Costumes and Makeup

Costumes and Makeup

As would be expected in a futuristic science fiction film, there are a number of interesting costume and makeup setups in Blade Runner. However, as noted in other sections, the film borrows heavily from film noir as well as other time periods, and features an eclectic mix of styles. The following is a brief look at some of the more notable costumes and makeup that we see in the film:


When we first see Deckard he is wearing a dark grey shirt, black tie, a brown overcoat that is about three-quarter length, and brown pants. His clothing is fairly dull and certainly does not look in any way futuristic, but is rather old-fashioned. This fits in appropriately with his image of the world-weary film noir detective. He changes shirts a couple of times throughout the film, but apart from that there are no major changes in his costume.


We first see Roy wearing a long black leather overcoat with the collar turned up. His peroxide-white hair really stands out against the black. This clothing clearly frames him as the ‘bad guy’, and a sort of satanic demon character. Later in the film in J.F Sebastian’s apartment Roy gets rid of the leather overcoat and wears a simple grey top and green-coloured pants. This clothing alteration comes at a time when Roy seems non-threatening. In Eldon’s apartment, he is back to his original clothing setup and performs an act of extreme violence. In the final standoff with Deckard, Roy appears to take on some sort of animalistic persona, painting Pris’ blood on his face and howling like a wolf. He takes off all his clothes, save for shoes, socks, and underwear, then pursues Deckard. It is in this more ‘natural’ state of dress that Roy shows his humanity by sparing Deckard and then accepting the end of his own life.


“We first see Pris in the rain, metal dog collar around her neck, frizzy blonde hair obviously bleached. A black shirt barely covers her, and her nylons, held up by garters, show half-circles of her upper thighs. She is the classic image of a waif-whore. This image is a disguise which she has donned to lure J.F. Sebastian into the Replicant’s trap. At the same time as she is a lure for J.F., chosen for her harmless and appealing looks, she is also dangerous bait. The smile is wiped off her face as easily as the makeup which the rain washes off her cheeks. Faint traces of mascara make dark bruises around her eyes…”


Even though her initial dress may just be a disguise, Pris was nonetheless designed as a ‘basic pleasure model’ to serve the soldiers in the off-world military camps. We can presume this to mean that she was a prostitute (rather than merely a dancer or some other form of entertainer). It is likely that she wore fairly similar clothing when she was working off-world. Her sexualised clothing, hair and makeup serve to attract the attention of J.F. Sebastian effectively. After she settles in with J.F., she dons some very noticeable white face/body makeup and sprays black paint around her eyes. This creates an effect that makes her look like an artificial doll, similar to the ones scattered around J.F’s apartment. It is difficult to discern why Pris would go to the effort to adopt this image, but perhaps she was anticipating the arrival of a blade runner and realised that she may be able to camouflage herself amongst the rest of the artificial creatures in the apartment. But perhaps a further reason is that Pris was attempting to cover up the physical symptoms that were occurring because she was near to her expiration date (blackened fingernails and pale skin).


“Zhora, when first seen “in the flesh”, is naked as far as the camera shows, except for a body makeup consisting of glittering sequin “scales” which make her skin look inhuman and starry, and a large manufactured snake wrapped around her neck… [this] becomes an autoerotic boa as well as a phallic symbol which gives her far more stature than Deckard, whose voice changes to a nerd’s wheeze when he sees her…Zhora’s apparent transformation from beauty to beast is accomplished through costuming. Zhora as the snake is a pleasure goddess. When she dons cyberpunk garb, she becomes a hard-edged animalistic beast-woman…At the same time as it clearly presents her body to be devoured by the male gaze and makes her vulnerable, it represents an almost invisible technological protection — a kind of second skin. The plastic raincoat also serves to highlight her android nature…”


It is more than halfway through the film when we first see Zhora backstage at the Snake Pit nightclub. She is topless, covered in gold glitter and wears basic makeup. Wrapped around her neck is the large artificial snake that she uses in her ‘pleasure act’ as Miss Salome. Her initial state of dress (or lack of dress) is of course an indication of her status as an object for the male sexual gaze. She has a strong sexual presence, but also appears physically and mentally tough, recalling Bryant’s earlier suggestion that she is both ‘beauty’ and ‘beast’. It is likely that she was purposely designed to be sexually enticing so as to enable her to manipulate men and then murder them more easily (recall that she is an assassin by design). After she washes off her glitter in the shower and dries her hair, she dons large black boots with metal spikes, a black bra and (oddly enough) a clear plastic raincoat. This is the ‘cyberpunk garb’ referred to in the above quote. The raincoat is hard to decipher. She puts it on right after hitting Deckard, so perhaps it was intended to stop her getting blood on her skin? Whatever the reason I agree that it is effective in the next sequence when Zhora is shot by Deckard, as it shows that under the ‘plastic’ of the replicants there is flesh and blood just like humans.


