One Cloak to Rule Them All: Costume Patterns Inspired by Tolkien

Make a cloak, wizard’s robe and hat: Simplicity 0591 (2016) Image: Etsy.

This month marks the 20-year anniversary of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. The trilogy first hit cinemas with The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), followed by The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003).

Poster for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) Image:

The costumes and art direction won the ultimate recognition when The Return of the King swept the Academy Awards in 2004. On the trilogy’s design team were costume designer Ngila Dickson, armour designer Richard Taylor, conceptual designer Alan Lee, and jewelry designer Jasmine Watson (Xena, Narnia), whose elvish pieces were inspired by Art Nouveau and Aubrey Beardsley.

Elf queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) Image: New Line.

The films’ fairy-tale aesthetic has an enduring allure. J.R.R. Tolkien was the theme for a recent issue of Faerie Magazine (free download here):

Faerie Magazine issue 42 - Tolkien - Spring 2018
Faerie Magazine Tolkien issue (Spring 2018) Models: Victoria Fielder, Ian Hencher. Photo: Bella Kotak. Image: Enchanted Living.

The romance of Tolkien also makes it a popular wedding theme. For their Lothlorien-style wedding in June 2013, Facebook billionaire Sean Parker and songwriter Alexandra Lenas hired Ngila Dickson to design their guests’ outfits.

L: Sean Parker’s wife-to-be, Alexandra Lenas, is escorted down the aisle by her father, Constantine Lenas, in Big Sur, California. R: Alexandra Lenas (in Marchesa) and Sean Parker. Photos: Christian Oth and Mark Seliger. Image: Vanity Fair.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros band—and friends. Academy Award winner Ngila Dickson designed “Tolkien-ized” costumes for all 364 wedding guests, including the couple’s infant daughter, Winter. Photo: Christian Oth and Mark Seliger. Image: Vanity Fair.

For those with smaller budgets, DIY options include unofficial, Tolkien-inspired costume patterns. (Unlike Dickson’s Xena costumes, there was no official Lord of the Rings licensing.)

Tolkien-inspired Simplicity 1552 and 1551 on the cover of the Simplicity retail catalogue, Halloween 2013. Image: eBay.

Here’s a look at some highlights, going back to the first instalment of Jackson’s trilogy — wizards, elf-queens, and a whole lot of cloaks.

Detail of Simplicity 1582 (2001) Galadriel costume. Image: Simplicity.

From 2001, this Simplicity pattern for a Middle-earth cape, tunic, and hat must have anticipated The Fellowship of the Ring. Includes Galadriel, a Black Rider / Ringwraith, and… Radagast the Brown? (The wizard was not seen on-screen in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.)

Simplicity 9887 / 0555 / 0614 (2001)
Simplicity 9887 (2001) Image: Etsy.
Ringwraith costume pattern for adults: Simplicity 1582.
Nazgûl view of S1582 / EA988701. Image: Simplicity.

Twenty years later, this pattern is still in print. Later rereleases, such as 2016’s (see top of post), highlight the ever-popular Galadriel and Gandalf the Grey.

Simplicity 1582 (2014) Lord of the Rings costumes. Image: Simplicity.
Simplicity R10726 (2020) Gandalf the Grey and other Lord of the Rings costumes. Image: eBay.

In 2002, McCall’s joined in the fun with these “witches and wizards costumes” for children and adults. This pattern also includes the hat.

McCall’s 3789 (2002) Witches and Wizards Costumes. Image: Etsy.

From Burda, this fairy costume with optional hood doubles as an elven wedding dress.

Burda 2484 (2003) Fairy costume. Image: Etsy.
Burda 2484 (2003) Fairy costume. Image: Etsy.

In November 2003, in the lead-up to the release of The Return of the King, Ngila Dickson’s costume sketches were featured in the New York Times:

Costume sketches for Legolas, Arwen, Theoden, and Eowyn by costume designer Ngila Dickson (NYT Nov. 2, 2003)
Costume sketches for Legolas, Arwen, Theoden, and Éowyn. Illustrations: Ngila Dickson. Image: The New York Times /
Detail of Ngila Dickson’s costume for King Theoden of Rohan (Bernard Hill) in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). Image: New Line.
Poster for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) Image:

In 2004, after the trilogy concluded, Simplicity and McCall’s released more Lord of the Rings patterns for elvish and Rohan costumes. McCall’s Return of the King costume patterns, for Arwen and Éowyn, are not as easy to identify from the envelope:

McCall’s 4491 (2004) Arwen Evenstar costume. Image: Etsy.
McCall’s 4492 (2004) Éowyn of Rohan costume. Image: Etsy.

