Costume designer Judianna Makovsky has been nominated for three Oscars for her work on Seabiscuit, Harry Potter, and Pleasantville, but according to her, there’s nothing more difficult than working on a movie like Captain America: Civil War. “A superhero movie is way more challenging than any other genre,” she told Vulture last week. “Making these films believable is one of the biggest challenges — it’s not like making a 1920s dress.”
While designing those custom-molded super-suits presents a variety of challenges, Makovsky puts just as much thought into the casual clothes her Marvel superheroes wear. What sort of style do these characters have when they’re out of their iconic armor and just lounging around like civilians? Below, Makovsky walked us through her most telling casual costume choices.
When a short Civil War scene was released online a few weeks ago, io9.com writer James Whitbrook picked it up in a post called “I Can’t Get Over the Vision’s Sweater in These Captain America: Civil War Clips.” Indeed, it’s endearing to see Paul Bettany’s aubergine-faced superhero wearing button-down shirts and cashmere sweaters (as he does in the photo above) in a fruitless attempt to look more normal. To hear Makovsky tell it, though, there was a point when Vision’s sense of style veered into dangerously basic territory.
“When I had the first meetings with [directors] Joe and Anthony Russo, we talked about the Vision trying to feel more comfortable at the Avengers compound and trying to fit in. What would that mean? We started out with him more in comfort clothes, like sweats, or something really casual. So we drew it, and it just didn’t look right. It didn’t go with the voice, it didn’t go with the attitude.”
Makovsky’s vision for Vision clicked after she recalled the character’s unusual history: In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the synthezoid Vision essentially got his brain from Tony Stark’s dryly verbal computer interface, J.A.R.V.I.S. “What would J.A.R.V.I.S. wear?” Makovsky mused. “I thought he would be confident and elegant in his taste, almost perfect, so we decided to look into the men of the 1940s, like Cary Grant: very simple flannel trousers, elegant cashmere sweaters.” They even topped off his look with the dandiest of all affectations, an ascot: “It’s sort of hidden under his shirt, but it’s there.”
STEVE ROGERS/CAPTAIN AMERICA
“When you put Chris Evans in a size-small T-shirt, it’s a good thing,” laughed Makovsky, who first dressed the era-straddling Steve Rogers in the Russos’ previous installment, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in which the character is still trying to adjust to modern living.
“One thing about Winter Soldier is that the Russo brothers wanted to get away from Steve living in the 1940s, but he’s still a classic all-American guy and we want to keep that sensibility. So we put him in white T-shirts and jeans, but always with a little bit of the feeling that someone else may have dressed him, because he’s not very comfortable in his clothes.”
After two modern-day Avengers team-ups and two movies of his own, though, Steve has at least started experimenting with layers: “By the time you get to Civil War, he’s a little more comfortable, so you can incorporate a brown leather jacket: Even though it’s a little reminiscent of the 1940s, it’s an updated version.”
WANDA MAXIMOFF/SCARLET WITCH
Now that she’s living in the United States and has joined the Avengers, telekinetic Wanda’s style has changed, too: With her penchant for mixing dark athletic wear with witchy, thumb-looped thermals, she’s almost gone health goth. “We were very careful in her regular clothes that they’re not exactly goth, but they’re very organic,” said Makovsky. “She doesn’t look anything like Natasha, she doesn’t look anything like anyone else in the movie.”
As one of the few Avengers to eschew a conventional super-suit, Wanda’s big-battle costume — a red leather jacket slung over a wearable corset — hews closely to street style, which Makovsky said is by design. “In the beginning we did have sketches generated from Marvel where Wanda looked more superhero, and the brothers kept saying, ‘But she’s not a superhero yet. She’s still finding herself, she’s a young girl.’ So they asked me to take those sketches and redo it, to make it a real coat, make it wearable. We wanted to make them look like real garments.”
TONY STARK/IRON MAN
In his previous go-rounds as Tony Stark, you could count on Robert Downey Jr. to don an irreverent Black Sabbath T-shirt after shrugging off all that Iron Man armor, but in Civil War he’s much more likely to wear sharp suits as he advocates for the Avengers to become more responsible crime-fighters.
“It’s very much on purpose,” said Makovsky. “In my first meetings with Robert, we discussed the fact that Tony has become more serious in tone. Without hitting you in the head, you can see how outrageous he’s been in the past movies, but he’s almost presenting like he’s the father in this one.” Still, Downey asked for his custom-made suits to convey one thing: “What he wanted in his clothes is that you still know he’s Tony Stark, and you still know that he’s the richest man in the world.”
NATASHA ROMANOFF/BLACK WIDOW
The most controversial thing Scarlett Johansson wears in Civil War isn’t a super-suit — it’s this Makovsky-designed, camel-colored coat that Natasha puts on during a mission in Lagos. A major deviation from the character’s traditionally black-leather wardrobe, “that one took a little convincing for everyone, because it was so out of the box for Natasha,” said Makovsky. “She’s not in disguise, but she’s on location trying to blend in, and I thought it would be really different to go with a light color. I kind of like that Burberry vibe, so we made a jacket for her that had everyone saying at first, ‘I don’t know.’ But then they got excited to do something different, which was really fun.”
Still, Makovsky is content to costume a character in black leather if the situation calls for it: Her first comic-book movie was X-Men: The Last Stand, made in an era when superheroes looked more like heavily fortified bikers. “It was a little simpler back then,” she said, “but even in that film, we were trying to make clothes that felt grounded and not outrageous.”
BUCKY BARNES/WINTER SOLDIER
At first glance, Bucky’s incognito look might seem like a simple thing to assemble off the rack, “but people don’t know that we make those clothes and don’t just go shopping,” said Makovsky. “Everything he has on in that outfit, other than the jeans, is custom-made.”
Take Bucky’s red henley, for instance, which covers up one of his metallic appendages: “We had to custom-make that to go over his body and that silver arm. To make that look good and real on these not-normal bodies is difficult!”
Even choosing the right color was a major decision: While Makovsky had initially picked a green henley that the filmmakers signed off on, Marvel insisted that the Winter Soldier be costumed in crimson. “But we had to tone it all down and keep it looking real,” she said. “When we started on Winter Soldier, the Russo brothers were very adamant: Their vision was that these superheroes live in the world today and if they walked out the door into Washington, D.C., nobody would look twice, even if they were in their superhero suits. They don’t like colors that pop so much.”
Makovsky has no such problem on her current project, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: “It’s the other end of the spectrum, because we use so many colors, and it’s so much fun,” she said. But her next collaboration with Marvel may require her to ground those cosmic costumes in the Russo brothers’ more toned-down aesthetic: She’s about to start work on the Russos-directed two-parter Avengers: Infinity War, which will unite Marvel superheroes from every part of the universe to battle space-dwelling villain Thanos.
“It’ll be a little different than what we’ve done before on the Captain America movies,” Makovsky admitted, which is something of an understatement: While Civil War has a sprawling cast of a dozen superheroes, the next two movies could double that ensemble while introducing stylistically different heroes like Doctor Strange. “It’s going to be so big and we’re just getting started,” she said. “But I look forward to the whole thing, and not one [character] in particular, because it’s all just going to be enormous.”
Actually, there’s one hero Makovsky anticipates costuming more than most: “I can’t wait to see what the Vision will wear in that one!” she said, and laughed.