Understanding the clothing that makes Lolita
Nabokov’s book Lolita has stood the test of time, a tale written in poetic prose of the abusive and toxic relationship between an older man and a young girl. The story itself has been both romanticized and banned in equal part, but today I don’t plan on judging either the novel or movie as I haven’t fully read or watched either. Instead, I want to appreciate the costumes and the way that they show the age difference and pain of the characters.
Judianna Makovsky, the costume designer for the film has a sure-fire talent when it comes to costuming. The head costume designer for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone, along with various Marvel Movies, her ease in capturing the character through style is true.
In the movie of Lolita, Lo or Dolores Haze is dressed in beautiful and frilly sets. These sets are childish, far from simplistic, and represent the very complicated and childish nature of Lo herself. Over the years her character has been sexualized so often that it’s almost forgotten that at the start of the movie she is a mere twelve years old.
These frilly sets show her burgeoning teenage years that will be ripped away as a Humbert wraps himself around her mind and heart, while also honoring her fun-loving nature and love of being a young girl. The lace details, bows, and matching patterns would look adorable on a young five-year-old, in fact, in the ‘90s easy-to-wear sets like these were a working mother’s dream. That’s why the choice of costuming Lo in them proves Makovsky’s brilliance–as the story is through Humbert’s eyes it can be eerily easy to forget exactly how young she is (even if it still makes your stomach turn). The clothing choices bring that back…how can a grown man be so obsessed with a young girl who looks even younger?
When Western cultures began to sexualize Lo, the stills from the movie were always ones in which she wasn’t wearing a set. The blue ruffled crop top with denim shorts, for instance. And images of her in heart-shaped glasses, sucking on a lollipop became a critical image in advertisements. When peeling that away and searching for these sets–adorable and innocent in equal parts–you see her as what she was, a child. She wasn’t a young seductress at all, she was herself and Humbert was a predator.