Withnail's coat: Andrea Galer's cult costumes

Justin Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article concerns the ways in which costume and bodily adornment in film provide rich sites of expression for the cult fan. It examines specifically the costume designs of Andrea Galer for Bruce Robinson's cult British comedy Withnail and I (1987). An interview with the designer coupled with a close reading of the film's visual style reveals how dress, while sensitive to matters of class and period, transcends the social setting of late-1960s, fin-de-siécle London to display a particularly charismatic physical performance (Richard E. Grant). The central characters' attire also has much to say about their homoerotic, thwarted masculinity, encoding regressive traits and unrealised sexuality. Here the work draws on psychological studies by D.W. Winnicott to show how precious garments occupy a transitional position in negotiating painful rites of passage between youth and maturity and the private and public domains. Finally, the polysemic nature of costume is demonstrated in the coat's appearance on catwalks, as a museum exhibit and a prize in a cult fan performance competition. In this way bodily adornment in film can be read as multiaccentual: a richly suggestive ground for subliminal currents of feeling.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-322
JournalFashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2005


  • PARADOX; FASHION; MOTION pictures; COSTUME design; COSTUME designers; Other Specialized Design Services; Independent actors, comedians and performers; Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers; Motion Picture and Video Production; WITHNAIL & I (Film); GALER, Andrea


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