Review Date: 8-6-09
Release Date: 12-16-77
Runtime: 118 min.
Period: Contemporary, 1977
Costume Designer: Patrizia von Brandenstein
I love this movie. It is so dark, and at the time it was released, tapped into the zeitgeist of a large, young part of our population. In a post-cultural-revolution reality, with a culture embracing its own diversity at last, along comes a movie that talks about all of it. In Saturday Night Fever, we find forums for discussion about everything from women’s lib to racism – hot topics at the time – and yes, these issues are carried out, expressed and explored in the costumes.
First we have Tony Manero himself – sex on a stick, basically. Here is a guy who is a walking hormone. Italian, Italian, Italian. Macho, macho, macho. We first meet him in a silhouette and a look that we see repeated throughout the film. It consists of Angel’s flight pants (a disco staple), a collared shirt with the collar worn outside the coat lapels, unbuttoned to reveal gold chains and chest hair, a coat, and some heeled dance shoes. His change 1 look consists of a black leather jacket, with black pants, a red shirt and shiny red shoe boots. He kind of looks like a black widow spider.
A note about the Angel’s Flight pants – as mentioned, these were a disco staple. They were made out of polyester, and they were quite tight in the buttocks, tight in the crotch, and flared at the hem. Polyester – it doesn’t breathe well. Imagine dancing, getting all sweaty, in polyester.
As Tony gets ready for the club, he wears a different combo – pinkish disco pants, a print shirt (with some pink in it), and a red leather jacket. Still with the gold chains and the big shoes. He dances without his coat, and look at these fabulous lines – high waisted pants make the legs look so much longer in this case!
Note the print on the shirt – it’s kind of dreamy and feminine. He is letting his macho guard down here when he falls for Stephanie.
Later in the film, we see him in changes similar to change 1 – this time, it’s with a Banlon:
And here is yet another red Banlon.
His costume pieces may be different, but the effect is the same. His silhouette stays consistent throughout the film.
When we get to the big dance competition, he appears in the white 3-pc suit with black shirt. This is the signature, iconic look of the film:
So iconic, in fact, was this look that it was parodied in the movie Airplane:
By the Muppets:
And has become a top-selling Halloween costume.
Tony Manero’s costumes arc from dark to light. In the end of the film, when he has an epiphany and realizes he needs to change his life, he is in white. He starts out black, unenlightened. He ends up in white, having had an epiphany, and breaking free.
Stephanie brings us some interesting costumes as well. For the first half of her time in the film, she is in white or pale pink. No one else in the film wears white to the extent she does. She is a city girl (at least she works in the city) living in Brooklyn. A daisy among weeds, if you will (and I’m not saying Brooklyn is weeds, I’m just putting it into metaphoric perspective in Tony Manero’s eyes). The first time we see her, at the disco, it is a white jersey dress:
And here is a close-up of the cut of the bodice and flowers in her hair. It’s a feminine look, almost 1930s if you think about it, and the flowers add a delicate, vulnerable touch.
We then see her at the dance studio, doing ballet stretches in her leotard. Pale, pale pink. This is when she rebukes Tony.
We see her again at the dance studio, another day, in a similar leotard, pale, pale pink, but with a shirt tied around her. This is the scene where she agrees to dance with Tony.
Tony and Stephanie go to coffee and she blathers on about how important her job is. Note the light color of her trench:
As she sips her tea, and tries to talk about Zeferelli, even under her cream colored trench, she is still pale pink.
In her first real rehearsal with Tony, she wears a blue leotard to his red ensemble. I thought of this as separating these two characters using color. They are distinctly different. The use of color on Stephanie could symbolize her reaching out to Tony, to his world. This is the first time we’ve seen her in a color.
When Tony helps her move to the city, she wears a fussy white blouse with white pants, and a blue cardigan. If blue represents “Brooklyn” in some respect to her, and the white represents her own citified enlightenment, then the costume (which has her wearing pants for the first time) shows her taking control of her life. She can remove the blue sweater and be done with Brooklyn for good.
Waiting for Tony at 2001: Odyssey on the night of the dance competition, she wears the cream trench again. Though in this picture, it looks pink because of the lighting. Here she is a city girl (white) back in Brooklyn. Her chiffon scarf is nicer than anything the other girls would have there.
