Howl’s Moving Castle is a movie produced by Studio Ghibli in 2004. It is set in a fantastical world where magic meets steampunk. While the setting, characters, and story are all extraordinarily captivating, what truly captures me while watching is the fashion of the world, specifically that of the male lead: the titular Howl. Before we dive in, there are spoilers up ahead for the entirely of Howl’s Moving Castle.
When the audience first meets Howl, he rescues Sophie from some guards that are harassing her. He appears in a frivolous white long-sleeved blouse, black slim-fit trousers, black boots, and his impressive coat. The coat rests over his shoulders rather than being worn properly and his blouse is tucked into his trousers. He looks distinctly different from the other men in town who are wearing suits. His first outfit of the movie shows his vanity, and it also breaks him apart from the soldiers that litter the Waste. Howl’s coat sports a gold trim around the cuffs and outside of the coat, it has a red lining, and most importantly it is made up of blue and pink diamonds. The soldiers in the movie wear blue and red so the audience begins to associate the colors blue and red with the military. This is where the blue and pink from Howl’s coat comes into play; it shows that Howl, while not directly a part of the military, he is somehow related to this war. Later in the movie it is confirmed that Howl is actively interfering with war efforts. The red lining of the coat also gives away his direct connection to the military, his training under Suliman and his eventual direct involvement when trying to protect Sophie’s hat shop.
The coat, along with his blouse, are overly frivolous however, with the gold trim and numerous frills on the actual blouse. The ostentatious nature of the outfit shows Howl’s vanity and how important appearance is to him. He wants to stand out and he makes sure that he does. This directly contrasts to Howl’s second outfit of the film.
Howl’s second outfit is considerably more toned down than his first outfit. He has exchanged his long-sleeved blouse for a half sleeved one without a yoke or ruffles separating the yoke from the rest of the shirt. There is not a collar on this second shirt and the slit is a simple triangle rather than his more complex one on his first shirt. This is the point in the movie in which Howl’s motivation switches, after Sophie meets with Suliman and Howl decides to start fighting against the war. Not only does his outfit reflect this but this new outfit also shows Howl’s evolution as a character and Sophie’s influence on him. Half sleeves create the illusion of a rolled-up sleeve, something common among workers, showing Howl is now actively working towards something, protecting what Sophie loves. The half sleeve also allows for a larger portion of Howl’s outfit to be shown when he uses his magic, showing how he is becoming more beast than man, yet he continues to try and protect Sophie’s hat shop until the end.
This second outfit also shows Howl’s lessening importance on beauty. Not only has he turned his hair back to black, he wears less ostentatious clothing to draw less attention to himself; he now has eyes for Sophie, so he doesn’t feel need to attract attention to himself. However, Howl is also trying to impress Sophie, so while beauty is important to Howl, he dresses down for Sophie to feel more comfortable.
The final outfit Howl wears is only seen briefly before the credits. It consists of an orange long sleeved blouse, a black belt around his waist with white trousers and matching shoes. Howl has gone back to a fancier look with a separate yoke and collar, along with longer sleeves but he keeps his black hair, showing he has accepted his true self without his beauty potions. The outfit is nowhere near as ostentatious as his first outfit, the military colors are also gone, as there is no trace of red or blue on this last outfit, showing the war has ended. This leaves Sophie and Howl to remain happy together in a new peaceful world.
While Howl does not wear many outfits throughout the movie, each outfit holds significance for his character development. This show of character development shows truly how much care Studio Ghibli puts into each and every character and story they create.