Warning: This story contains spoilers for all of Captain America: Civil War.
Captain America: Civil War is a movie where most of the characters (when not in uniform) wear t-shirts and jeans (except Tony Stark, who pretty much always wears a suit), but these costumes tell a story.
Costume designer Judianna Makovsky — who also did the costumes for Captain America: The Winter Soldier— has really outdone herself with the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe film, which is saying something considering Makovsky has three Oscar nominations for her work on other films.
Here’s everything we noticed in regards to the excellent costuming in Captain America: Civil War…
Steve vs. Tony’s menswear.
Even before Tony Stark opens his mouth, his support for Ross is a obvious. How do we know? Because both men are wearing dark suits with red ties – not an unusual thing in the real world, but not something that often happens in cinema. When two men are dressed so similarly, you know it means something.
The first time I really noticed the great costuming in Civil War came during Peggy’s funeral. As we see Steve Rogers carrying Peggy’s coffin, he has his chin up in the “Captain America Look of Eagles” pose.
However, in the following shot, when we see Steve sitting in the pew, notice his shirt collar. It’s loose (an oversized shirt), which makes him look young and weak. He’s wearing a cheap suit, and a very cheap tie, not knotted well. This is in keeping with Steve’s background. But his shirt is also grey. This all speaks to Steve’s depression, uncertainty, and understanding that a rift is opening amongst The Avengers.
Steve and Tony make a choice…
As soon as Steve hears Peggy’s words (via Sharon) about doing the right thing, his shirt collar tightens and the tie becomes miraculously much better tied. Steve has made up his mind.
Contrast Steve’s costuming with Tony Stark, whose suit is silk and whose tie probably costs $400. While Tony’s wardrobe is expensive, however, it is rumpled and will grow more and more rumpled as the movie progresses…
Tony’s shirt becomes wrinkled (tough to do to a silk shirt) and is sometimes incorrectly buttoned. Tony’s expensive tie is a mess. If a necktie is said to represent a man’s, ahem, manhood, then take a look at the tie while Tony is telling Steve about how his and Pepper’s break. If Robert Downey’s excellent acting doesn’t convince you that Tony is devastated, his costuming should.
Steve, Sam, and Bucky.
When Steve and Sam go looking for the Winter Soldier, notice their hats: identical, except for in color, signifying that they’re on the same side of this fight. Their hats also happen to be identical to Bucky’s hat — except that his is worn, signifying that he’s been undercover longer.
When Steve reveals himself in Bucky’s apartment, notice that his Captain America uniform is quite dirty. Logic says he would have had plenty of time to get it cleaned, and Steve is definitely a guy who takes care of his equipment. But the image of Cap has been tarnished, and so the uniform is dirty.
The greyness of The Avengers.
From here on out, gray is the color of The Avengers. Problems — and loyalties — are no longer black and white. In fact, the only person who wears black and white is Vision because that’s still the way he sees the world.
You might also notice Bucky’s clothing: It’s layered, which gives him a homeless look. In the beginning, the outer layer is black, but peel off a layer, and he’s wearing gray — like The Avengers. Later, when the Winter Soldier is re-awakened, he’s lost another layer. Now, he’s wearing red, the same color as the beret of his handler, the same color as the book, the same color as “red” Russia.
When you look at the group gathered around the blue Volkswagen, you’ll notice that all of their shirts are gray: pale gray, dark grey, green-grey. Normally, Steve wears blue, but he’s not that person any longer. Gray is the color of the fractured Avengers.
Steve’s leather jacket.
Steve is, however, still a person who wears a brown leather jacket. Steve’s brown jacket is a callback to his days during WWII. It’s that style of jacket. But it’s worth noting that Black Widow is also wearing a leather, motorcyle-inspired jacket. This is a sign that she is armored up. You might remember that in the opening fight, she was wearing a brown coat. This makes her stand out from the crowd, but it may also hint that she tends to side with Steve, at least on an emotional level.
