Numerous films have won the most prestigious film honor, the Academy Award for Best Costume Design since it was first given in 1949. Most of the time, films with historically accurate clothing take home the prize.
But it’s not just the clothes that count in movies; hairstyles and makeup are as significant. As a result, such films frequently garner multiple Oscar nominations. In other circumstances, the film itself may be mediocre and fail to win an award for performance or screenplay. Another advantage of going through the list of Oscar-Winning Movies for costume design is that you’ll probably come across several that you’ve never heard of — not just the usual cult classics.
Need some assistance narrowing things down? Find out more about outstanding movies that won Oscars for best costume design below, spanning a variety of styles and decades. So, the next time you’re looking for some visual stimulation, start here.
Directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, West Side Story is an adaptation of the renowned Broadway musical of the same title, released on October 18, 1961. Banking on the timeless love tale inspired by Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, the iconic songs, and the famous line, the movie became the highest-grossing film of 1961.
Apart from its massive box office success, the film also received praise from critics and viewers. A testament to that is its nomination for 11 Academy Awards, where the movie won 10, including Best Picture. West Side Story also won Best Costume Design, thanks to Irene Sharaff, who made the wardrobe as realistic as possible. In 1997, West Side Story was selected by the United States National Film Registry for preservation after it was designated as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Costume designer — Irene Sharaff
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Cleopatra features the story of the fabled Egyptian Queen and her struggles trying to resist the imperial expansion of Rome. Though some deem that the movie is historically inaccurate, it was able to portray Cleopatra in absolute splendor.
Elizabeth Taylor starred in the film and was required to do a whopping 65 costume changes, the world-record number at that time before it was taken by Madonna for his title role in Evita, where she made a total of 85 costume changes.
Cleopatra was nominated for nine categories at the 36th Academy Awards, winning four: Best Visual Effects, Best Cinematography (Color), Best Art Direction (Color), and Best Costume Design (Color).
Costume designers — Renie Conley, Irene Sharaff, and Vittorio Nino Novarese
The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, 1994
There was this campy Australian sitcom about drag queens before Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Lizzy Gardiner’s wardrobe was among the key reasons this 1994 film is still so beloved, from the feathered headdresses to the iconic flip-flop dress.
Directed and written by Stephan Elliott, The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert follows the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman, played by Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, and Terence Stamp, respectively, traveling across the Australian Outback. Their journey starts from Sydney to Alice Springs, riding a tour bus they’ve called ‘Priscilla” and meeting different individuals and groups throughout their trip.
The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert surprisingly became a worldwide hit, received mostly positive feedback, and grabbed the Best Costume Design in the 1995 edition of the Academy Awards. Now a cult classic not only in Australia but abroad, the movie also became the inspiration for the musical “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” performed in Sydney, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Broadway.
Costume designer — Lizzy Gardiner
Released in 1997, Titanic moved the whole world with the epic, tragic romance between Rose and Jack that developed during the ship’s maiden voyage.
Apart from the tough task of James Cameron of recreating the infamous ship, costume designer Deborah Lynn Scott also faced the same, requiring fifty people and an entire year to make costumes for the whole cast. Nevertheless, all their efforts were worth it, as the accurate costumes clearly helped draw viewers more into the story of the star-crossed lovers aboard the infamous ship.
Titanic won 11 out of its 14 Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Costume Design, tying the 1959 film Ben-Hur for the most Oscars won by a film at that time.
Costume Designer – Deborah Lynn Scott
Directed by Ridley Scott and released in 2000, Gladiator is an epic historical drama film inspired by the 1958 book Those About to Die by Daniel P. Mannix. Starring Russell Crowe, Connie Nielsen, Joaquin Phoenix, and Tomas Arana, among many others, the movie centers on the story of a former Roman general looking to carry out revenge on the ruthless emperor who killed his entire family and threw him into slavery.
Gladiator is considered to be one of the best films of the 2000s, winning five Academy Awards at the 73rd Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, and Best Costume Design. The movie also grossed over $503 million across the world, placing it as the second-highest-grossing film of the year, just next to Mission: Impossible 2.
Costume Designer – Janty Yanes
Moulin Rouge!, 2001
There were as many as 300 costumes in total and 80 costume designers in the film. Short dresses, pantyhose, feathers, and lacy pantaloons were used to create a highly playful and sexy look.
What’s great is that the costume designers, Catherine Martin and Angus Strathieall, allowed all that work perfectly to boost the movie’s plot and complement all the singers’ incredible singing in this Paris Cabarets-inspired flick. With that, it’s little wonder why Moulin Rouge! snatched the Best Costume Design award in the 74th Academy Awards, along with the Best Production Design award.
