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“Zero Dark Thirty”

Dec. 10, 2012

According to Costume Designer George Little, “less is more.” This is exactly the approach he took when he began working on “Zero Dark Thirty,” a film which not only had a very tiny budget for costumes but also took place in multiple countries over the course of 8 to 10 years. Little began by putting together a research package for director-producer Kathryn Bigelow that included fashion trends from the film’s time period (the 9/11 attack to Osama Bin Laden’s demise in May 2011), scouring newspapers, magazines and websites like Corbis and Getty Images for inspiration. To give themselves more freedom, Little and Bigelow decided to avoid obvious details such as the width of the pant legs, suit lapels and ties (neither too wide or too skinny).

Little was tasked with dressing both Middle Eastern and Western characters during the film’s shoot on location in India and Jordan. He had all of the non-principal Pakistani costumes made in India and stuck to a somewhat de-saturated palette, avoiding bright colors. All of the Western-style non-principal costumes were sourced from Los Angeles before production started abroad. The majority of the leads’ costumes came from ABC Costume in Burbank, with others pulled from New York, London, and Dubai, and some that were made to order in India. The U.S uniforms and business attire were found at Western Costume in Los Angeles while almost all of the Pakistani and Afghani police, military and security costumes (including badges, rank insignia and other accessories) were custom made in-house by local Indian and Jordanian tailors. The Navy Seal uniforms featured are authentic and were purchased or rented from the actual U.S. manufacturers.

Lead actress Jessica Chastain has somewhere in the vicinity of 60 changes in the film. Little tried to establish and follow through with an arc that ultimately comes full circle. Since Pakistan is where Chastain’s character, Maya, is first assigned out of her post in Washington D.C., she is initially dressed rather inappropriately for the environment in Islamabad. As the film moves on, Maya adapts to her new post and gradually takes on a grittier, more androgynous, stripped-down look. Ten years later and towards the end of the film, when she comes back to D.C. to present her case, her look is almost identical to where she started.

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