Costume designer Ruth E. Carter’s name reached a wider audience for her work in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, but please trust and believe, her stamp has been ensconced in Black film and TV history since the 1980s. Our favorite Black iconic characters, whether it be the real-life Malcolm X or the fictitious Radio Raheem, were suited and booted by the Academy award-nominee.
In a February interview with Fast Company, Carter noted she didn’t want her Black Panther costumes to “look like costumes.”
“It has to feel real,” she said. That realness speaks to why her costume design permeates through the characters in such a visceral way, her pieces transform into characters themselves. Costume designers tell stories through their craft, just as much as a writer, director or editor.
Halloween season is here and there’s no better way to show our own appreciation for Carter than to recreate one of her most well-known looks. Here are 15 characters whose wardrobe you should copy for Halloween.
1. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) – Black Panther
This one was especially difficult since an ensemble film such as this — and one that is currently very popular — births many characters worthy of costume inspiration. The obvious would be T’Challa, Shuri or Killmonger, but we can’t sleep on the queen. Particularly the gorgeous white and regal dress when she first welcomes T’Challa home. It is the first time we see the queen in her full splendor in the film and the mark is everlasting.
2. Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) – Malcolm X
Any Spike Lee fan knows it’s not really a Spike join unless it has a dolly shot. Malcolm’s shot comes right on the day of his assassination as Sam Cooke powerfully croons in the background. Because it was such a significant moment, Malcolm’s wardrobe, from his cozy wool coat to his black hat was also highly memorable.
3. Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) – Do the Right Thing
Mainly known for his giant boom box blasting Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power,” Radio Raheem is one of the most standout characters in Lee’s racial commentary film. Just cop a Bed Stuy T-shirt, some shorts and sneakers, and you can become the eccentric city staple. Plus, those “LOVE” and “HATE” brass knuckle rings are surely a statement piece.
4. Tina Turner (Angela Bassett) – What’s Love Got to Do With It
Tina’s wardrobe is full of too many fabulous looks to choose just one, but if we had to, it would be that glittery blue number when she performed “A Fool in Love.” The scene itself was noteworthy as Ike (Laurence Fishburne) leaned over to kiss after just bruising and battering the singer. Honorable mentions: that bad white suit Tina wore toward the end when she escaped Ike and sought help at a nearby hotel and the sexy leather getup when she performed the titular song.
5. Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo) – Selma
As Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) led fellow civil rights activists on the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, one couldn’t help but notice Mrs. King’s bright orange, tweed suit. Pair with her sleek eyeglasses and you got the look.
6. Donald “Duck” Matthews (Robert Townsend), Anthony “Choirboy” Stone (Tico Wells), J.T. Matthews (Leon), Terrence “Dresser” Williams (Harry Lennix) and Eddie Kane Jr. (Michael Wright) – The Five Heartbeats
This is kind of cheating as a five-for-one, but it doesn’t work without them all. It’s a good group costume. Do you have four more friends, who don’t have a costume? Pick a color. Every music biopic has a tour montage, as the group performs their hit song across the globe. The Five Heartbeats, a Motown-inspired fictional group, performed “Nights Like This” all over the place with several impressive suits, but it was those stark silver suits that stood out. Rock these and steal the show.
7. Jane Toussaint (Tisha Campbell) – School Daze
Carter and Lee clearly had costume chemistry because we have another Spike joint. Toussaint was arguably at her most fabulous during the “Be Alone Tonight” rendition, but we’re giving a special shout-out to the “Wannabes” oversized sweatshirts as they contrasted the “Jiggaboos.” It’s an easy costume — just get an oversized sweatshirt and slap a “W” on it. Plus, fluff out that big hair so you can say, “You wish you had hair like this.”
8. Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington) – Mo’ Better Blues
The Spike show continues. While this may be a more simple costume, it’s iconic all the same. It’s the quintessential image of Bleek’s brawny blow into the trump following a lovemaking session and subsequent fight because his trumpet playing always took precedent.
9. Nisi (Halle Berry) and Mickey (Natalie Desselle) B*A*P*S
Another two-fer, because Nisi and Mickey are a unit. It’s difficult for one character to stand out above the other because both characters are flamboyant in their wardrobe, to say the least. Make sure you wear lots of bright lycra, leopard print and giant wigs. The louder, the better.
10. Jefferson Reed / Meteor Man (Robert Townsend) – The Meteor Man
Much like Lee, Carter is loyal to Townsend. Everyone remembers Superman, Batman and now Black Panther, but let’s not forget which black superhero to pay homage to. With its cartoonish detail, the costume itself embodies the tomfoolery of the character. Because of the nature of the movie, this costume is your chance to fully embrace your silly and outrageous.
11. Detective John Shaft II (Samuel L. Jackson) – Shaft
Here’s a prime example of a costume representing another character in the film, because everyone knows that long black coat as it swings into the night. Couple that with Jackson’s commanding aura and the clothes leap off the screen. It’s a look. All black everything. Damn right.
12. Jody Summers (Tyrese Gibson) – Baby Boy
Another simple costume. Encapsulating that laid-back, Cali style is Jody rocking a wifebeater, Dickies and don’t forget to bring a bike. Bonus points if you bring your boo to portray the screaming Yvette (Taraji P. Henson). Honorable mention: Rodney (Snoop Dogg) and his oversized flannel shirt.
13. Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) and Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) – Love & Basketball
Here’s a dope costume for the couples and it’s simple, too. Meshell Ndegeocello’s hauntingly intimate voice colored the “play for your heart” scene, as Q and Monica’s ultimate conflict came to a head in a game of one-on-one. Grab those basketball shorts and rock one of the cutest black film couple looks ever.
14. Stella Payne (Angela Bassett) – How Stella Got Her Groove Back
Bassett is the spotlight of this list and for good reason: When she wears a costume, she wears it. One of the sexiest moments of this film can also be attributed to Stella’s white net dress as she swayed to the music with her international lover Winston (Taye Diggs). Add a simple wrap to fling across your waist, and it’ll definitely turn heads.
15. Christopher “Kid” Robinson, Jr. (Christopher Reid) and Peter “Play” Martin (Christopher Martin) – House Party 2
If there’s an ultimate representation of ’90s fashion, the House Party series would be it. Kid ‘n Play are one of the most legendary duos of buddy comedy history, and their colorful fashions are a great example of “costume as character.” Need a place to find such threads? Go to any thrift store in Los Angeles — easily.
There are so many more costumes and movies to name because Carter’s resume is unmatched. Ruth Carter forever.