Her clothing is undeniably sculptural. Costume is used to monumentalize her and create her as an android. Shoulder padding, stark straight lines, and lacquered hair make her proportions too perfect and slightly extreme. At the same time, they evoke the historicity which neither Pris nor Zhora can claim — her clothing is closely based on a forties Film Noir model, and it evokes a sense of nostalgia and grandeur and richness…Later, her costuming is used to soften her. She undergoes a gradual transformation…While sitting at Deckard’s piano, she removes her outer coat, mirroring Deckard’s earlier action, and slowly proceeds to effect her most significant change as a character, which is manifested in the external action of  ‘the letting down of her hair’At the end of the movie, she is still in the same costume, but her hair is down, representing her humanization and liberation…”

We first encounter Rachael early in the film when Deckard visits Eldon Tyrell’s office to perform a VK test on a replicant. After Deckard watches an artificial owl fly across the office and land on a perch, Rachael silently emerges from the shadows at the back of the room. The viewer instantly notices her makeup, in particular the bright red lipstick which signifies her as a confident and sexually desirable female. She is wearing her work clothes – a knee length black skirt and a button up black ‘power’ jacket with large shoulder pads that serve to provide her with a rather robotic appearance (accentuated by her stiff mode of walking). Her hairstyle is old fashioned, reminiscent of the 1940s. The next time we see Rachael, at Deckard’s apartment, she is wearing an extravagant blue/black fur coat with a collar that extends far up behind her head*. She also wears black leather gloves and carries an expensive looking handbag. Her clothing in this scene shows her as an affluent and materialistic woman, one of the members of the upper-class society (paid well by Tyrell). In the next important scene, Rachael is back in Deckard’s apartment, this time wearing a grey outfit with large flat shoulder pads, similar to her black work dress. As she sits at the piano, she literally lets down her hair, drastically changing her facial appearance and making her look much more natural.

*Interestingly, in this very scene, there is a brief shot of Deckard also wearing a coat that has a high upturned collar. He takes it off, but the closeness of the two shots seems to me to be more than accidental – perhaps it is a clue that Rachael and Deckard are similar (both replicants).

The Snake Pit:

“The fashions are heightened and exaggerated, the cigarette holders lengthened, the pomade stiffer, the animalistic opium-poppy-colored feathers larger than life, and all is permeated by smoky decadence and lush color…Historicity is also called into question. A woman flashes replete with a square neckline, long skirt, and huge puffed sleeves coated with decadent mushroom-like ruffles; the effect is almost Elizabethan in its stylistic references; at the same time a crowd passes like a collage, adorned with outlandish eighteen-century style hats in techno-punk style with patent leather… Futuristic and ancient fashion are one and the same thing. Mesh veils make the eyes a mystery…”

Inside the Snake Pit nightclub we see some of the most interesting and decadent fashions in the whole film, even though the scene itself is rather brief. The nightclub is a refuge for the wealthy and affluent members of society that are still left on earth. Men wear suits with bow ties and are well groomed. The women are adorned with brightly coloured dress, face veils, gold and silver jewellery, old-fashioned hairstyles and strong makeup. It appears to me as a mix of old and new styles. The clothing is colourful and outlandish, a strong contrast to the drab style of most of the rest of the people seen in the film. Most people are carrying long cigarette holders, and some may be smoking opium out of pipes at the bar. Overall the clothing in this scene serves to highlight the strong difference between the minority wealthy and the masses. Another interesting aspect is that this scene shows a large number of women, whereas the rest of the film seems to show very few. It may also be worth speculating whether or not the women in this nightclub are replicants or high-class escorts (perhaps both).

City Street Fashions:

The scene where Deckard pursues Zhora through the city streets in the Chinatown district provides the viewer not only with an exciting chase scene (the only real ‘action’ in the film), but also a short glimpse of some of the cities inhabitants and their fashions. There are hundreds of people shown in this fast-paced scene, far too many to list in full here. However we can point out some of the more interesting sights:

–       We see many impoverished people dressed in tattered clothing and wearing  motorcycle goggles, as well as oriental hats.

–       Two gothic/cyberpunks decked out in full black leather with silver studs and pins, as well as jet black spiked up hair and black sunglasses

–       Two nuns/priests dressed in black cloaks with a large bizarre white headdress

–       Women dressed in similar clothing to those in the Snake Pit

–       A group of dancing and chanting Hare Krishnas wearing yellow robes

–       A couple of orthodox Jewish men (hard to tell)

–       A large variety of other people wearing headgear, goggles, sunglasses and hats

This city street scene shows that there are a large variety of different styles of dress in the city. Many of the people seem to be wearing a mismatch of random articles of clothing, probably because of their poverty. There are clearly a number of different ‘identities’ or subcultures that are defined by the style of clothing people wear, just as in our own cities today.


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