Frankenstein’s Jacket

Frankenstein1_large_verge_medium_landscapeWhether it’s the time of year or simply the fact that classic monster movies play pretty regularly around my place, I found myself watching Frankenstein last night. And whether it was a remarkably insightful bit of costuming or my own tendency to observe apparel in movies, I couldn’t help noticing the fit of Frankenstein’s Monster’s jacket.

The monster–played beautifully by Boris Karloff–wears a black, man’s blazer. It fits him in the very broad shoulders and buttons across his chest, yet the sleeves are so short they fall between his elbows and wrists. To imagine the man who would fit in that jacket is to imagine a four foot tall linebacker.

It’s as ill-fitting as a man-made monster in modern society.

People like to think that clothes don’t matter, and in the grand scheme of debt, mass shootings, domestic violence, and tumultuous foreign affairs, maybe they don’t. But in terms of metaphor, when you’re creating a character who doesn’t quite fit into the world we live in, I dare you to find a better illusory technique.

Through movies, magazines, reality shows, and department store ads, we’ve been taught to interpret people from how they dress. I’m not talking about high fashion vs. street wear, but more the way we present ourselves. Faded T-shirt with a book quote, jeans, and converse sneakers on a guy sends an entirely different message than a tux and tails. Some can pull off both. Others are awkward in the one that feels like a costume, whichever it may be.

Clothes make the man, the monster, the hero, and the villain. The reason some characters are relegated to the shadows is because they don’t want us to see who they are. They aren’t fully formed. They’re hiding their true selves.

And from the cheap seats? The monster wasn’t the villain of the movie. Who do you think was?

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Author: Diane Vallere

Diane is the author of four mystery series. Like her character Samantha Kidd, she is a former fashion buyer; like her character Madison Night, she loves Doris Day movies, like her character Polyester Monroe, she lives in California; and like her character Margo Tamblyn, she has a thing for costumes. Find out more at http://dianevallere.com/.

9 thoughts on “Frankenstein’s Jacket”

  1. Wow, I never thought about the fit of the jacket. Puts a whole new spin on it. I haven’t read or seen Frankenstein a long time, but my girl is reading it this year for English and she thinks Dr. Frankenstein was the true monster.

  2. Excellent point about the clothes. The jacket looked odd to me but I never put my finger on it before. Haven’t read it or watched the authentic movie. I’m rather fond of Mel Brooks’ version.

  3. Ooh! Love this post! You are in good company with your observation, too: “One odd thing about movie mad scientists is that they can’t ever seem to measure their monsters for proper clothing sizes” (Margaret Atwood, “The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake in Context.” PMLA 119.3 (May 2004): 514). < courtesy of my way too many hours reading about dress in literature

    Victor (Dr. Frankenstein) seems like the primary villain to me, but the torch-wielding villagers scare me too…

  4. Never noticed the jacket. Haven’t seen the movie in a while, so i’ll have to watch it again. Poor Frankenstein, I too think he got a bum rap. Excellent blog.

  5. I think the “monster’s” ill-fitting clothes were just another indication that he as well, was ill-fitting in society. Nothing about him fit in, not even his clothes, although, at least in the book, he was supposed to fit in. (Movies don’t really ever stick to the books). I do think that clothes reflect our own personalities and how we look at ourselves. We all change what we wear depending on events, places, and moods. That is a healthy thing, because it shows that we all have our own view of how we fit into the world around us. Unfortunately, the creation/monster fit into society about as well as his coat fit him.

  6. All very good points! (yes, I posted this last night and then totally forgot about it this morning…). Cynthia, one of these days I want to read your book about clothing in literature! (I did write a college paper about clothing symbolism in The Great Gatsby.)

    As for the villain in Frankenstein? It’s a toss-up to me between Dr. Frankenstein (“Now I know what it feels like to BE God!”) and the torch-wielding villagers.

    Barbara, very good point about the ill-fitting jacket being a metaphor 🙂

  7. Love the metaphor of ill-fitting clothes! It’s been too long since I’ve read the book or seen the old movie version, and I don’t recall how clothes were treated in the book, as compared to the movie.

  8. What an insightful post. I completely agree with everything you said. I always hated the advice that writers should ignore clothes.

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