Costume designer — Catherine Martin and Angus Strathie
Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King, 2003
Holding the title as one of the most-awarded movies of all time for two decades, no one can forget about The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the unparalleled epic fantasy adventure movie released in 2003. The last chapter in the trilogy features the finale of the war between good and evil, as heroes start to face despair requiring their formidable resolution and courage.
Costume designers Ngila Dickson and Richard Taylor signed up for a tough job when they signed up for this franchise, but they majestically pulled it through, creating the perfect costumes for some of the world’s most favorite movie characters today. Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King won all eleven awards in eleven nominations, including Best Costume Design. It was also the first fantasy film to win Best Picture and the second film series that won all Best Visual Effects nominations after the original Star Wars trilogy.
Costume designers — Ngila Dickson and Richard Taylor
Memoirs of a Geisha, 2005
Atwood, who also designed the costumes for other Oscar winners like Chicago and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, bagged the award for this breathtakingly stunning film set in 1920s Japan in 2006.
Memoirs of a Geisha revolves around the story of Chiyo Sakamoto, a young Japanese girl hailing from an impoverished family who sold her to an okiya (geisha house) in order to support the family. Sakamoto trained as a geisha and eventually became one under the alias “Sayuri Nitta.” This film highlights all the sacrifices made and all the hardships endured by all geisha before and amidst World War II, as well as the effects of the advancing society on the geishas.
Atwood magic worked in bringing this film close to reality, allowing the viewers to get a majestic gaze of Kyoto during the film’s set period. She created the majority of the costumes required for this film, most of which were hand-painted Kimonos, in just about five months. Some of the best parts of the films that showcase Atwood’s immense talent and exceptional attention to detail include Chiyo Sakamoto’s transformation and snow dance.
Nominated for six Academy Awards, Memoirs of Geisha won three of them, including Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design.
Costume designer — Colleen Atwood
Marie Antoinette, 2006
Written and directed by American filmmaker and actress Sofia Coppola, Marie Antoinette is a historical drama flick that retells the story of renowned French but ill-fated Queen Marie Antoinette. Winning the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in 2007, The rococo style is strongly featured in this film, even though the gowns are not historically authentic. Canonero maintained the overall appearance of the costumes but removed unnecessary ornamentation. It’s fascinating to learn that the designer got the inspiration for the pastel-colored outfits after seeing a pack of almond cookies that looked similar.
Costume designer — Milena Canonero
Elizabeth: The Golden Age, 2007
A biographical period drama flick directed by Shekhar Kapur, Elizabeth: The Golden Age portrays the events during the latter part of Elizabeth I’s reign and serves as a sequel to the 1998 film Elizabeth by the same director. Impeccable costume designer Alexandra Byrne allowed Queen Elizabeth’s strong and fearless emotions to exude through her dress.
All images of the English Queen represent a specific period in her life.
Her coronation and rule are marked by red and orange gowns, which distinguish her from other ladies. And the Queen’s garments are made up of greener colors in various scenes where she is sorrowful or anxious.
Costume designer — Alexandra Byrne
The Young Victoria, 2009
A British period drama written by Julian Fellowes and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, The Young Victoria is a film depicting the early life and rule of Queen Victoria. Among the large ensemble cast are Emily Blunt, Paul Betanny, Harriet Walter, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, and Mark Strong.
Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell worked alongside historical consultant Alastair Bruce to do the job of re-creating the royalty’s wardrobe as historically accurate as possible and transporting the audience back to the period. The Young Victoria received three Oscars nominations and won Best Costume Design.
Costume designer — Sandy Powell
Alice in Wonderland, 2010
Alice in Wonderland is a live-action adaptation and reimagination of the 1865 Lewis Carroll children’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the 1951 Walt Disney animated feature film of the same name. Famous costume designer Colleen Atwood did fantastic work for the film, using costumes that made viewers believe a topsy-turvy world really existed down the rabbit hole. Every single detail was thought of carefully and eye-catchingly. It’s no wonder why Atwood won Best Costume Design at the 83rd Academy Awards.
Costume designer — Colleen Atwood
The Artist, 2011
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, it’s actually a silent black-and-white film. All elements, including the costumes and interiors, were included to pay tribute to the silent film era. The stylization was flawless, and the audience at the Cannes Film Festival gave it a 10-minute standing ovation.
Penned and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, its plot features the story of an upcoming young actress and an older silent movie actor during the time when silent films were starting to fade into oblivion and beginning to be replaced by sound films or talkies. The movie received ten Academy Awards nominations and won five, including Best Actor, Best Director, Best Picture, Best Original Score, and Best Costume Design.
Costume designer — Mark Bridges
The Great Gatsby, 2013
The original picture, released in 1974, was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design. The costumes for the 2013 film were designed by high-end fashion houses such as Tiffany & Co., Prada, and Brooks Brothers. This is why there was a lot of buzz about the movie’s costumes before it ever came out in theaters.