Tony’s costuming in the Spidey scenes.
As we get ready for the major battle, Tony heads off to recruit Peter Parker. At first I didn’t quite understand Tony’s costume here. He’s in gray, part of the fractured Avengers. But his usual silk shirt is replaced by a (very expensive) knit shirt. Finally, it dawned on me: This is a takeoff of the clothing a college coach wears to speak to a recruit for the football team. The coach would wear a polo shirt and a sport jacket (serious, but not frightening to small-town parents). Tony, of course, wears the uber-expensive version of the same thing.
Peter’s gray hoodie allies him with Tony immediately, but notice that the hoodie is wide open. Underneath, Peter’s bright white t-shirt proclaims his innocence. The round pizza design may also remind us of his youth, or it may tie him further to Tony by mimicking the Arc Reactor on the Iron Man suit.
With everyone suited up for battle, there’s not much to say. The uniforms are pretty much unchangeable. You may wish to note, however, that all the reds match.
After the battle, Rhodey is shown in blue scrubs — no longer in uniform or in gray. He’s out of the fight. The prisoners on The Raft are also in blue, also out of the fight. But it’s worth noting that each of the prisoners is wearing gray under the enforced blue prison uniform. This shows us that they are only temporarily out of the larger battle.
Once Tony learns that Bucky was not responsible for the bombing, he has an interesting costume change. Look at him as he talks to Ross: In the beginning of the film, they were dressed identically. Now, they wear the same cut of jacket: a sort of windbreaker with a knit collar. However, Ross’s is made of black fabric, while Tony’s — also black — is made of leather. Tony is pretending to be on Ross’ side, but is wearing leather because he’s suited up for battle.
The importance of costuming in that final fight scene.
During the battle at the Hydra facility, Steve, Bucky, and Tony are all in uniform, so not too much can be gleaned here. I’d just like to note that Tony’s line, “He killed my mom,” is a far cry from the usual sort of comic-book dialogue. People in comic books always seem to be mourning “my father.” But Tony’s missing him mom. Powerful dialogue choice.
During the fight, Bucky and Steve work very well as a team. This is appropriate because they were part of a team during their lives together during the 1940’s — a time that is very recent for both of them. Bucky is the one who first has the idea of ripping Tony’s Arc Reactor off of the Iron Man suit. It’s a good idea, but he can’t manage to do it. Trying causes the loss of his mechanical arm — a move that makes him much more “just Bucky,” and much less “Winter Soldier.”
It is Steve who finally breaks the Arc Reactor, and notice how he does it: He uses the edge of the shield to cut the Reactor in half. It could be argued that this is the most significant costume-related moment in the film. Bucky has — literally and figuratively — given Tony a black eye, but we’ve seen that Tony no longer wears the Arch Reactor on his chest. It exists only in the Iron Man suit. By breaking the Arc Reactor, Steve has sided with his old friend Bucky over his team mate Tony. He has broken Tony’s heart.
Our heroes’ final costumes…
After this battle, Steve’s costume returns to normal. He wears the same blue, waffle-weave, long sleeved shirt that he’s always favored. Everyone else looks normal, too. Even Rhodey is back to the sort of clothing he would normally wear: still in gray, but a U.S. Army shirt with a patriotic star. He is a loyal soldier who has his head just where it should be.
Tony, however, is wearing something he’s never worn before: a camouflage t-shirt. Here we see that Tony is hiding something, and he’s still thinking in terms of a fight.
The arrested Avengers, true to the promise of their gray undershirts, end free. We assume that they are all together in Wakanda. Our last costume image is of T’Challa and Steve. T’Challa is wearing a brown jacket — something he’s never done before. I believe this ties in with Steve’s brown jacket, a symbol both of their mutual down-to-earth natures and peaceful friendship — and perhaps a sign of what is to come with these two characters as MCU’s Phase Three progresses…