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Credit: Lionsgate Films, Lucasfilm/Disney, HBO

The 20 best TV and film genre costume moments of the decade

Contributed by
Dec 27, 2019

In a decade packed with superheroes, spies, fairy tales, dystopian landscapes, and dragons, the costume design standards are equally out of this world. Over the last 10 years, the MCU and DCEU vied for theatrical domination and Peak TV took over. There is now more entertainment on our screens than ever before. Technological advancements continue, with the world of 3-D printing impacting and expanding creative endeavors. To celebrate the best in movie and film genre costume from the last 10 years, we're going to highlight a variety of incredible garments.

There are some absences, which is to be expected when the quality has been this high and there are only 20 slots. There was a conscious effort to avoid recency bias (we have you covered for the best of 2018 and 2019 costumes) and in the movie rundown, each year is represented. The aim was to also cover an array of genre movies and TV shows that captures the best of the last decade. Costumes that have influenced or showcased the runway (and our wardrobes), inspired movements, and celebrate innovation are all included. Oscar and Emmy Award winners are featured, but this isn't simply an accolade based endeavor; rather, these are the 10 movies and 10 television genre costume moments that will linger in our memories far into the next decade.

Please note: Our lists are not ranked; all items have equal standing in our brains.

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Joseph Gordon Levitt in Inception

Inception (2010): Reality-Bending Tailoring

In science-fiction, a suit is rarely just a suit and in the world of Christopher Nolan's voyage through consciousness, each impeccably tailored character’s look is an indicator of their role in this heist within a dreamscape. As Arthur, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has some of the more physical scenes, and while his three-piece suit doesn’t exactly scream action, it adds a sophisticated flair to proceedings. The tilting corridor fight sequence is done sans jacket, which doesn’t diminish the dapper aesthetic. Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland utilized a timeless silhouette: everything else is hyper-stylized, why should the clothes be any different? Inception kicked the decade off with high sartorial aspirations.

Hugo (2011)

Hugo (2011): Best Fantasy Fashion History Lesson

Sandy Powell is one of the most prolific costume designers, not just of the last decade, but over the last 20-plus years. One of her longest working relationships is with Martin Scorsese (The Irishman is her seventh collaboration with the director), including the underrated Hugo. Set in the early '30s, and adapted from children's book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, the Parisian adventure is a love letter to the creativity and fantasy of cinema, looking back at the work of George Méliès. Using blurry images from his early work as inspiration, the Kingdom of the Fairies sequence marries production and costume design magic together. It's just one of the many reasons this movie earned Powell another Academy Award nomination.

Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror (2012): Most Magical

Fairy tales still dominate the film release schedule, guaranteeing gorgeous costume decadence on an annual basis (including this year's Maleficent: Mistress of Evil). In 2012, there were two Snow White interpretations, both of which were nominated for a costume design Oscar. And while Colleen Atwood's Snow White and the Huntsman delivered, it is Eiko Ishioka's Mirror Mirror costumes that take the familiar story to new visual heights. Even when Ishioka made a horror film, the fairy tale element was evident in The Cell. In Mirror Mirror, each gown looks like it doesn't exist in this world, and this is the magic of Ishioka's emphasis on exaggerated form, color, and texture. Sadly, Ishioka died before the movie was released, receiving the Oscar nomination posthumously — but her legacy lives on in every handmade garment.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013): Biggest Pageantry

Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) is not one to do a reaping without putting on her best couture, which highlights the performative theater of the capital minions in stark contrast to the reality of the lives that will be lost. Cotton candy hair isn't enough when you can stick a load of butterflies in there — if she could use real ones, you know she would. Trish Summerville turned to the Spring 2011 Alexander McQueen's collection for this stunning butterfly frock and a tulle explosion from Fall 2012. For a ruffled gown that actually sets on fire, Summerville does the impossible and captures Katniss' wedding dress in all its terrifying glory.

Ex Machina

Ex Machina (2014) - Best Fashion Intelligence

Sammy Sheldon showcases a world in which sleek minimalism reigns and Oscar Isaac wears white sweaters, an unzipped knit to dance in, and sweaty vest tops. Clean lines and neutrals dominate, but it is Sheldon's work on Alicia Vikander's robot body that is truly revolutionary. A collaboration between creative departments, the different textures including mesh elements adds to the machine-like nature. Rather than wondering if she is human, it makes you question if they brought a real-life robot to life.

Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015): Most Daring Escape

Leaping from a building is not easy, doing so with grace, poise, and style is much harder. Joining the Mission: Impossible squad in Rogue Nation, Rebecca Ferguson immediately showed why she was ideal for this rough and tumble (with a touch of glam) world when she made a daring rooftop escape in a fancy chartreuse silk gown. Not only does this dress flutter in the breeze, but Ilsa Faust also gets her new spy pal to remove her shoes before they make a quick exit. She doesn't want to break her ankle (like Cruise ended up doing in a subsequent Mission: Impossible film, though not because of his shoes). Costume designer Joanna Johnston also ensured the rest of her tactical wardrobe was up to the stylish covet agent standards — including a green trenchcoat, elevating the typical spy choice of outerwear.

Ben Mendelsohn in Rogue One

Rogue One (2016): Cape most likely to get famous

Star Wars has a history of villains who can wield a cape as well as wield a weapon. Ben Mendelsohn as Director Orson Krennic proves he is up for the challenge in a lighter ensemble than the all-black leaning figures this franchise has previously offered up. You can serve drama in white without being on the good side. Oscar-nominated costume designers David Crossman and Glyn Dillon made these looks feel part of this galaxy, but with a fun twist on the color palette expectations — not to mention Mendelsohn's accurate assessment that this cape is "a movie star all on its own!" Long live space capes!

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman (2017): Best period-meets-superhero

There have been many iterations of the Wonder Woman costume over the years, but Gal Gadot's metallic look is the best yet. Because Patty Jenkins' version is set before the events of Batman v Superman, it gave Lindy Hemming the chance to craft a fresher aesthetic for Diana Prince's origin story. Hemming is no stranger to superheroes, having designed Christopher Nolan's Caped Crusader trilogy. And because it is set during WWI this also gave the designer the opportunity to flex her period costume skills, crafting a beautiful suffragette-leaning ensemble for when Diana is attempting to go undercover. Roll on 2020, or should we say... 1984?

Black Panther group shot

Black Panther (2018): Most Innovative

The first Marvel costume design Oscar nomination and win, Ruth E. Carter's groundbreaking designs showed that superhero attire can dig deep into history and contemporary influences. The use of 3-D printing to create the perfect crown also indicate the lengths Carter and her team went to in crafting the Wakanda garments; this fictitious nation looks layered and lived-in. Whether clothes fit for a king or Oakland streetwear, Black Panther's costumes are striking throughout.

Midsommar

Midsommar (2019): Best Cult

Even The Devil Wears Prada's Miranda Priestly wouldn't be able to snark about the floral dress originality in Ari Aster's Swedish commune with murder on their mind in Midsommar. The May Queen gown is an incredibly ambitious undertaking by costume designer Andrea Flesch, but the individual folk-leaning gowns are also embroidered with specific monograms of runes denoting age and the person's role within the group. As everything with all things Midsommar, something far more sinister lies beneath the simple cotton get-up and flower crowns.

The Walking Dead Michonne

The Walking Dead (2010-present): Most Meaningful

During a zombie apocalypse, you can forgive most people for not caring about what they wear as long as it is warm and clean. Scavenging for garments is the equivalent to a shopping spree, but the clothes are still imbued with meaning. Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) hat is incredibly symbolic, as are the denim shirts he left behind. Michonne (Danai Gurira) looks cool AF in anything, but when she wears Rick's attire it is a sign of intimacy and later loss. Even when the world goes to hell, we still cling to the items that remind us of others. Plus, it can be really hard to find a great denim shirt.

Lean Headey in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones (2011-2019): High-Fashion Queen

For all the grumblings about the final season, one aspect that always elevated the action was Michele Clapton's multiple-award-winning costumes. No matter where your allegiances lie, the Lannisters, Starks, and Tagaryens all had a strong sense of style identity to take them into battle. While it is hard to single out one particular look, Cersei Lannister's mourning attire turned coronation gown in "The Winds of Winter" is worthy of the throne, the runway, and a permanent collection at the Met.

Elementary

Elementary (2012-2019): Strongest Crime Solving Game

There were always going to be comparisons between the two contemporary-set Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but each pairing is distinct. Lucy Liu as Elementary's Joan Watson is not only the best-dressed investigator but her trajectory from sober companion to investigator in her own right was as satisfying as her wardrobe. Costume designer Rebecca Hofherr introduced neckties and bows at the end of Season 3 and never looked back, showcasing the elegance of masculine-meets-feminine tailoring as the women in suits trend really took off.

