Joaquin Phoenix’s transformation into the iconic Joker in the Todd Phillips film has been lauded for its nuanced, cinematic approach and true-to-the-source graphic-novel style cinematography. But another key aspect of the film was the appearance of the Joker, and the man behind the makeup, Arthur Fleck. With his comic book origins, readers were made to judge him based largely on how he looked and dress, and costume designer Mark Bridges (also known for his Oscar winning work on 2011’s ‘The Artist’ and 2017’s ‘Phantom Thread’) didn’t shy away from making bold choices that directly influence the tone of the film and how the audience see the evolution of Phoenix’s character.
The Original Clown: Fleck’s job as a clown means he spends a good portion of the first act in the clown costume we’re more accustomed to seeing- with comedic elements such as the lime-green afro wig and water-squirting flower, which, as two of the most recognisable clown accessories, are highlighted during pivotal points in the film. Fleck activates the flower as he lies beaten in an alley, a tragicomic moment of self-comfort, and on the subway train where he makes his first kills. The men taunt him to remove his wig to remove the man underneath, thus symbolising the beginning of his transformation to regular clown-for-hire into the murderous Joker that he becomes by the end of the film. Otherwise, the outfit features the more muted tones we get used to seeing Arthur in throughout the film; whilst the clown accessories may make him stand out, his actual outfit as a clown is neat, but subtle, meaning he blends in with the crowd.
Arthur Fleck and Colour: Arthur seems to prefer warm tones: he favours burgundies (the colour of blood), and brown tones, perfect for blending in with the seemingly 70s time period. He avoids brights altogether, save for his signature white socks, suggesting the recession back into that childhood innocence he longs for, with the addition of comforting layers like cardigans which were deliberately made to seem worn in. He still lives with, and has to care for, his mother, and thus Arthur is not going to be a fashionable, hip man, and Bridges said in an interview with IndieWire:
“[…] there’s something kind of awkward and adolescent in his clothing. He’s probably had his sweaters and shirts for years, and, when he does his laundry, he puts it all in with his mom’s laundry. That influences the look of the clothes.”
Arthur’s clothes are as awkward as he is; they’re often ill-fitting, reflecting the weight loss he’s experienced trying to support his mother. His shirts are off-white, his trousers come up too short like he’s been wearing them since before a growth spurt, and he wears his camel hooded jacket to hide from the world, which only serves for a greater contrast between this and his new look at the end of the film.
The Joker: Arthur’s transformation into the Joker is so stark and sudden that it takes the audience by surprise – the awkward, sad man we’ve watched for 90 minutes has completely disappeared, and a new, suave, confident man marches in his place. His clothes finally fit him well, the complimentary primary colours matched to his makeup perfectly. He sheds the uncomfortable skin of his past with the murders of his co-worker, his mother, and his girlfriend (in delusion only) and with the face paint takes on a refreshing new persona. Arthur becomes unrecognisable amongst the crowd of rioters at first, but after his explosive appearance on the Murray Franklin show, when the face paint begins to wear, the Joker remains, smearing his own blood across his face to create a macabre smile that, unlike his previous outfits, seems to be made for him.