In June 2021, “The Devil Wears Prada,” the pop culture film about fashion journalism, celebrated its 15th anniversary. The world was once again enraptured as the cast of the iconic film reunited for the momentous occasion. The cast includes Anne Hathaway, who portrayed fish-out-of-water Andy Sachs, Emily Blunt as the scene-stealing Emily Charlton, and Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, the high-fashion devil herself.
Even years after the film’s debut, it still remains a cultural juggernaut, regularly being referenced in other works, such as “The Bold Type.” But perhaps the most iconic part of the film is Miranda Priestly, the tyrannical editor-in-chief of the fictitious magazine. And a large part of why she remains so memorable, aside from Meryl Streep’s legendary performance, was her fashion sense.
Learn more about Miranda Priestly’s outfits, what they reveal, as well as why fashion design and costuming is such an important facet of film.
Who is Miranda Priestly?
Miranda Priestly is the editor-in-chief of the fictional “Runway” magazine, a high fashion publication that focuses on couture fashion and lifestyle. In “The Devil Wears Prada,” she is the main antagonist, constantly challenging and demeaning the newcomer, Andy Sachs.
Although she is reserved and cold, Meryl Streep’s performance imbues the character with a quiet authority. She controls every scene she’s in with a few (and often insulting) sentences. Her wrath is demonstrated in yelling or dramatic displays of emotion but rather in cold glares, quiet threats and iconic lectures on the importance of fashion.
Priestly is authoritative, regal and cutting. She can even be cruel to the extreme without seeming over the top about it. She is both innovative and yet traditional.
Priestly is based on fashion icon and journalist Anna Wintour, who has been the editor-in-chief of “Vogue” America since 1987. Just like Wintour, Priestly is considered one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, voice in the fashion industry.
Because of her real-life inspiration and supposed authority in the world of couture clothing, it was important that Priestly’s fashion sense reflects her experience and style. Miranda Priestly’s outfits synergize wonderfully with Meryl Streep’s performance, solidifying her character and making her one of the most nuanced and enjoyable antagonists to grace the big screen.
Iconic Miranda Priestly Outfits Analyzed
Because of its close ties to the fashion world and the clothing industry, it was crucial that “The Devil Wears Prada” showcase the glitz and glamour of these businesses.
The film’s costume department was given over $1 million worth of clothes to bedeck the leads and Miranda Priestly’s outfits certainly reflect the budget. Throughout the film, she wears a stream of high-end brands from the titular Prada to Gucci and Chanel and Yves Saint-Laurent. But her fashion sense doesn’t just showcase the fabulous designs, they also highlight key moments in the film.
Let’s analyze a few of Miranda Priestly’s outfits throughout the film.
The most memorable scene of the entire movie is when Priestly utterly destroys Andy for her disdain of fashion. It showcases Miranda Priestly’s encyclopedic knowledge of the fashion industry and one simultaneously expands Andy and Miranda’s character.
In the scene, Miranda is wearing an earth tone dress. Unlike her first outfit, this one is heavily decorated. She wears a gold jacket covered in sequins over the dress and layers it one with multiple gold chain necklaces as well as a few rings.
Aside from informing the audience that her fashion sense can range from the plain and elegant to the opulent and stylish, this outfit is meant to contrast Priestly from Andy. Everyone else in the room during the scene wears the same earthy tones, but Miranda is the only one wearing gold, acting like a crown to symbolize her control. Andy is wearing her lumpy cerulean sweater, deliberately sticking out. Andy is wearing no jewelry, Miranda is bedecked in gold. It is an effective shorthand for how different the two characters are and it contributes to the dialogue, which is the source of the most famous of Miranda Priestly’s quotes.
Another key moment in the film is when Andy has to go to an important gala event with Miranda. In this scene, Miranda is supposed to be the center of attention but instead of wearing anything over the top or shimmering, she wears a simple but elegant off-the-shoulder gown. Stylish silver drop earrings with orange stones and a couple of rings complete the outfit, along with a slightly sequined shawl.
So what makes this outfit different from the rest?
The most daring aspect of this outfit is the very low neckline, showcasing Priestly’s decolletage. Her character is revealing more of her chest than either of her younger assistants. This implies that Miranda Priestly is well aware of how people see her as aging, and this outfit is a refutation of this view. By wearing this very daring dress, Priestly is reclaiming her age and flaunting it, essentially telling everyone in the gala that her age has not made any less bold or beautiful.
Why is Fashion Design Important in Film?
Why was it so important that the filmmakers correctly curate Priestly’s fashion sense? Why was it necessary that Miranda Priestly’s outfits as well as the clothes of everyone else in the film be carefully considered and picked?
Here are some of the reasons fashion design is essential in telling a good story and making a great film.
Great fashion design and costuming helps tell a better story. The clothes characters wear help reflect the state of characters in the story. In the movie, Andy’s clothes continually evolve the moment she starts taking her job seriously.
After a gorgeous montage showcasing a variety of outfits, Andy’s fashion sense slowly solidifies, favoring boots and belted coats. It is an effective way of showing how the story is advancing without needing words.
Someone’s fashion sense is a way for them to express their inner desires and sense of self. This is the same for movie characters, where the costume is supposed to reflect everything from the character’s values and their mental state. Even the lack of style and bare costuming can be effective. In “The Devil Wears Prada,” Miranda Priestly is only ever seen disheveled, without makeup and dressed only in a robe in a single scene. It is extremely jarring after seeing her in couture brands and makes her vulnerability all the more emotional.
Clothes exist for a reason, and the way people are clothed in a film can help make or break the viewer’s immersion. People shouldn’t be wearing thick coats in a scorching desert nor be in flimsy fabrics in the winter.
Similarly, audiences envision that the employees of a fashion magazine must be glamorously dressed, and the film highlights this effectively when a “Runway” employee quickly switches from ugly but comfy Crocs to severe but stylish stilettos.
Fashion in films is virtual shorthand and Miranda Priestly’s outfits are an effective method of showcasing her character. Filmmakers and designers would do well to remember Miranda Priestly when coming up with their own endeavors.