In the more than 70 years since the category was introduced at the 21st Academy Awards, the Oscar for Best Costume Design has gone to classic films like Sabrina and Hamlet as well as more modern gems like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In each of those movies, there are a handful of imaginative and iconic outfits that have become the stuff of Hollywood legend. Here are 32 of the best examples…
Queen Ramonda (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever)
Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was an incredibly emotional and cathartic experience for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it all started with the funeral of King T’Challa, a scene that allowed us to say goodbye to the title character and the actor who played him, the late Chadwick Boseman. The sequence also gave audiences a truly beautiful outfit with Queen Ramonda’s (Angela Bassett) stunning and eloquent ceremonial funeral garb.
Sabrina Fairchild (Sabrina)
There have been several adaptations of Samuel A. Taylor’s Sabrina Fair, but Billy Wilder’s 1954 romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn as the titular character is a step above the rest. While the film didn’t take home Best Director or even Best Actress at the 27th Academy Awards in 1955, it did win Best Costume Design, mostly because of Hepburn’s stunning ivory dress with black lace designed by Hubert de Givenchy.
Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (Ran)
In 1985, famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa adapted William Shakespeare’s King Lear into the epic known as Ran. As was the case with the influential filmmaker’s previous efforts, Ran featured stunning attire that earned the film a Best Costume Design Oscar. The coolest outfit in the movie has to go to the colorful kimono worn by Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai).
Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi)
Richard Attenborough’s epic 1982 biographical drama, Gandhi, featured all kinds of superb outfits from multiple periods during its recounting of Mahatma Gandhi’s (Ben Kingsley) life. The costume that stands out among is the simple dhoti worn by the civil rights activist as a form of protest against Britain’s control over India. It’s simple, iconic, and understated.
Aragorn (The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King)
Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won an impressive 11 Academy Awards in early 2004, which is crazy to think about. The Best Picture winner took home the top prize of the night, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and several others, including Best Costume Design. So, what was the best outfit? Well, how could it be anything but Aragorn’s (Viggo Mortensen) coronation attire?
Velma Kelly (Chicago)
The costumes in Rob Marshall’s 2002 film adaptation of Chicago are something else, with each scene filled with exquisitely dressed characters singing, dancing, and killing no-good lovers. The outstanding outfit that stands out the most is the little black and sparkly number worn by Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) in the “Cell Block Tango” sequence.
Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet had the distinction of being the first film to win an Oscar for Best Costume Design (Black-and-White) at the 21st Academy Awards. The eloquent outfit worn by Oliver’s titular character throughout the iconic William Shakespeare adaptation is so simple yet so effective.
Darth Vader (Star Wars)
The Star Wars movies have given us some of the best characters, moments, and even great John Williams scores over the years. The first film in the saga set in the galaxy far, far away, also introduced possibly the most iconic movie villain of all time: Darth Vader. The menacing and authoritative all-black suit worn by Lord Vader throughout the movie probably had something to do with the Best Costume Design Oscar at the 50th Academy Awards.
Chiyo Sakamoto (Memoirs Of A Geisha)
Rob Marshall’s 2005 epic drama, Memoirs of a Geisha, tells the story of Chiyo Sakamoto (Zhang Ziyi) as she goes from being a young girl sold to a geisha house to becoming a renowned beauty after years of training. The film won the Oscar for Best Costume Design, and rightfully so. The best outfit of the whole movie can be seen partway through the film when Chiyo first becomes a geisha in a sequence that is truly outstanding.
Jo March (Little Women)
Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of Little Women featured some tremendously crafted outfits, which is why the film earned a much-deserved Oscar for Best Costume Design. While the various dresses and other era-authentic garments worn by the March sisters are great, the outfit that looks the richest and most eye-catching is the ensemble worn by Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) in the heartbreaking scene where she tells Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) she does not want to marry him. The earthy tones of the outfit perfectly match up with the early autumn setting and pained expressions on the character’s face.
Monsieur Gustave H. (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
The Grand Budapest Hotel, one of Wes Anderson’s best movies, features some outlandish costumes throughout its 100-minute runtime, but the coolest of them all is the concierge outfit worn by Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes).
Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra is one of the biggest and most iconic movies of all time, and a lot of that has to do with Elizabeth Taylor’s depiction of the young Egyptian queen. No surprise, but the movie won an Oscar for Best Costume Design, which is mostly likely due to the outfit worn by Taylor’s character when she entered Rome.
Satine (Moulin Rouge!)
Moulin Rouge! beat out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring to win Best Costume Design at the 75th Academy Awards, which is wild. The outfit that helped out more than anything else was the number worn by Satine (Nicole Kidman) in the legendary “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” sequence.
Eliza Doolite (My Fair Lady)
Eliza Doolittle’s (Audrey Hepburn) dress in My Fair Lady is the stuff of legend and later sold for a small fortune. Years before that, however, the dress helped earn the classic musical-comedy an Oscar for Best Costume Design, one of eight the film received at the 37th Academy Awards.
Immortan Joe (Mad Max: Fury Road)
George Miller’s Mad Max franchise has given the world some outrageously wild characters over the years, including Fury Road’s big bad, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). The voice and hair are cool, but Joe’s mask, absurd armor, and series of tubes look so crazy and menacing. No wonder the 2015 movie won Best Costume Design.