Following the premiere, various fashion collections featuring dresses in the style of The Great Gatsby were created.
The movie showcases the decadence during the Jazz Age or Roaring Twenties, which costume designer Catherine Martin was able to match with a realistic, sophisticated wardrobe, alluring audiences into Gatsby’s fascinating world.
Costume designer — Catherine Martin
The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014
Because the film was set in an ironic utopia, the outfits were designed to look like they came from a fairy tale. Red, yellow, pink, violet, and gold were the five predominant hues employed. Felt was the most often used fabric in the picture.
In an interview, Canonero stated that felt was primarily utilized in the production of military uniforms. It was intended to give the most discerning and attentive spectators the impression that something dreadful was on the way.
Apart from the Best Costume Design, the Wes Anderson comedy-drama movie also won three other technical awards, Best in Production Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Original Score. Today, The Grand Budapest Hotel is regarded to be one of Anderson’s greatest films, as well as one of the best films of the 21st century.
Costume designer — Milena Canonero
Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015
In a category won predominantly by epic and historical dramas, George Miller’s post-apocalyptic dystopian action flick was a surprising yet refreshing choice for the Academy Awards’ Best Costume Design accolade in 2016.
Thanks to Jenny Beaven, the extraordinary visual storytelling was matched with brilliant costumes, which enabled the characters to reprise their roles properly in this dystopian nightmare. Some of the elements that made huge impacts are the transparent armor of Immortan Joe, the chastity belts of The Wives, and the iconic battered leather jacket of Mad Max.
Costume Designer — Jenny Beavan
Phantom Thread, 2017
Phantom Thread is an American historical drama film released in 2017 under the direction of Paul Thomas Anderson and starring Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, and Daniel Day-Lewis. This film is set shortly after World War II, and during this time, London and Paris had the best fashion industry in the world. Bridges’ work was based on the former. He examined the biographies of Hardy Amies, Peter Russell, and Michael Donnellan, three not-so-well-known English designers, and blended their talents and features.
Bridges produced naturally stunning costumes and couture looks that worked in the film seamlessly and fit the narration beautifully.
Costume designer — Mark Bridges
Black Panther, 2018 & Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, 2022
After getting nominations for Best Costume Design for Malcolm X and Amistad, renowned costume designer Ruth E. Carter finally got the nod from the Oscar committee in 2019, bringing home the golden statuette for the Marvel Comics superhero film Black Panther.
The designer combined futuristic components, haute couture accessories, and traditional African clothing to create stylish superhero outfits. According to Carter, she had images of actual African clothing in front of her at the time, and she looked at rare seashell ornaments and samples of body art and body piercing.
In 2023, she won the same award for the sequel of the movie, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and made history by becoming the first Black woman to win two Academy Awards.
Costume designer — Ruth E. Carter
Little Women, 2019
Based on the coming-of-age novel of the same name and penned and directed by Greta Gerwig, Little Women is a 2019 drama flick that features the story of the March sisters in New England during the Civil War.
Jaqueline Durran served as the film’s costume designer, who was able to make the wardrobe historically accurate while conveying societal restrictions and portraying daily oppressions at that time. The movie garnered six Oscars nominations, including Best Picture, and won for Best Costume Design. Little Women also won the same award at the British Academy Film Award.
Costume designer — Jacqueline Durran
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, 2020
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a drama film based on August Wilson’s Broadway play that premiered in 1984. Starring Viola Davis, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts, Glynn Turman, and Chadwick Boseman, the movie dramatizes a tempestuous recording session in a studio in Chicago in 1927. It was Boseman’s final movie appearance. He died in August 2020 during the film’s post-production. Named one of the best movies of the year by the American Film Institute, the flick is dedicated to Boseman’s memory.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom received five Oscars nominations, where it won two: Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Costume Design.
Costume designer — Ann Roth
Produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Starring Emma Stone, Cruella is a crime comedy film that chronicles the story of Cruella de Vil, the villain from The Hundred and One Dalmatians, the 1956 novel written by Dodie Smith.
Jenny Beavan did the costume design for Cruella and brought home her third Oscars award for Best Costume Design, after winning it for A Room With A View and Mad Max: Fury Road. Set during the punk-rock revolution in the 1970s in London, Cruella was filled with dazzling costumes that allowed ruthless Cruella to shine as fashion became her weapon.
Costume Designer — Jenny Beavan
Costumes are an integral part of a movie, serving as a vital tool for narrating the story, conveying messages, insinuating personalities, and transforming the actors into believable characters on the screen. These movies knew how significant costumes were and did their assignments in using them to add life and to immerse their viewers more into the story.