The excellent and exhaustive blog, Clothes on Film has taken its annual trip through just about every film that came out this year (and some that we’d never heard of but apparently premiered anyway) to look at what clothing tells us about character. It’s fascinating.

Helena Bonham Carter and Colin Firth both played with reality – Helena by sticking to it and wearing genuine vintage fur, while Colin insisted on not wearing a suit jacket underneath his overcoat because it made him too bulky to be a realistic King George VI. Russell Brand played Arthur Bach in suits tailored by Martin Greenfield in New York to included a wide range of fabrics and to look like Savile Row tailoring while meeting the demands of an active character on a film

Several films this year also focus on masculinity, using the most traditional symbol, the plain white T-shirt as worn by Elvis Presley and James Dean and seen in Drive worn by Ryan Gosling and even by Captain America! So plain white T-shirts for men add to their sense of masculinity, but make women feel vulnerable because of the risk of underwear showing through. Putting male staff in white and women in grey, blue or black T-shirts can create an impression of gender balance.

On TV, Boardwalk Empire also used Martin Greenfield to dress its characters in 1920s style and this focus has been particularly important in giving the impression of authority, power and prestige – according to the designers, this has involved using ‘hard’ dressing such as starch, brilliant whites and matte neutrals like beige and hats. Baseball style or soft caps were saved for lower ranking characters while harder headwear like fedoras or boaters were worn by bosses. Hats functioned to reveal who had power. That’s something that businesses tend to forget – if you put somebody in a
baseball cap, they have no authority – so let senior staff go bare-headed or give them a hat with a harder profile that denotes power.

There’s a lot to learn from film … and smart companies will use a designer who has a finger on the pulse to ensure that staff uniforms convey some of these subtle messages that help boost business success and productivity.