixes prints!”

Sandy Cohen is the AP entertainment writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.