It’s the moment everyone has been waiting for—the camera pans to a close-up of Jamie Dornan’s face, the star of the mega-hit novel turned Hollywood blockbuster, Fifty Shades of Grey. His chiseled jaw is accentuated by his crisp white shirt and suave grey suit jacket that brings out the very same grey in his glimmering eyes. He looks every part the mega-millionaire control freak that fans read about in the novels, not a hair nor a thread out of place. This was one of the first times that anyone has been able to see this beautiful sight, as I was lucky enough to be invited to a private press screening of the film whose trailer garnered over 60 million views.
Clearly, the hype surrounding the Fifty Shades trailer alone demonstrates just how much fans were anticipating the movie. From fans of the original book series to those who were simply enticed by the dramatic teasers, expectations for the movie were high. Many fans were concerned that Dornan could not live up to the originally intended actor, Charlie Hunnam. Therefore, everything else about Christian Grey’s character needed to be executed according to fan expectations, down to every last detail of his home and wardrobe. While many viewers were most excited about the moments when the characters were wearing no clothing at all, the wardrobe of the film was clearly central to the plot as well as character development.
The enticement behind the world of Fifty Shades is the opportunity for viewers to engage with their most intimate fantasies. However, interestingly enough, not many of the attendees at the press preview seemed to fully immerse themselves in the reverie of the evening. No one at my theatre was dressed even remotely in theme for the premiere. No sexy outfits, grey suits, or even monochromatic dressing was present among either the press nor the lucky public winners of tickets to the advanced screening. I did not see one eye mask, grey tie, or plum dress in the entire theatre. Guests were the opposite of provocative, as temperatures were in the teens, and most attendees were wearing multiple layers, heavy coats, and winter accessories. While the outfits of guests at the premiere were lacking, the costume design of the film brought the characters perfectly to life.
From custom-tailored suits to bespoke sex toys, every aesthetic aspect of Christian Grey’s character is just as controlled as he is. According to CNN, Costume designer Mark Bridges paid close attention to the way in which the clothes in the film developed along with the characters. For Christian Grey’s wardrobe, Bridges chose to forgo the use of any designer, and turned rather to bespoke tailor Jonathan Behr who custom-made every suit. This points directly to the idea that with his supposed level of taste and refinement, Christian Grey would be above the necessity of association with designer labels. As Young, Nunes, and Dreze extrapolate in their essay “Signaling Status with Luxury Goods,” Christian would be among the group of those wealthy elite consumers, which these authors call “patricians,” for whom labels are an unnecessary, and in fact unattractive, means of showcasing wealth. As they note,”Patricians are high in financial means” and “low in their need to consume for prestige’s sake” (Young, Nunes, Dreze 17). Clearly a label would be unnecessary, as the quality of the clothing alone is evident upon first glance at any of the clothing worn by Mr. Grey. Everything about him oozes wealth and class. If fans thought that Jamie Dornan may disappoint in his portrayal of his character, Bridges proved that a finely tailored suit can do wonders for any man, as Dornan seemed to fit perfectly into the manicured sets throughout the entire film.
On the outside, Christian Grey is the control-freak workaholic CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc. Viewers come to know him in a much different light, but his controlling nature and discipline follow him even into his private life. According to Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, Mr. Grey’s propensity towards focusing his time and energy on building his business empire should mean that he would not possess the level of taste which he clearly displays throughout the film. Velben argues that, “Refined tastes, manners, and habits of life are a useful evidence of gentility, because good breeding requires time, application, and expense, and can therefore not be compassed by those whose time and energy are taken up by work” (33). Christian’s character almost perfectly disproves that argument. He is well-dressed, well-mannered, comes from a prominent family, and is clearly cultured as evidenced throughout the film by his taste in music, wine, and other luxuries. Clearly, Christian Grey is a distinct individual whose idea of leisure time is quite foreign to the everyday man.
Now, it would be unfair to give Christian Grey’s character all of the praise, as Dakota Johnson also visually stunned viewers in her portrayal of Anastasia Steele. Much of the plot of the movie certainly surrounds Anastasia’s sexual awakening, but as the actors defended, it also is meant to be a love story. At the beginning of the film, Ms. Steele is depicted as a timid English Literature major with little to no discern for fashion and personal grooming. Bridges made sure that as Anastasia matured in her journey, so did her clothes. In the first scene when she steps, or rather trips, into Mr. Grey’s office, her haphazard clothing mimics her own clumsiness. As Bridges told InStyle magazine, “As the story evolves, her look becomes more sleek and fitted.” As he did for Dornan’s character, Bridges chose to design most of Anastasia’s ensembles as well so that fans would not associate any of them with a specific designer or label.
Power plays a clear role in the fashion of the film. As Anastasia becomes involved with Christian, he begins to style her by providing her with clothes as impeccable as his own. Likewise, to impress him and to assert herself against Christian’s domineering personality, Anastasia borrows her roommate’s more stylish clothing. When she showed up in one scene to a meeting with Christian wearing the now-infamous plum dress, the woman next to me in the theatre actually whispered “Wow, she looks really good.” Each outfit seemed to fit perfectly into the mood of each scene, some certainly more provocative than others. The characters noticeably utilize fashion as a weapon against one another. Anastasia’s plum dress and “those” jeans of Christian’s are tools that the author is keen to highlight throughout the novels which are visually translated on screen in the film. I left the press preview with visions of my own well-tailored man dancing around in my head, along with a mental note to go on a search for my very own plum dress.
Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1998. Print.
Young Jee Han, Joseph C. Nunes, Xavier Drèze (2010) Signaling Status with Luxury Goods: The Role of Brand Prominence. Journal of Marketing: July 2010, Vol. 74, No. 4, pp. 15-30.