In their marketing materials, Simplicity alluded to The Return of the King as “The Final Chapter.” These women’s costumes include Arwen and Éowyn.

The Final Chapter: Feminine Fellowship – Simplicity 4940 (2004) Arwen and Éowyn costumes. Image: eBay.
Simplicity 4940 on the cover of the Simplicity retail catalogue, Winter 2004. Image: eBay.

The corresponding men’s costumes are Theoden, Legolas, and Elrond. This pattern is still available as print-on-demand.

S4942 / 0507 (2004)
Simplicity 4942 / 0507 (2004) Theoden, Legolas, and Elrond costumes. Image: eBay.
Simplicity 4942 / EA494201. Image: Simplicity.

Did you know there’s even a typeface called Galadriel? This pattern from 2013 includes two Galadriel looks. The grey coat is from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), whose costume designer, Ann Maskrey, later worked on the Celtic fantasia of Britannia. This pattern is still in print.

Simplicity 1551 (2013) Galadriel costumes. Image: Simplicity.
A costume for Galadriel in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2013). Illustration: Ann Maskrey.

Bonus: From 2014, this pattern includes Tauriel from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), with Daenerys Targaryen (see my Game of Thrones post).

Simplicity 1347 (2014) Tauriel and Daenerys Targaryen costumes.

A new Lord of the Rings series is currently filming. From a certain studio that will remain nameless, it’s set to premiere in September 2022; the costumes are by Kate Hawley (Crimson Peak). Will 2022 bring more Tolkien-inspired patterns?

The Return of the King: first editions of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books
First editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books. Image:

PatternVault 10th anniversary!

Paolo Roversi: Alexander McQueen Fall 2021 by Sarah Burton
Alexander McQueen Fall 2021 by Sarah Burton. Photo: Paolo Roversi. Image: Vogue Runway courtesy of Alexander McQueen.

The PatternVault blog is ten! That’s a whole decade of writing about fashion, fine sewing, and the venerable tradition of paper patterns. If you’re curious about where it all began, check out my 2011 series on Alexander McQueen sewing patterns.

Singer Sphinx with 1920s McCall patterns. Image: PatternVault shop.

Yes, I’m still busy with the campaign to save the beautiful, historic St. Giles church here in Hamilton, Ontario. If you’re like me and you value historic buildings — or are concerned about the climate impact of demolition — you can sign the petition HERE.

St. Giles, Hamilton (Stewart & Witton, 1912–13) Photo: Cathie Coward. Image: The Friends of St. Giles.

As we leave the worst of COVID behind us, there is talk of a postpandemic boom, a new prosperity along the lines of the Roaring Twenties. (See Peter Coy, “The 1920s Roared After a Pandemic, and the 2020s Will Try,” and Dhara Ranasinghe, “Back to the future: 2020s to echo roaring 20s or inflationary 70s?“)

Will fashion follow suit? Sarah Burton’s Fall ’21 collection for McQueen features a new robe de style, reminiscent of Lanvin’s Colombine. (See top of post; on the Lanvin gown see my Selvedge article).

Lanvin's Colombine robe de style (hiver 1924–25) photographed by Katerina Jebb, 2014
Lanvin, “Colombine,” robe de style, hiver 1924–25. Collection Palais Galliera © Katerina Jebb, 2014. Image: Architectural Digest France.

As savvy collectors and long-standing readers of this blog will know, the craft of home-sewn couture flourished in the 1920s. The decade saw the first issues of Vogue Pattern Book and the launch of McCall’s earliest couture patterns.

1920s Patou Art Deco dress pattern - McCall 5047
McCall 5047 by Patou (1927) Ladies’ and Misses’ Two-Piece Dress.
Vogue 7884 illustration by Harriet Meserole on the cover of Vogue Pattern Book, December–January 1924–25
Vogue Pattern Book, December–January 1924–25. Illustration: Harriet Meserole. Image: Pinterest.
McCall Quarterly, Winter 1927–28 (Paris Fashion Number) Illustration: Ben-Hur Baz. Image: Debbie Zamorski.
McCall 5051 by Worth Paris, McCall Quarterly, Winter 1927–28. Illustration: Ben-Hur Baz. Image courtesy Debbie Zamorski.

What do you think? Is it time for a couture sewing renaissance?

Hand-painted couture coat in hammered velvet with fur collar. Karen Elson photographed by Elen von Unwerth in Fall 1997 Dior couture by John Galliano ("A Poetic Tribute to the Marchesa Casati"
John Galliano’s Casati-inspired Dior couture in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Vogue, November 1997. Photo: Ellen von Unwerth. Editor: Grace Coddington. Model: Karen Elson. Image: Vogue Archive.