Cinematic Fashion: Water for Elephants

By Caroline Elizabeth, Women’s Style Editor

The 2011 film “Water for Elephants” was one of my favorite films of the year. From adventure to romance to beautiful cinematography capturing the circus grounds and performances, the movie has it all. And of course, the most exciting part for me, the fashion design student, were the costumes. I simply adored every look that Reese Witherspoon’s character, Marlena, wore in the movie.

Marlena is the wife of ringmaster and Benzini Brothers circus owner August, played by Christoph Waltz. However, with her beauty, talent, and charm, she can’t help but fall into the arms of the young new circus veterinarian, Jacob, played by Robert Pattinson, and a love triangle ensues.

Along with being August’ wife, Marlena is also a circus performer. She does routines with four breathtaking white horses and then later an elephant named Rosie that is just the attraction the circus needs during the Great Depression to stay in business. In the film, Marlena has many glittery and gorgeous outfits for her time in the ring, but I decided to focus on her more wearable style while around the circus grounds.

Marlena’s 1930’s style clothing is always feminine and she shows off her figure well by often adding belts. Her wardrobe also contains a lot of stripes mixed with neutrals, which is always a classic option that can become more formal or casual, and is easy to accessorize.

water for elephants


Sacai Luck striped top, $180 / Bustier shirt, $16 / Current/Elliott white denim skirt / Bottega Veneta highwaist shorts, $235 / J.Crew ballerina shoes / Ciao Bella platform wedge / Jessica Simpson stiletto heels / Dorothy Perkins nude sandals / Saskia Diez travel tote bag / Kate Spade bag / AK Anne Klein leather watch / Elizabeth Cole gold bangle / Emilio Pucci scarve / Beret hat, $615 / Alexander McQueen wide leather belt

To get the look, try an uptown inspired approach by starting with a striped cardigan over a pencil skirt with a button detail. Belt the look to show your figure, and add a pair of t-strap wedges or heels to evoke the 30’s even more. Lastly, add a beret and structured bag and you are ready for a day in the office.

Or, if you’re ready to hit the town at night, try some high-waisted shorts and a cropped corset style top with cutouts. Add a belt if you like, and definitely throw on a striped hair scarf, some bangles, and a pair of t-strap flats of your choice. Your favorite vintage bag and carefully coiffed 1930’s style hair will complete this look and everyone will ask about your outfit!

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