Elizabeth I (Elizabeth: The Golden Age)
Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age doesn’t fall short when it comes to beautiful outfits, but the show-stopper in this Best Costume Design Oscar winner has to be the armor Cate Blanchett’s monarch wears during the Spanish Armada sequence. Even her horse looks cool.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Amadeus)
Miloš Forman’s Amadeus won a staggering eight Academy Awards at the 1985 Oscars, including Best Costume Design. So, which outfit in this period drama was the best? Oh, that has to go to the concert attire worn by Tom Dulce’s Mozart during the “Abduction from the Seraglio” sequence.
Guido Anselmi (8 1/2)
Is there anything cooler than Federico Fellini’s 8 ½? The 1963 surrealist dramedy about a famous director experiencing a creative block and a fantastical journey is full of great costumes, but the suit worn by Marcello Mastroianni’s Guido Anselmi throughout the movie is just killer.
Ma Rainey (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom)
The 2020 Netflix original film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom took home two Academy Awards, including Best Costume Design, which isn’t surprising considering the great outfits featured throughout George C. Wolfe’s drama. The lacey outfit worn by Viola Davis’ titular character in the recording studio is the stuff of wonder.
Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby)
Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby feels like a jazz-infused fever dream with its outrageous story and over-the-top characters. The movie also features some great costumes, like the one worn by Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) while attending one of Jay Gatsby’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) parties.
Tigris Of Gaul (Gladiator)
Gladiator won a total of five Academy Awards, including Best Costume Design. Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix’s characters wear some great costumes throughout the movie, but let’s be real, Tigris of Gaul (Sven-Ole Thorsen) with his mask and helmet that combines a crying face with a tiger is the coolest.
Puyi (The Last Emperor)
Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor is a swirling epic that took home nine Oscars at the 60th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Costume Design. The outfit worn by the young Puyi (Richard Vuu) as he becomes Emperor of China is just as impressive and impactful nearly 40 years after its release.
Jeanne d'Arc (Joan Of Arc)
Victor Fleming’s Joan of Arc was the first movie to win an Oscar for Best Costume Design - Color back at the 21st Academy Awards. This epic saw Ingrid Bergman take on the role of the French icon as she fought to save her people from the English. There are a lot of great outfits, but nothing comes close to an armored Jeanne d'Arc atop a horse with a sword.
Marie Antoinette (Marie Antoinette)
In Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola approached the notorious French monarch with a modern sensibility to create a game-changing cinematic experience. Kirsten Dunst’s looks stunning throughout the movie and is one of the reasons for its Best Costume Design Oscar. This is especially true after watching the wonderful masquerade ball in which Marie is wearing an all-black dress and see-through mask over her eyes.
Rose DeWitt Bukater (Titanic)
Was it that big of a surprise that Titanic took home the Oscar for Best Costume Design in addition to 10 other categories at the 70th Academy Awards? No, not really. The outfit that still looks great all these years later is the dress worn by Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) as she walks down the grand staircase to meet Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Anita (West Side Story)
Rita Moreno’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Anita in the 1961 version of West Side Story is one of the most triumphant performances of all time and one of the reasons Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ musical is so beloved. Another great thing about Moreno’s performance is the iconic violet dress she wore during the classic “America” sequence, an outfit that surely helped the film win Best Costume Design.
River Tribe Elder (Black Panther)
Black Panther, one of the best Marvel movies, was more than deserving of its Oscar for Best Costume Design at the 2019 Oscars. While T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) did hold their own, the real MVP was the River Tribe Elder (Isaach de Bankolé) after he showed up to the first ceremonial fight looking so dang cool.
Joe Bradley (Roman Holiday)
William Wyler’s Roman Holiday is one of the best movies of all time, thanks in part to the outstanding performances from Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Even though Peck’s Joe Bradley doesn’t immediately recognize Hepburn’s Crown Princess Ann in this romantic comedy, you can’t miss the coolness of the reporter’s suit throughout the movie.
Peppy Miller (The Artist)
Michael Hazanavicius’s 2011 black-and-white comedy, The Artist, surprised the world by taking three of the four major Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor – at the 84th Academy Awards, but wasn’t a surprise was the Best Costume Design win. Just watch Peppy Miller's (Bérénice Bejo) audition sequence and it’s easy to see why this film beat out Hugo, Anonymous, Jane Eyre, and W.E.
Anna Leonowens (The King And I)
Walter Lang’s The King and I is a fantastic cinematic experience nearly 70 years after its release, as are the costumes throughout this Oscar-winning film. The dress worn by Anna Leonowens (Deborah Kerr) is the stuff of wonder, especially during the prayer sequence where the size and shape of the garment create some great visual effects.
Joe Gideon (All That Jazz)
Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz is one of the best musicals of all time, and it also features some outrageous costumes that won it an Oscar back in 1980. The best costume in the whole movie is Joe Gideon’s (Roy Scheider) black and bedazzled outfit he wears throughout the movie.
Count Dracula (Bram Stoker's Dracula)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula may not be everyone’s favorite Francis Ford Coppola movie, but there is no denying the 1992 adaptation of the horror novel has some great costumes, which is why it won an Oscar. Anthony Hopkins’ Van Helsing and Keanu Reeves’ Jonathan Harker look cool and all, but there’s no way either of those could hold a candle to Gary Oldman’s wild depiction of Count Dracula.
This is barely scratching the surface of the great outfits from movies that have won the Oscar for Best Costume Design over the years, but they are some of the coolest we could find.