Lily Absinthe Goes to Africa…Part 1


With the incredibly warm and humid weather we’ve experiencing lately and for a change of pace, we’re going to take a look at a different sort of film: Sidney Pollack’s Out of Africa. Released in 1986 and starring Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, and Klaus Maria Brandauer, it is based on Karen Blixen’s book of the same title about her life in Kenya from 1913 through 1931. The costumes were designed by Milena Canonero and the she won the Best Costume from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).

With Kenya as the setting, it’s natural that safari-style clothes styles would be given pride of place and Canonero does not disappoint. With the exception of a few scenes, Streep is pictured wearing outfits that are all based on women’s casual styles that were extant during the late teens and 1920s modified for the tropical/near-tropical climate of East Africa. According Canonero, she tried to keep the clothes of lead characters in neutral colors- khakis, whites, and ivories; in a few scenes Streep does wear some black and navy for Streep. The brighter colors for the Africans.

Below are some of the various outfits:


Meryl Streep6

The above outfit is a direct descendant of the shirtwaist/skirt combination that was characteristic of the 1890s but now more relaxed and without the corset.


The coat in this picture appears to be a little more fancy that the other ones with the collar trim and appears to have been made of linen.


The coat in the above two pictures appears to have been made of linen.


It’s difficult to tell what fabric this coat is made from- either linen or cotton, most likely cotton along with the matching breeches.

And of course, things would not be complete without a pith helmet. 🙂

What is especially striking from the above pictures are that the colors of her outfits harmonize with the background and she seems to almost blend in with the countryside.

Just for comparison, below are some pictures of the real Karen Blixen (Dinesen):

Karen Blixen2

Karen Blixen and her brother Thomas Dinesen, c. 1920s.

Karen Blixen and her brother Thomas Dinesen, c. 1920s.

Karen Blixen and

Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hat­ton

As can be seen from both the movie wardrobe and original pictures, it is obvious that the style of these garments were practical and harmonized with the local environment. In many respects the styles are almost timeless and have influenced fashion to this day. In fact, around the same time that the movie was released, Banana Republic developed a line of updated “Safari Clothing” that was very popular during the mid to late 1980s.


From Banana Republic Catalog No. 22, Spring 1985.

From Banana Republic Catalog 22, Spring 1985.


Banana Republic Catalog 23, Summer 1985.

From Banana Republic Catalog

From Banana Republic Catalog 21, Winter 1984.

The interaction between costume for film and fashion in general has existed since the advent of movies and the influence of Out of Africa is no exception.

In the next post, we will take a look at some more costumes from the movie that are not “safari style”. 🙂

To be continued… 

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