2014 Oscar contenders

Discover the epic period costumes of this year's biggest Oscar

It’s only the first week of November, but the Oscars race is already kicking into high gear — this Friday sees the release of one of its buzziest contenders, “The Theory of Everything, ” a biopic about Stephen Hawking’s struggle with ALS.

But that flick is just one of many high-profile films reflecting light on the past. Among the Oscar bait are films set in Japan during World War II (“Unbroken”), on the 1850s frontier (“The Homesman”) and even in the sands of biblical Egypt (“Exodus: Gods and Kings”).

The Post caught up with the costume designers from several of the season’s heavyweights to delve into what it took to transport starry actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch and Amy Adams to a different place and time.

“The Theory of Everything” (Nov. 7)

Since premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Stephen Hawking biopic “The Theory of Everything” has been heralded as a front-runner in several awards categories, including best picture, thanks to its devastating portrayal of the famed English physicist and his battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease — and the wife who stuck beside him.

His former real-life wife, Jane — who was married to Hawking, now 72, until 1995 — helped costume designer Steven Noble by providing family photos for him to use as inspiration. This included the couple’s 1965 wedding album, which allowed Noble to nearly replicate Stephen’s suit. Jane also offered up her actual wedding dress to be used, but Noble opted to create an original silk dress with an overlaid silk organza top instead.

”We didn’t end up using [Jane’s dress] in the end because the color wasn’t quite right and it was a bit too iconic, mid-’60s looking, ” says Noble. “I wanted it to evoke the period, but not to be so committed to it — to give it a breath of fresh air and to hopefully make the whole film timeless and seamless throughout the whole three or four decades that we travel through.”

“The Homesman” (Nov. 14)

Tommy Lee Jones directed, co-wrote and stars in “The Homesman, ” an 1850s frontier-set tale of a claim jumper (Jones) who’s enlisted by the tough Mary Bee (Hilary Swank) to aid in the transporting of three mentally ill women back east. After the film premiered at Cannes, Swank’s name instantly popped up on Oscar pundits’ lists.

Costume designer Lahly Poore created Mary Bee’s look with a focus on practicality — she needed to be able to jump up on horses, for example. But her most memorable piece is a rabbit fur hat, which Poore created with the aide of a New Zealand artisan.

“She wears a fur hat because she, of course, shot and killed her own food, ” says Poore. “It’s warm, it does the trick, but at the same time she can have her hair up and it’s outside the hat. So it balances out the size of the dresses and the hips.”

Headwear helps define each character in the film. For Jones, Poore designed a hat with a flatter crown and larger brim so as to keep the character safe from the elements while also helping him go incognito. Meryl Streep, who appears in a supporting role, dons a cotton day bonnet with a larger than life bow under the chin.

“Just like today, people were creative with their clothing, ” says Poore. “People [in history] do things that are a little bit different or a little more creative than we give them the chance to be.”

“The Imitation Game” (Nov. 28)

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the brilliant, closeted computer scientist who cracked the Germans’ World War II Enigma code, in “The Imitation Game, ” garnering him deafening buzz since the film’s debut at the Telluride Film Festival.

Sammy Sheldon Differ, who designed the film’s costumes, was insistent that the clothing choices accurately reflect the financial disparity of the era. There are no glamorous scene-by-scene costume changes here — though Cumberbatch has roughly 30 script days, he only has about 10 different looks, which are mixed and matched throughout. Each reflects Turing’s style, which was quite out-there for the times.

“There are people who still remember him, living in Manchester later on in his life. They [described] him as very eccentric. Sometimes he would just wear pajamas and a coat, ” says Sheldon Differ. “We wanted to give an impression of that without it being sort of ridiculous.”

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