Premium

Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood: the story behind Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate costumes 

Margot Robbie dressed as Sharon Tate on the set of Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood
Margot Robbie dressed as Sharon Tate on the set of Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood

The role of a costume designer is often described as similar to the work of a detective - if handling a biopic, or any character based on reality, it becomes a job that requires scrutiny of the person’s every fashion nuance and styling quirk. The comparison has perhaps never been more relevant than in the case of Arianne Phillips on her latest project, outfitting Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie for the Quentin Tarantino-directed blockbuster, Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood.

Out on Friday, the film follows fictional friends, out-of-work actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they try to make it in Hollywood amidst the rise of hippie culture in the summer of 1969. But it also covers the very real murder of actress and Sixties style symbol Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie, and for that, special attention to Tate's personal look was required.

Sharon Tate was brutally murdered, along with her unborn child and four guests at her home, by members of the Manson family cult on 9th August 1969. Aged just 26, she had been married for a year to director Roman Polanski and the couple lived an extremely glamorous lifestyle in Los Angeles. She starred in of-the-moment films like Valley Of The Dolls, and wore outfits by the era’s It-labels, Thea Porter and Ossie Clark. 

Sharon Tate on her wedding day in 1968

Looking at pictures of her now is mesmerising. from the ivory silk moiré mini dress with puffed sleeves that served as her wedding gown to the bateau neck mini dresses and Mary-Jane flats. Her 1966 skiing ensemble is what kids today would call ‘extra’.  Even when she was in flared jeans and a t-shirt, she looked outrageously chic. It’s a wardrobe that would have impact now - her off-duty styles could form the new Chloe campaign. Her wedding dress is very Batsheva.

Sharon Tate with Roman Polanski in New York in 1967

But, back to the costumes. Phillips and Tarantino have focussed particular attention on a floor-length Ossie Clarke snakeskin coat, which Tate wore to the premiere of Rosemary's Baby in 1968. It has been recreated for a driving scene in the new film and Robbie wears it with block-heel boots and a silk headscarf.

Tate’s love of mini skirts and go-go boots is riffed on in monochrome. Other pieces, like an Ossie Clarke short set worn in a scene at the Playboy Mansion, were sourced from vintage stores rather than recreated. An identical Chanel bag to one that Tate had lost, was sourced for current Chanel ambassador Robbie to carry. 

Debra Tate, Sharon's sister, was a consultant on this film and lent pieces of her personal jewellery to the production. Phillips has used a palette of warm oranges and yellows throughout the costume design to evoke the free, joyous mood of that famous summer of love, but also of the woman and her generous spirit. It’s Tate, to a tee. 

Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood carrying a Chanel bag identical to the one owned by Sharon Tate

In 2018, many of Sharon Tate’s personal items were auctioned by Julien’s in Hollywood. The lots included clothes that had been stored by her sister for 50 years; Betsey Johnson mini dresses, a black Christian Dior mini dress worn to a premiere in 1966, her wedding dress and even her false eyelashes.

The Tate family published an anthology of photographs of the actress in 2014, Sharon Tate: Recollection, in which Debra wrote: “I always felt it was very unfair for her life to be remembered primarily for its final moments. Sharon had a magnificent life.”

Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood 

Her sister spoke more about the appeal of Tate’s style last year. “That particular era was all about freedom of spirit," she said. "You were just coming out of the buttoned-up ’50s and early ’60s, where undergarments were what I refer to as industrial. I think that she was custom-made for that era, because she was truly a natural beauty.” 

Phillips has said that she and Tarantino approached the costume design job with great sensitivity. "It was such a stylish era, and Sharon was one of the most beautiful women and incredibly stylish," she told FilmMaker. "Very sophisticated and yet she had a real sense of freedom. One thing I learned from reading about her and also [talking to] Debra was that she loved to be different. She really had a sense of ease and freedom." 

Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood 

The Sixties gave us so many style icons - Twiggy, Cher, Brigitte Bardot, Jean Shrimpton, Jane Birkin, Diana Ross and more - who between them canonised many of the trends that we still return to religiously today. But because of the horror story that caused her death, the lighter side of Tate’s life has been remembered as secondary, if not entirely overlooked and forgotten. 

Margot Robbie copies Sharon Tate's hair style on the red carpet in Cannes in May 2019 

Decades later, though, she is now a Pinterest and Instagram muse, her style, once again is the subject of blog posts and Vogue articles, mimicked by inspired shoppers and literally copied on the big screen.

Promoting the film on the red carpet, Robbie and her personal stylist Kate Young have sensitively nodded to Tate via clothes and beauty tweaks. At the premiere in Cannes premiere, Robbie's hair was styled in two loose plaits, the same hippie 'do Sharon once wore. 

It was a moment that sparked trend headlines all over again, bringing Tate’s look back into the headlines the next day. In that respect, with Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood, Phillips, Robbie, and Tarantino have served to secure her a proper fashion legacy.

Do you rate the costumes in Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood? Which other films' costumes captured their subjects to a tee? Tell us in the comments section below.