Jessica Rabbit's dress, a Handmaid's uniform, and Dorothy's ruby slippers are all instantly recognizable costumes that have a striking color in common. Red can be interpreted in several ways depending on the context, swinging between desire and death. In costume design, it is a purposeful choice that pulls focus toward the person wearing it. It is the color of the cape worn by Little Red Riding Hood, with the garment acting as a predator's beacon. In the 1973 psychological horror film Don't Look Now, the image of a young girl in a red mackintosh is a repeated symbol that acts as both a reminder and a harbinger of doom.
A plastic raincoat of a different primary color is one of the most memorable motifs in both the 1990 TV movie and the recent cinematic adaptation of Stephen King's It. The image of Georgie in yellow is a playful one as he follows his paper boat down the rain-soaked street; what could go wrong? A storm drain encounter with Pennywise transforms this moment from childlike innocence into a Stranger Danger PSA. He is the canary down the coal mine, but instead of noxious gas, his death is far more violent. The color of this jacket is reminiscent of the sacrificial bird, but it is also a traditional color for wet-weather attire that actually dates back to 19th-century Scotland.
Costume designers Monique Prudhomme and Janie Bryant didn't pick this shade because it is traditional or pops well on film; instead, they turned to the source material itself: "Dave Gardener, who had stayed home from his job at The Shoeboat that day because of the flood, saw only a small boy in a yellow rain-slicker, a small boy who was screaming and writhing in the gutter with muddy water surfing over his face and making his screams sound bubbly."
The color choice is a direct reference to King's words, as the vivid hue is powerful both in the imagination of the reader and in the visual language of film. Georgie dies wearing this particular coat, so this is how Bill sees his younger brother in his nightmare visions. His brother will never grow up, trapped in his childhood attire for the rest of eternity — and because Bill didn't go out with his sibling into the rain, it will forever haunt him as something he could have prevented.
Nothing bad can happen when you are wearing the color of sunshine, but King takes this expectation and turns it on its head, thereby ruining yellow raincoats for parents everywhere. Pairing this primary color with the red of Pennywise's signature balloon (although Tim Curry's Pennywise favored an array of colors) not only makes for a strong motif throughout the movie, but also delivers two distinct marketing images.
A colorful children's raincoat should light up a dreary afternoon, but between It and Don't Look Now, it is stained with death. Christine Baxter is playing outside her family's English country family home after a downpour. Her entire outfit, aside from her boots, is red: a plastic mackintosh coat, tights, plaid skirt, and turtleneck. She is instantly visible across the skyline as her brother cycles nearby.
Her parents, Laura and John, are inside the house; John is casually doing work on this relaxing Sunday afternoon. He restores old churches and is going through slides taken in Venice. An image of a figure clad in a red overcoat strikes him as odd; the hood is up so there are no identifying markers.
Suddenly he bolts upright and runs out of the house toward the pond, in which Christine has dropped her red and white ball. She has fallen while trying to retrieve it; despite the beacon-like color of her coat, it feels like an eternity before he finds her. When he finally does, it is too late. The image of Sutherland howling at the air with his daughter dressed all in red is an indelible moment in cinema.
A little girl in a red coat representing death is also used to great effect in Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List, with flashes of color breaking through the monochrome palette. The impact of that choice emphasizes the horrors of a real event, ensuring the audience can't look away at that moment.
In Don't Look Now, director Nicolas Roeg and costume designer Andrea Galer don't strip the rest of the characters of this color. John's scarf, the psychic sisters' socks, and the mysterious figure in Venice all wear this shade. A lot of the Venice scenes take place in churches; everything from the stained glass windows to the drapery is crimson. Contemporary adverts on the walls, bathroom scales, and the clothes of several background actors are all in this particular primary color wheelhouse. It is as if there are reminders of Christine everywhere.
The two sisters who claim they can see Christine describe her outfit in convincing detail, but unlike Bill's vision of Georgie, this reveal is met with great happiness by Laura. It is not a nightmare for Laura to imagine their daughter is sitting between them in this Venice restaurant. However, John cannot get on board with what he believes is a ludicrous story, despite the accuracy.
When John chases after the small figure in the film's tense climax, it is as if he is attempting to make up for not getting to his daughter in time. In a city surrounded by water, Venice holds up a mirror to the Baxter family tragedy — except John can't save Christine, and he definitely can't save himself, as he has ignored every warning that has been thrown in his direction; rather, he runs toward death with reckless abandon.
Red is the color of danger, and yet John sees it not as a warning but as a signal his wife is right about their daughter still being with them. As with Christine and the pond, he is too late, and the red that soaks the screen is his blood. The killer dwarf is dressed similarly to his daughter, but this version of Little Red Riding Hood sees the victim falling foul of this disguise. Venice has been plagued by a serial killer, but no profiler could've foreseen this outcome.
Since It and Don't Look Now cornered the colorful raincoat market there have been some notable nods to both. In Now and Then (1995), there is an encounter with a storm drain that almost ends in tragedy, but the figure the kids are scared of swoops in and saves the day. Teeny's screams for help are answered, but her yellow slicker ensures that "Crazy Pete" can actually find her through the downpour.
More recently, Eleven and Max showcased bright raincoat style during a rain scene in Season 3 of Stranger Things. In "The Case of the Missing Lifeguard," the teens ride their bikes through the miserable weather to find Heather, the lifeguard they think is missing. When they turn up at the Holloway home in rather dramatic fashion, Eleven uses her abilities to open the front door, which frames the teens and their bold coats in the doorway. It is a badass image that gives power back to a garment associated with child death. They are walking into a dangerous environment, but leave unscathed before cycling off in the rain.
A raincoat is meant to protect from the elements; a colorful raincoat ensures a person is visible. In Don't Look Now and It, the latter is devastatingly accurate. This garment can't protect them from accidental drowning or killer clowns; instead, it is a bold symbol of the guilt their loved ones must endure until they can face their own literal demons.