Something Mysterious, Yet Undefined: Gene Wilder on Willy Wonka’s Iconic Costume


Though we appreciate Johnny Depp’s bug-eyed incarnation as much as the next guy, when we picture Willy Wonka, we still think of Gene Wilder, and we have the feeling that will never change. Wilder just embodied the role too perfectly — from hat to cane — and as Letters of Note points out, he had more than a little to do with that. Not only did he insist on the exact manner of his character’s first appearance, but after seeing some early sketches of Willy Wonka’s now iconic outfit, he also had some pointed suggestions about his costume, which he gently submitted to director Mel Stuart in letter form.

“I love the main thing — the velvet jacket — and I mean to show by my sketch the exact same color. But I’ve added two large pockets to take away from the svelt, feminine line,” Wilder wrote, later musing, “I don’t think of Willy as an eccentric who holds on to his 1912 Dandy’s Sunday suit and wears it in 1970, but rather as just an eccentric — where there’s no telling what he’ll do or where he ever found his get-up — except that it strangely fits him: Part of this world, part of another.” Though the blue hat ribbon and bow tie went by the wayside, it’s clear that the director took some serious cues from the style-savvy Wilder. Visit Letters of Note to read the charming letter, and try not to imagine what Willy Wonka might have looked like without it.