Should we care about costume inconsistencies in movie sequels? Maybe not

Why Harry Potter’s Witch Hats Disappeared and Jedis Wear Robes

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On Twitter earlier in June, nerds were arguing about whether Obi-Wan Kenobi’s iconic hooded brown cloak makes logical sense for the character. It hinged on the fact that when we first meet him in hiding, the cloak is actually a disguise — he’s wearing one so that he’ll blend in on the planet Tatooine, rather than be suspected as the Jedi he truly is. Later in the series, though, that cloak becomes the actual Jedi costume, which wouldn’t make sense if it were meant to be inconspicuous.

But then another fan rebutted this theory, claiming that the Jedis’ earth-toned robes aren’t all that different from what everyone else in the Star Wars universe wears, and that it would make sense for the Jedis who study under Obi-Wan to naturally adopt his style.

Anyway, the whole thing was all very nerdy, and it ended the way literally no argument on the internet has ever ended: with both parties politely disagreeing while also complimenting each other.

But it made me think of a different, extremely nerdy, and equally non-timely debate: What happened to the fucking witch hats in Harry Potter?

In the first scene of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (and we’re talking about the films here, so shut up, even though I, like you, have also read the books one zillion times), Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall wear pointed hats as they walk through Privet Drive. The hats show up again in the crowds of Diagon Alley, on the teachers at Hogwarts, and, of course, on the students in the Great Hall at the end of the film, before they throw them all up in the air in celebration.

At the Yule Ball, only Professor McGonagall wears a witch hat.
Photo: Warner Bros.

But after the first film, witches’ hats are all pretty much sidelined in the series, save on the head of McGonagall (so much so that it becomes one of the defining aspects of her image, but even she mostly abandons them by the end), and, of course, the Sorting Hat. It’s part of a larger trend of the movies to downplay the 17th-century-inspired wizard fashions the book describes; when Harry, Hermione, and Ron return to Hogwarts in the final film, none of the students are wearing robes at all.

It’s a small but noticeable inconsistency, and one that’s made starker by a memorable part of the Goblet of Fire book (yes, we’re talking books now) when an old Ministry wizard thinks a nightgown is acceptable to wear in the Muggle public. (Because he “likes a healthy breeze round my privates, thanks.”) There are also repeated references in the books to how strange Harry finds witches and wizards dressed as Muggles, whereas in the films, adults like Mr. and Ms. Weasley and members of the Order of the Phoenix are frequently shown wearing average-looking (if a little quirky) clothes.

In her supplementary work on Pottermore, J.K. Rowling attempts to explain these incongruities, writing that “younger generations have always tended to be better informed about Muggle culture in general; as children, they mingle freely with their Muggle counterparts.” As they get older, they increasingly adopt “standard wizard clothing,” made up of plain robes that recall the 17th century, the time period “when they went into hiding. Their nostalgic adherence to this old-fashioned form of dress may be seen as a clinging to old ways and old times; a matter of cultural pride.” The hats, she says, can be worn on everyday occasions but will “always be worn on such formal occasions as christenings, weddings and funerals.”

Even the most anti-Muggle witches and wizards don’t seem to wear witch hats.
Photo: Harry Potter Wikia

When we get to the wedding of Bill and Fleur in Deathly Hallows Part 1, however, very few characters wear the hats. And in the Fantastic Beasts movies (which are technically canon, but feel free to make your own decision there), the magical folk in 1920s New York City look basically like, well, regular folk in 1920s New York City. But to anyone who’s watched the Harry Potter filmic universe become increasingly Muggle-ified, it’s not a surprise. A sea of formal witch hats and robes, after not being prominently featured in many of the previous movie, would likely undercut the dark tone of the wedding scene by having to explain what would appear to be incredibly dorky-looking costumes.

And that, ultimately, is why we get so many of these seeming mistakes in film. Of course, fantasies aren’t the only kind of stories where this happens; in Django Unchained, Jamie Foxx wears stylish round shades likely not because no one working on the film knew that sunglasses didn’t come to America until 1929, but because costume designer Sharen Davis knew they’d look cool (they’re based on eyewear worn in spaghetti westerns). And even though tartan kilts weren’t a thing before the 18th century, if William Wallace isn’t wearing one, how else are audiences supposed to grasp the inherent Scottishness of Braveheart?

There are plenty of other examples of purposeful anachronisms in art — Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, the entire concept of Jesus Christ Superstar — but when they take place over the course of multiple movie sequels, what we’re really watching is a world being created in real time. Whereas in standalone films, we only see the director’s finished product, the first drafts of the Harry Potter universe are immortalized in the early works: Wizards and witches still wear pointy witch hats, children still wear robes — even the temperature of the entire film is far warmer than the deep blue tones we get as the three main characters age into their teen years.

There’s something charming about the ability to rewatch multiple Harry Potter and Star Wars films and wonder how the series might have been different if they’d all been produced at the same time or by the same director. Though Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is certainly a masterpiece, we lose that ability due to the fact that the three movies were all filmed at once and helmed entirely by Jackson (we will leave the, er, differences in quality of the Hobbit trilogy out of this particular discussion).

It’s easy to see incongruities between sequels as mistakes, but for the most part, they exist to advance the world — or the mood, or the prestige — of the story. What if Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield had stuck around as Spider-Man just for the sake of consistency in the current iteration of the Marvel universe? That would have sucked!

Plus, even the nerdiest of fans seem to be pretty forgiving of this. There’s a Reddit thread from back in 2011 devoted to the missing witch hats, and the one with the most upvotes simply jokes, “They threw them up into the air [at the end of Sorcerer’s Stone] and forgot them.” Good enough for me.