Hannibal

Hannibal (2013-2015): Dressed to Kill

No one slays in a suit quite like Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). Whether it is his on-the-run leather jacket, flamboyant stripes in Italy, or the Prince of Wales check for therapy sessions in Baltimore, Hannibal is GQ-ready. Hell, he makes a prison jumpsuit look chic. Even his soon-to-be covered in blood chef whites offer up a suave aesthetic. When he is prepared, bespoke clear plastic overalls let his suit game shine strong. Costume designer Christopher Hargadon even weaved the serial killer's image through ex-girlfriend Alana Bloom's closet in the final season. The mark of a true connoisseur is in the mark left on others.

Orphan Black

Orphan Black (2013-2017): Most Versatile

Clothing helps distinguish character and in the case of the clones on Orphan Black, it also helps differentiate who Tatiana Maslany is playing. Whether Sarah's edgy leather attire, Cosmia's boho science vibe, Alison's Lululemon garb, or Helena’s borrowed clothing, each is distinct. Maslany's layered performances were vital in creating defined personas, as she disappeared into each role (no matter how brief) making the audience forget this is one actress. Costumes designed by Laurie Drew (for Season 1) and Debra Hanson were crucial to the construction of each clone and the wider themes. They are not dolls to be played with, despite what those wielding the power would like to believe.

Outlander

Outlander (2014-present): Fashionable in an Era

Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) looks good in any century and any country. She has traveled far and wide, which has included her interpretation of 18th-century attire using materials from the 1960s to aid her trip back in time. Scotland made way for France and then back again before voyaging to the United States. For the most glamorous attire, look no further than the Paris sojourn. One of the fashion capitals of the world for hundreds of years, costume designer Terry Dresbach looked to the original period and the work of Christian Dior, including the iconic post-WWII "New Look." In doing so, Claire is wearing a silhouette resembling the time she came from and the one she now finds herself in. Fashion is cyclical, after all.

Agent Carter

Agent Carter (2015-2016): Best Vintage

Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is the one character on this list who could be featured in the TV and film rundown. In Captain America: The First Avenger, the leather jacket military styling is a strong look on her, but it is her spy attire that takes vintage covert outfits to new heights. The red fedora is a bold choice for someone who deals with Top Secret intel, but for a woman who already knows her worth, it is a strong statement. The Season 2 switch to Los Angeles brought out Peggy's inner Cali sartorial vibe, with costume designer Giovanna Ottobre-Melton incorporating corporate power dressing suits and evening gowns in equal measure.

American Horror Story: Hotel

American Horror Story: Hotel (2015-2016): Deadliest Accessories

Spanning most of the decade, American Horror Story has proved time and time again that a show can be scary and stylish. Frequent Ryan Murphy collaborator Lou Eyrich has deservedly won numerous awards for her work on this show, which has included Vogue-ready witchy threads, suits inspired by David Bowie, and clothes fit for the devil. And while Coven is the most stylish from start to finish, Lady Gaga's Old Hollywood Glam mixed with deadly accessories as The Countess is the defining look of the series so far. The fuschia caped gown decadence is matched by the terrifying taloned glove and accompanying jewels.

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-present): Most Influential

The red and white Handmaid uniform is a symbol of repression in Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood's book of the same name, but in the real-world, this signature uniform has been used in protests fighting for reproductive rights across the globe. Ane Crabtree's interpretation of Atwood's world is striking and singular in its vision. Details such as the scarf June (Elisabeth Moss) wears and the haunting funereal version from Season 2, further elevated the design and horror it evokes. There is no mistaking the message when protesters take to the streets and government buildings in this ensemble.

Watchmen

Watchmen (2019): Best Outerwear

A late entry, but one that is no less worthy. Sharen Davis' work on the pilot gifted audiences and cosplayers alike with new superhero costumes to aspire to. Taking over for the rest of the season, Meghan Kasperlik's mix of high-fashion inspiration and superhero attire helped create numerous jaw-dropping garments that elevate the graphic novel and beyond. In the season finale, Lady Trieu (Hong Chau) wore a sleeping-bag inspired coat for her Antarctic trek in a look that was part Moncler, part Uniqlo, and 100 percent cozy couture.

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