Her final dance costume is a one-shouldered chiffon number, it appears. This is the classic disco style. It makes me wonder what kind of bra she was wearing for support. But then again, they weren’t doing any kinds of crazy moves. Maybe the jiggle was minimal.
The costume is as pale as can be – I am pretty sure that the cause of all of these pale costumes is the “enlightenment of the city, daisy-among-weeds” thing.
In the end, when she lets Tony in to her Manhattan apartment, she wears… a white bathrobe. It’s simple, and it brings her color palette and Tony’s color palette together for the first time. They are both enlightened.
Annette has some beautifully unfortunate costumes. The first time we meet her, it’s in the dance club. She wears this chartreuse-colored dress; it looks to be a wrap-dress, or surplice top at minimum, in some kind of jersey fabric. Could be polyester, it’s hard to tell. It has a floral detail on the left shoulder and right hip. It also has a vintage feel to it, maybe slightly 1940s. The color is significant to me, because I don’t consider chartreuse to be particularly sexy or attractive. The use of this color on Annette is a nice way to try to convince the audience of that, as well.
The rest of the movie is spent, for her, in more colors like baby blue, light green, and grey, mostly covered up by this huge fur coat:
I remember this coat most distinctly from seeing the movie years ago; even more than the white suit. It made a huge impression on me. The actress is so short, it looked out of proportion with everything she was wearing. I like that it works against her. It’s right for the character. We need to feel sorry for Annette.
Speaking of girls we can feel sorry for, here is Doreen. Her costume is interesting because it hearkens back to a time when women were beholden to men. Her behavior (wiping the sweat from Tony’s brow) echoes this sentiment. I think it is smart to dress Doreen in a garment that looks like a throwback. Further, her hair is TRAGIC. Great job, hair department.
Frank Jr. has some interesting costume changes happening. He greets Tony, wearing his priest dickie over a t-shirt. These are the last vestiges of his former occupation. After this, he will never wear them again. However, it is important that the audience sees him like this.
We then see Frank Jr. at the nightclub, wearing a v-neck sweater, dress shirt and clunky tie. He is so out of place there; the costume really serves the story.
His final costume change is when he tells Tony to find his own path in life. Here, Frank Jr. looks more like a college student than former priest. Note the button-down collar and chunky cardigan. He’s clean-cut, and off to start a new life.
Tony’s mother (I think her name is Flo in the movie, but it’s never mentioned) has some great housedresses and house clothes. Take a look at her here, when Tony comes home from work. She is giving him “B*tch, please” look. She is fantastic.
The costume below is when Frank Jr. didn’t come home for dinner. It’s so fabulously prim; her heartbreak is magnified in this sad, matronly garment.
Now, on to Bobby and the boys (Gus, Joey and Double J). Bobby, it should be noted, wears platform shoes during the duration of the film:
They are very, VERY high.
In the scene, however, when he falls off the bridge, you can clearly see that it is a stuntman wearing sneakers. I won’t put a picture of it on here, but search for yourself. It would have been totally unsafe for a stuntman to wear platforms that high for a stunt so dangerous. It just bears a mention that sometimes what looks like a “mistake” is just a costume situation that can’t be overcome due to safety.
The boys wear versions of the same costumes, just individually tailored to their body types and looks:
One thing in common – leather jackets. Oh yes, and tight pants.
They go for the same sleek disco shirts as Tony, but fail to arrive at his level of “cool”. The costumes on these boys are brilliant, though, in that they unify these boys as a group.
Pete, the dance studio owner – you just have to see him.
It’s like someone hit John Waters with the 1970s stick. I love it.
And the Puerto Rican dance team – they really had some flair and “cha cha” in their dance costumes. I love these dance costumes – it heightened the dance itself in the way the fabric moved. Lovely.
I think that the film in general captures a moment in history beautifully. People actually looked like this in the clubs, as hard as it may be for a young person these days to understand. No one laughed at how big the collars were. This was for real.
Certainly the film looks East Coast to my eyes. We didn’t have as much use for cold-weather gear in California, and for the most part, California was still drowning in hippie culture in 1976 – 1977. I love this film as a reference for disco. I also love it because its subject matter is haunting and timeless. I hope you enjoy the film, and its iconic costumes!!