After 60 years on the cinematic shelf, Steven Spielberg brought West Side Story back to the big screen for a beautifully-executed take on the beloved musical. Now that the movie is among 2022’s Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture, it’s time to speak more closely to the elements that make the film great, including Paul Tazewell’s incredible costume design.
Paul Tazewell’s work on costumes in the Broadway realm is prolific, with In The Heights, Hamilton and NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live under his belt. West Side Story is his first time doing costumes for a movie, and they are worth paying attention to. The most iconic fashion moment of them all, has to be the return of Maria’s white dress from the 1961 version. While speaking with CinemaBlend, Tazewell shared why the production chose to keep one costume between the West Side Story movies very much the same. In his words:
As Paul Tazewell shared, Steven Spielberg only had a couple requests from his costume designer when it came to his vision of the film, one of which included Maria’s dress being white with the red belt once again. Here’s the pair of Maria and Anita’s getting ready for the dance in the 1961 and 2021 versions:
West Side Story's costumes are intentional and actually speak to the character’s journeys with the color palettes specifically. Paul Tazewell did something similar with the jackets Alexander Hamilton wears in Hamilton. With this film, he was intentional about giving the Jets cool tones to wear, to express the native New Yorkers who are “drained of color and drained of hope in some ways,” whereas the Sharks, who are the immigrants from Latin countries, don more warm colors, like reds and yellows. Tazewell expanded further on Maria’s dress in particular:
Early on in the film, right before Maria goes to the dance and meets the man she would fall in love with, i.e. Ansel Elgort’s Tony, she wears an innocent and more proper white dress. However, Ariana DeBose’s Anita adds her red belt to it, which, as the designer shared, signifies her coming into womanhood on that night.
It may feel like a small detail, but it’s intentional elements of West Side Story like this that make it one of the most beloved films of the past year. Ahead of the 2022 Academy Awards telecast airing on March 27, you can stream West Side Story on Disney+ and HBO Max now.
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