Fashion in Film: Saturday Night Fever

Saturday Night Fever PosterWe’re already just two weeks away from the second (not quite annual) Fashion in Film Blogathon! If you would like to join in, just let me know. There’s still plenty of time to think of a topic if you haven’t already decided!

I thought it would be fun to start the festivities a little early by taking a look at one of the most stylish films ever made: Saturday Night Fever.

I think it goes without saying that Saturday Night Fever is one of the most iconic films to come out of the 1970s.  The opening credit sequence of Tony strutting through the streets of Brooklyn is one of the most famous opening credit sequences of all time.  You can’t talk about disco without talking about the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.  And when it comes to 1970s fashion, the first thing many people think of is the image of John Travolta in that white suit.

SNF_Tony Red and Black

Even though the most well-known costume from this movie is Tony Manero’s white suit, he actually spends most of the movie wearing red and black, the two boldest colors there are to wear.  Black pants, a red shirt, and a black leather jacket are basically his standard uniform for day-to-day life. It’s what he wears in the opening sequence and we see him wear that color combination several more times throughout the film.

SNF_Beige Store

It makes sense for Tony to favor bold colors.  He’s got a strong personality and dreams of getting out of Bay Ridge and really making something of himself.  Tony’s world in Bay Ridge is a very drab place and the strong colors he wears make it obvious to the viewer that he doesn’t really fit in there.  While working at the hardware store, he has to wear a beige jacket, the walls are beige, and the store is full of other colorless items.

SNF_Tonys Parents

When he goes home, there isn’t much color to be found there, either.  Beige seems to be the color of choice for his parents and there isn’t much more color on the walls or furniture.

SNF_Tony Blending into Background

The only time Tony seems to blend into the background at home is when he tells his father about getting a nice raise at work, only to be told that his raise is worthless. I suppose Tony feels like he might as well be invisible at that moment.

SNF_Tony and Sister

We don’t see much interaction between Tony and his sister, but her red shirt and black pants definitely suggest that she admires her older brother and wants to be just like him.

SNF_Awkward Frank

And then there’s Tony’s brother Frank, the former priest.  Tony takes him out to the club one night, but it’s obvious that nightclubs just aren’t Frank’s thing and he knows it.  His brother is the disco king of Bay Ridge and could have borrowed any of his clothes to fit in if he wanted to, but instead he’s the only person in the club who came wearing a tie.

Notice that the shirt Tony puts some money down in the opening sequence is the shirt he wears the second time we see him at the disco.

Notice that the shirt Tony puts money down for in the opening sequence is the same shirt he wears the second time we see him at the disco.

Although Tony wears a lot of strong colors during the day, when he goes out at night, he tends to switch to softer colors.  When you can dance the way he does, you don’t need to wear bold colors to stand out from the crowd. He looks like he fits in at the club than he ever does at the hardware store or at home.

SNF_The Faces

Like Tony, all of his friends are almost always seen with their jackets on and they each have their own trademark colors.  Bobby’s color is light blue, Gus’ is grey, Double J.’s is brown, and Joey’s is black.

SNF_Tonys Red Jacket

When the guys go out to 2001 Odyssey, all of them, except for Tony, go wearing their usual jackets. It makes perfect sense that these guys would consistently be wearing the same jackets. Saturday Night Fever is a movie about working class people; they don’t have money for elaborate wardrobes with jackets in every color.  Tony, on the other hand, has a red leather jacket he only wears when he goes to the club. Leather jackets can get pretty expensive, so the fact that Tony spent that kind of money on something he only wears about once a week speaks volumes about just how important dancing is to him.

SNF_Bobby Fight Scene

The only time we see Tony’s friends ditch their signature colored jackets is the scene where they go to beat up the people they think put Gus in the hospital.  They all wear black leather jackets for that scene; it’s like their team uniform. But interestingly, Bobby is attacked by a guy wearing a sweatshirt in the same shade of blue Bobby usually wears.

SNF_Joey with Tony During 1st Disco Scene

If this group of friends has a leader, it’s Tony.  The first time we see them go to the club, Joey and Double J. are wearing shirts that are very distinctly different from the one Tony wears.

