Babylon is an Ode to the Roaring 1920s and the Style of the Era

We're looking at the style behind the film

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How would we describe Babylon? We’d say it’s something along the lines of La la Land goes back in time and wilds out a little bit. The anticipated film directed by Damien Chazelle with an A-list cast that also features the celebrated return of Tobey Maguire was released this past Friday (Thursday if you want to get technical), and has caused a lot of conversation about various different elements of the film such as its length (it’s a little over three hours), the storyline, etc. Babylon focuses on the rise of several ambitious folks in 1920s Hollywood over the course of basically three decades. If you have been following our review series, then you already know that the standard “review” ends here, because we'll be looking at the style elements of the film in more detail.

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That said, let’s talk about the style in film.

RELATED: A History of 1920s Hollywood Fashion

1920s Fashion

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Because of the modern technology and stunning visuals, Babylon doesn’t exactly look like a film made at the beginning of, well, film, but there are quite a few references that do represent the era of silent film. Before we get into that, however, let’s take a look at some of the prominent fashion trends of probably the most “glamorous” decade in history before being hindered by the Great Depression which started in 1929.

The women wore dresses all the time, saving their most extravagant for cocktail hours, which occurred everyday between 6 and 8pm. The men wore suits and staches. The finest of suits we shall add, looking dapper every single moment of the day. Now onto Babylon.

Babylon Fashion

Nellie LaRoy

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An aspiring actress that’s a bit wild. In fact, you could technically classify Nellie as a “flapper,” because of her bold personality and tendency to engage in a lifestyle “outrageous, immoral, and dangerous.” Once you see the film, you’ll get the gist of her personality, but we will say that her style is representative of who she is as a person. Finding an actress from the 1920s style wise that was comparable to Nellie was a bit of difficult because this was still very much an era where women (and even men to extent) were “restricted.”

In our opinion fashion wise, Nellie is more of a 1940s Marilyn Monroe when she was still Norma Jean as opposed to a Clara Bow, but when it comes to the glamor that she portrayed at times, Gloria Swanson and Sadie Thompson come to mind.

Sidney Palmer

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Portrayed by Jovan Adepo, Sidney Palmer is an African-American jazz musician whose specialty is the trumpet. The most obvious inspiration for Sidney Palmer is Duke Ellington, a legendary jazz composer who still doesn’t get his just due till this day. Unfortunately, this was still a time period where Black actors and actresses were not given very good opportunities in film, music, etc.  It would be a very long time (decades) before that would happen, but the nice thing with movies like this, is that you can go back and rediscover those talents.

Lookwise, Sidney Palmer's look was comparable to that of Ellington and Louis Armstrong, so we’ll say the costume recreation was on point.

Manny Torres

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Played by Diego Calva, Manny is an aspiring director that would up achieving his goal as the film progresses. From our research, we’d say that Manny most compares to Steve Clemente, a Mexican-American actor from the 1920s known for his villain roles, and perhaps Roman Navarro, when it comes to the overall suave and sophisticated looks Manny donned throughout the film. The slight side part and lack of a mustache are also similar features between the two.

Jack Conrad

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Played by Brad Pitt, Jack Conrad is a darn good actor. So Pitt, who is a darn good actor himself, essentially played himself, but didn’t because the actor he played is nothing like him or the other roles he’s portrayed. There’s not a lot of actors that can portray an actor in a film/tv show that is nothing like themselves or any other character they have ever played. So essentially what we’re saying is that Brad Pitt did a very good job in this role.

Style wise, Jack Conrad’s look was a little bit of Rudolph Valentino mixed with John Barrymore, mixed with Clark Gable. The suits and the stache guys. The suits and the stache.

Who Designed the Costumes?

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Getty Images

The designer of the costumes for Babylon is no other than Mary Zophres, who has previously worked with Damien Chazelle on other projects. According to a recent interview with Box Office Pro, the goal of the costumes was for it to look like the 1920s without being heavily identifiable with the 20s decade, which is something that can be really seen with characters like Nellie.

It could also explain why it’s hard to find accurate comparisons between the characters in the film and the actors and actresses from the 20s because of the non-traditional approach to their style and overall look in film. Major props to Zophres for doing what she does best.

And this our friends is where we will leave you because this is a style review, not a movie one. Babylon is in theaters now, so make sure you check it out. 

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