Arwen in The Lord of the Rings
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Credit: New Line Cinema 

Look of the Week: Ethereal elf style in The Lord of the Rings

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Jan 4, 2020, 1:10 PM EST (Updated)

Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!

It has been nearly 20 years since Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring adaptation first hit theaters, bringing the classic J.R.R. Tolkien story to the big screen in a way that had never been done before. Production of the much-talked-about Amazon multiseason and multimillion-dollar version will begin soon, hoping to fill the hole left by Game of Thrones. So far it is shrouded in secrecy, so to kick off the new year we are honoring the trilogy that redefined fantasy filmmaking. Furthermore, today is what would have been Tolkien's 128th birthday (January 3). To celebrate, here is a look back at the ethereal elven style of Arwen Evenstar (Liv Tyler) and Galadriel, Lady of Lórien (Cate Blanchett): aspirational dressing at its finest.

Credit: New Line Cinema 

Elf fashion draws on aspects of medieval designs but has a transcendental appearance that adds to their mystique. Nature is a big aspect of elvish attire, which connects them to the land while also setting them apart from other races that inhabit this universe. Luxurious materials, delicate beading, and draping all emphasize this aspect. Huge bell sleeves are practically big enough for a hobbit to sleep in and add to this notion of an otherworldly aesthetic. It is not the easiest of trends to incorporate into everyday contemporary living, but statement sleeves are making a comeback. Claire Foy recently wore a bell-sleeve Vampire's Wife frock and the Spring 2020 Mame Kurogouchi runway collection featured dramatic sleeves worthy of an elf.

The woods of Lothlórien and the Rivendell valley have an air of a wellness retreat you would likely see as a recommended vacation location in the Goop newsletter, which makes it an ideal sartorial start to 2020. These are the kinds of places to get away from it all with no screens and a cleanse to end all cleanses.

Credit: New Line Cinema 

The Oscar- and BAFTA award-winning glorious gowns, robes, and accessories are just some of the many stunning costumes designed by Ngila Dickson (nominations shared with Weta Workshop creative director Richard Taylor) that bring the words of Tolkien to life. Arwen's introduction in Fellowship of the Ring is one bathed in light, appearing like a literal angel in the darkness. The silver beading and Evenstar pendant add to the celestial aura emanating from this character, a distinct contrast to the black-robed Ringwraiths that have stabbed and stalk Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood).

Her costume isn't actually this illuminated gown; rather, she is wearing robes fit for riding and doing battle in: she is both healer and warrior. From a visual point of view, the yards of fabric blowing in the wind as she rides for their lives with the Nazgûl on their tail adds to the urgency and tension of the sequence — despite having seen this movie many times, this remains a hold-your-breath moment.

At Rivendell, she appears in a gown worthy of a wedding (on Etsy there are numerous beautiful Arwen-inspired wedding dresses for your perusal). A renewal of vows does take place between Arwen and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen); instead of exchanging rings, she gives her human love the Evenstar pendant, telling him: "I choose a mortal life." It is a private ceremony in an idyllic setting against the ominous backdrop of the coming fight to save the world.

It is in these intimate moments that Peter Jackson expertly balances spectacle with the relationships that prove this is a world worth fighting for. This gift underscores how tight the bond between humans and elves can be. It is also an easy way to incorporate your inner elf into an outfit, as this is another popular (and often affordable) replica item on Etsy.

Credit: New Line Cinema 

"I thought I had strayed into a dream," Aragorn recalls when she brings up their first encounter. The whole of Rivendell (and later Lothlórien) has this otherworldly quality backed up by the garments. As this is a late-night pep talk, the costume Arwen is wearing could easily be her bedwear (because what else would elvish royalty choose to slumber in?). It isn't going to be a matching flannel set or a flimsy nightshirt. Again, the sleeves alone look good enough to curl up and fall asleep in.

Credit: New Line Cinema 

One aspect that sets her apart from the other Rivendell elves (particularly in The Two Towers and The Return of the King) is the color richness of the draped velvet attire. Opulent reds, burgundy, and blues stand out against the more earthy and neutral tones of other Rivendell citizens, both reflecting her lineage and suggesting she is different.

For the purely bathed in light look, a trip to the fairest realm of the elves would be the ultimate New Year getaway. Lothlórien is the kingdom of Silvan Elves, and while they share a similar design silhouette to their Rivendell counterparts, there is a distinct difference. Costume designer Dickson explains in a Fellowship of the Ring behind-the-scenes video that a "slight color shift" aided this representation, with the Rivendell elves indulging in deeper tones.

Credit: New Line Cinema 

Robes add to the notion of elves floating through their environment, which includes Galadriel walking barefoot but somehow not getting mud stains on her feet or gown. Truly, a gift. When Frodo walks down the mossy staircase of the Golden Wood, the hairy and dirty hobbit feet are in stark contrast to Galadriel's. The lack of footwear further adds to this overall feeling of being in a wellness center to cleanse your mind, body, and soul: "Eat, Pray, Love: The Elven Edition."

Whereas Arwen's fabric reflects subtle tree bark and the veins of leaves, Galadriel's white silk embroidery is made up of hand-stitched petal and star imagery. Glass beads are used to create an infinite sparkle that is impossible to look away from. The level of craft and detail is awe-inspiring, even after all these years.

Credit: New Line Cinema 

Galadriel is one of the oldest and wisest elves — she narrates and appears in the prologue, receiving one of the Three Rings of Power forged by the Elves of Eregion — which is reflected in her costume design. Not only is her gown embroidered to reflect the realm she lives in, but her brooch and crown weave the branches of Lórien wood into the design, through silver and brass.

The Mirror of Galadriel is more than just a regular pool of water as it shows "things that were, things that are, and some things that have not yet come to pass." When she appears to be tempted by the One Ring, her white attire is transformed into grey and green frayed material, and a gold breastplate adds to the terrifying visage before she returns to her angelic design. This late-night interaction with Frodo reveals Galadriel's bedwear is somehow dreamier than Arwen's.

Credit: New Line Cinema 

For the perfect look to kickstart the new year (and because we are still not over Rey wearing a white hood a la Princess Leia in The Rise of Skywalker), Galadriel's riverside hood-up goodbye is the exact style energy for the month of January when you still want to feel cozy. Don't worry, being an elf is not a requirement to be this casually refined.

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