SNF_Joey and Double J During 2nd Disco Scene

But the next time they go out, Joey and Double J. are wearing shirts that look fairly similar to the one Tony had been wearing last time. They’re definitely following Tony’s lead here.

SNF_Annette

Annette likes her pastels and her style is a little on the gaudy side.  Her signature coat is that fake fur monstrosity. As ugly as that coat is, it’s definitely the kind of thing to wear when you desperately want to be noticed and that’s exactly what Annette spends the entire movie doing. Unfortunately, it looks cheap and tacky; not the sort of thing Tony would be impressed at all by at all.

SNF_Stephanie

On the other hand, Stephanie has a more polished style. Her typical look is basically the polar opposite of Tony’s: lots of white and soft pinks and more delicate fabrics.

SNF_Tony and Annette Practicing

When Annette meets Tony to practice for the dance contest, she comes dressed like she doesn’t plan to stay for long. What she’s wearing isn’t completely inappropriate; you could move around in that outfit. But while Tony looks like he’s really into it, Annette looks like she’s only giving it a half-hearted effort. It conveys her, “It’s only dancing!” attitude before she actually says it.

SNF_Stephanie Practicing

But when Tony spots Stephanie practicing at the dance studio, she’s there in tights and a leotard. She obviously takes dancing far more seriously than Annette does; it’s no wonder he chooses her to be his dance partner instead.

SNF_Stephanies Red Nail Polish

Despite Stephanie’s affinity for pale colors, she paints her nails red and sometimes carries a red bag, suggesting that she and Tony do have some common ground….

SNF_Tony and Stephanie Opposites

…but they ultimately don’t belong together.  When characters are romantically linked, it’s common for costume designers to dress them in clothes that are similar in some way to convey a sense of togetherness and connection. That isn’t happening at all in this shot. His black leather jacket is a stark contrast to her softer white coat. Tony’s open collar is the complete opposite of Stephanie’s turtleneck. His vivid red shirt versus the pale pink on her scarf. There isn’t a single thing here that makes them look like they belong with each other.

SNF_Stephanies Blue Leotard

However, as Tony and Stephanie spend more and more time together, Stephanie starts wearing some blues and blacks, like Tony also occasionally wears.  The first time he sees her at the dance studio, he’s wearing black pants and a blue shirt.  When they practice together later, she wears a blue leotard and black fishnets, basically the womens’ dancewear answer to Tony’s blue shirt and black pants.

SNF_Stephanie and Tony at Bridge

When Tony takes Stephanie to look at the bridge, both of them are wearing blue and white, which is perfect for that scene since it’s a moment where there is a very genuine closeness between the two of them.

SNF_Tony and Stephanie Dance Contest Scene

For the big dance competition, Tony and Stephanie each wear a something representing the other’s signature colors.  Tony has his white suit with a black shirt and Stephanie wears a white dress with a red embellishment on her waist. These costumes are fascinating because they manage to simultaneously look like a team yet still look like the distinctly different people that they are.  Tony’s suit is more structured while Stephanie’s dress flows as she dances.

SNF_Final Scene

In the end, Stephanie and Tony decide, once and for all, to just be friends.  When he goes to her apartment, she’s wearing a white robe and he’s still wearing his white suit.  Once again, they’re wearing the same colors in a moment of real closeness.  There’s also something to be said for the fact that he started the film wearing a black coat and ended it wearing a white one. Tony goes through a lot over the course of the movie and by the end of it, he’s ready to make a new start in his life.

On a non-fashion-related note, here's a small detail that shows just how much Tony is adored at 2001: The table he and his friends always sit at is reserved for them. I didn't notice those cards on any of the other tables in the club.

On a non-fashion-related note, here’s a small detail that shows just how much Tony is adored at 2001: The table he and his friends always sit at is reserved for them. I didn’t notice those cards on any of the other tables in the club.

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3 comments

  1. I never noticed it before, but you’re right — Stephanie was usually the pallid companion to the brilliant Tony. Except for that memorable scene when they’re both in blue and white. Thank you for pointing that out. Wardrobe sets the mood and helps establish the characters, even when we don’t realize it.

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