Beth Harmon was facing a “sudden death” of sorts.
The fictional chess star overcame her childhood as an orphan, she battled her addiction to pills and alcohol, and she managed to make it into the world championship in Russia. The problem now? She had spent all her money on clothing and couldn’t afford her $3,000 trip to the biggest game of all time.
“You could give me the black dress,” Beth’s friend suggests on an episode of “The Queen’s Gambit.” “Or the purple one.”
Beth laughs and declines both offers.
In a field dominated by men, thick glasses and ill-fitting white button-down shirts, Beth Harmon is a sudden style idol. Yes, she’s a character developed from Walter Tevis’s novel of the same name and now outfitted by Gabriele Binder on a hit Netflix series. But somehow, she may be able to broker an introduction from the chess world to the fashion world, an unlikely yet beautiful pairing.
“At first look, chess is not stylish and fashionable, but the players make choices on what they wear and why they wear it,” said Ms. Binder, speaking over Zoom from her home in Berlin, dressed in a simple black shirt from the waist upward, with no accessories. And these choices are important, she believes. “It brings them good luck or gives them a good experience.”
“The Queen’s Gambit” takes place in the 1960s, and at that time, there were only a few female American and Russian players who were in the major leagues. Ms. Binder looked back at the ways the men dressed, and they had a “geeky, nerdy fashion.” The women’s looks were similar. Beth, played by Anya Taylor-Joy is anything but nerdy. And this may be a game changer. As it were.
“Chess will never be the same,” said Cathleen Sheehan, a professor and the acting chair of F.I.T.’s Fashion Design M.F.A. program in New York. “This story brings international glamour, humanity and relatable history to the game of chess. Each time the scene changed, I found myself excited to see what she’d be wearing next.”
Inspired by Edie Sedgwick, Jean Seberg, Pierre Cardin and Balenciaga, Ms. Binder created a dizzying array of looks that take Beth from her orphan days in Kentucky through her chess tournaments in Las Vegas, Paris and Moscow. No fewer than a dozen of her outfits contain geometric patterns mirroring the chessboard, but Ms. Binder would never do anything so obvious as to print a chessboard onto a top or a skirt.
Instead, for example, Beth tiptoed into the chess world with a simple checkered sleeveless dress over a fitted white button down that doesn’t veer far from the style at the time. She was trying desperately to find her own way in the fashion and chess scene — and her outfit reflects this, Ms. Binder said. By the time the series finishes, Beth steps out in a white wool coat paired with a white hat totally on point for a chess queen.
There’s also the makeup, which helps transform Beth from an orphan into a high glam chess starlet, reflecting her state of mind along the way (like a floating eyeliner look to underscore a hangover). “It was exaggerated makeup to support that she’s really besides herself, not fitting into the idea of a chess…
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