Although I’d watched Batman dozens of times on VHS growing up, and a few times on DVD as an adult, I’d never really paid any specific attention to the costumes. (Music’s always been my thing.)
Upon beginning my costume research via the movie on Blu-Ray, I was immediately surprised by two things: the plethora of subtle details on the Joker’s costume that I’d never seen before, and the sheer number of different costumes he actually wore over the course of the movie!
Indeed, although the Joker’s costume is still instantly recognizable decades later, in actuality – with only one or two possible exceptions – he wore a different costume (or, at least, a different costume ensemble) during every single scene and/or sequence during which he appeared! He never wore the exact same ensemble twice!
We’ll take a brief look at each of his various costumes and ensembles (in order of chronological appearance in the film) first here, and a more detailed examination of the individual costume components will follow afterward.
When Jack Napier was first introduced to the audience during meeting in Carl Grissom’s office, he was wearing a purple, three-piece suit:
The suit’s fabric was not solid purple; it was actually a herringbone fabric with orange and teal/green pinstripes woven into the material.
Also note the dotted tie – another subtle foreshadowing of the Joker’s apparent fondness for dotted apparel (as evidenced by his various ties and handkerchiefs, which we’ll look at shortly).
After the incident at Axis Chemicals and the Joker’s surgical reconstruction, he was still wearing his purple suit (during which the herringbone pattern and pinstripes were more clearly visible), although the acid had apparently turned his dress shirt orange.
He continued to wear this suit during his confrontation with Carl Grissom with a dark overcoat, although at this point the suit had clearly seen better days.
His wardrobe began expanding immediately afterward as his diabolical plans began; he was next (and briefly) seen in what appeared to be a lovely purple smoking jacket, purple dress shirt, a purple bow tie with green dots, a hat of the same fabric as his jacket’s lapels, and his trademark purple gloves.
(Observe how his overall costume began gradually transforming into his iconic Joker costume over the course of his next several appearances.)
Soon after, during his scene with the various mob bosses and other baddies, the Joker (ironically cosplaying as Jack Napier at this time) was wearing what appeared to be the same purple three-piece suit from earlier, although this time with an orange shirt (probably silk), a purple/green striped tie, and, of course, what would become his trademark hat.
During the next scene in which we saw the Joker, he was wearing something of a precursor to the costume he would come to be known for: white shirt, black tie with white dots, white waistcoat with black dots, black and white plaid trousers, and a black tailcoat, along with white gloves and a black top hat – and, of course, a flower on his left lapel.
In fact, with the exception of the top hat, the overall “cut” of the costume appears to be basically identical to his iconic Joker costume (which he’d be wearing in his next appearance), simply devoid of color.
Perhaps it was to visually complement and/or associate him with the mimes?
Or perhaps this was a “transitional” costume, to help visually represent the character leaving Jack Napier behind and coming into his own as the Joker?
Like his earlier smoking jacket, the Joker’s tailcoat in this scene appeared to be velvet, with a different fabric for the lapel facings:
However, the Joker’s wardrobe transformation was complete by his next appearance in the movie!
His gloves, hat, and orange shirt had already been introduced, and with the introduction of his emerald green shirt, purple Victorian tailcoat, and purple/green plaid trousers, there was no doubt that he was now fully transformed into the iconic Joker!
Unfortunately, the scene was brief and the Joker was sitting the entire time, so we didn’t get a good look at his snazzy new costume, but there would be plenty of opportunities to do so later; with only one exception, he would wear his trousers, waistcoat, and tailcoat for the remainder of the film.
One of the two possible exceptions to the Joker’s “different costume ensemble in every scene/sequence” approach in the film was the photography scene during which we saw him next; his wardrobe appeared to be the same (green shirt, orange handkerchief, and bow tie).
The only possible difference might have been his bow tie in the previous scene, but the lighting was too dark and the scene too brief for me to get a good look at it … so the jury’s out on that one!
His purple bow tie (with green dots) appears to have been the same one he wore with his smoking jacket, several scenes prior.
Also note that the general shape of his tailcoat’s collar/lapels was reminiscent of those on his (Jack Napier’s) purple suit, which was a nice touch. (Both Napier and the Joker seem to have had a thing for wide peak lapels.)
The other potential exception to the Joker’s “different costume ensemble in every scene/sequence” paradigm in the film was the brief scene during which we saw him next, when he basically just ran into the factory, shouted a couple lines, and ran out again; perhaps he was just so excited at his diabolical ideas and new prospective girlfriend that he didn’t bother to change this time?
He did put on his hat, though, so I suppose that technically makes it a different ensemble …
For the scene at the art gallery, the Joker wore a costume ensemble that’s a particular favorite of mine: orange shirt, a knotted tie (perhaps a variation of the Victorian cravat?) that was color-coordinated with his waistcoat, green handkerchief, and, of course, the purple silk (?) “muffin hat” and acid-spewing flower on his tailcoat’s left lapel!
During his next televised appearance, the Joker wore a sort of “Mr. Rogers”-type of costume, which he doubtless hoped would be visually disarming to the citizens of Gotham as he invited them out to his parade.
For the climax of the film, the Joker wore his orange shirt, a green (silk?) tie, his trademark hat, and a double-breasted purple overcoat (which was clearly a different garment than his purple tailcoat).
The Joker’s green tie for this sequence was not made of the same green (silk?) fabric as his green shirt; it was accented with green circles throughout, and he wore a matching green handkerchief on his coat pocket.
Then, something amusing happened … observe that the Joker still wore his purple overcoat after Batman stole his balloons:
He continued to wear the overcoat into the cathedral, up the stairs, and onto the upper floor.
But then, while Batman fought the Joker’s henchmen and the Joker was dancing with Vicki Vale (to the tune of Danny Elfman’s classic “Waltz to the Death”), the Joker’s overcoat magically transformed into his trademark tailcoat!
This was probably not an unintentional continuity error, but rather an intentional cinematic “cheat,” as the Joker wore his tailcoat for the remainder of this sequence.
The Powers That Be probably decided that they wanted the Joker’s final appearance (and subsequent defeat) to be in his iconic tailcoat rather than the less popular overcoat.