How Zendaya perfected ‘method dressing’

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Zendaya at the UK premiere of ChallengersImage source, Getty Images

Getting into character is something that can be all-encompassing for an actor when they’re on set.

There are accents to perfect, facial expressions to master and sometimes a completely new look thanks to clothes, make up and hair.

But ever increasingly, Hollywood’s biggest stars are extending their roles to the red carpet too.

Zendaya’s recent looks have all playfully toyed with the tennis theme of her new film, Challengers.

Zendaya at the Australian premiere of Challengers

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Matching your fashion to your film role is known as method dressing, which Zendaya referenced in her BBC One Show interview on Thursday.

“Fashion is something I’ve always used as an outlet, a tool – ultimately, I think I am a more shy person so it allows for me to create this persona, this character that I get to live in for the day,” she said.

Zendaya said she first started method dressing after starring in The Greatest Showman and was “inspired by the film”.

Zendaya in 2017

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Her playful take on the protagonist of the film’s style was an important moment and showed an understanding of what the movie was trying to achieve.

The musical, which was inspired by entertainer PT Barnum’s life, paid careful attention to detail in its 800 costumes, with designer Ellen Mirojnick saying at the time that the brief was “fashionable, accessible and modern”, something Zendaya was able to mirror in her look.

Zendaya at the UK premiere of Dune 2

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“We get so lucky to be part of films with such rich references anyway, so might as well pull from that,” Zendaya told the One Show.

The 27-year-old has since created a number of film-themed looks with her stylist Law Roach, for films such as Dune and Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Her looks could have easily appeared more fancy dress than fashion – but Zendaya and Roach have perfected her signature style after working together for more than 13 years.

“I always try to be a storyteller more than anything else, and this is such a strong story to tell,” Roach recently told Vogue after finishing the press tour for Dune 2.

“The looks served as an extension of the wardrobe from the movie. It was intentional and purposeful,” he added.

For fashion journalist Chloe Burney, she says “dressing in character mode on the red carpet isn’t just an homage to actors’ recently completed projects, but is also injecting heaps of fun”.

She tells the BBC she “wouldn’t typically gravitate” towards Challengers but “Zendaya’s tennis-themed looks have got us all talking”.

Zendaya in tennis ball shoes

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Ms Burney’s favourite looks from the press run have been Zendaya’s Loewe tennis ball stilettos and custom glitter green gown.

We’ve seen a number of Hollywood stars give method dressing a go in the last few months – Margot Robbie being one of the standouts.

Her Barbie looks have mirrored several of her character’s costumes from the film, with some even borrowing from iconic dolls too.

Margot Robbie at the Seoul premiere of Barbie

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Ms Burney says these looks have helped “bring cultural relevance to a project”.

“I lost count of how many shop windows turned pink overnight,” she added.

Margot Robbie promoting Barbie

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It’s not just something female stars are enjoying too – Ryan Gosling leaned into the spirit of Barbie with his red carpet looks – which proved once and for all that pink is a colour that works for everyone.

Bringing more fun to red carpets is something that actor and director Sofia Coppola was crying out for in 2018.

Writing in W Magazine, she wrote: “Looking at some photos from a recent red-carpet event the other night, I couldn’t help but think what a bummer it has all become.

“You can’t tell the women apart—there’s a stream of bland red-carpet editions of them,” she added.

She complained that “Everyone looks the same, with perfect grooming, gowns, and brand-new jewellery, as they parade a catalogue of luxury items,” – it would be interesting to know what Coppola’s take on the new red carpet trends are.

Ryan Gosling at the Barbie world premiere

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Timothée Chalamet wore a dazzling lilac jumpsuit to the Wonka world premiere.

His look for the Charlie and the Chocolate factory remake turned him into a human version of the famous chocolate bar.

Timothée Chalamet at the Wonka premiere in Tokyo

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Jenna Ortega channelled Halloween chic whilst promoting Netflix hit Wednesday.

Several members of the cast played with method dressing on the press tour, but Ortega’s high fashion take on a corpse bride for the world premiere was a highlight.

Jenna Ortega at the world premiere of Wednesday

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The entire cast of The Batman and several guests successfully got on board with method dressing at the film’s 2022 premiere.

Robert Pattinson wore an all-black suit and overcoat to replicate the look of his character, Bruce Wayne, but the standout outfit was Zoë Kravitz’s.

She played Catwoman, choosing a black Oscar de la Renta dress with a cool cat corset.

Zoe Kravitz at The Batman premiere

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Attention to detail is key for method dressing – something that Carey Mulligan took seriously when promoting Maestro.

She plays Felicia Bernstein, wife of the conductor Leonard Bernstein and whilst promoting the film wore several replicas of 1950s dresses to reflect when Maestro was set.

Carey Mulligan at the 2024 Oscars

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For the Oscars red carpet she donned a stunning fishtail gown, recreating an original design from 1951 – the year that Felicia and Leonard Bernstein got married.

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