‘Take this and use it well’: A look at the iconic vest worn by Enjolras in ‘Les Miserables’

Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras in the 25th Anniversary of Les Miserables concert.

Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras in the 25th Anniversary of Les Miserables concert.

You want to talk Enjolras? Let’s talk Enjolras. (Let’s be real, who doesn’t want to talk Enjolras?)

Let’s play a word association game. When I say Enjolras, you say: revolution. And what does Enjolras wear to the revolution? That spectacular crimson military vest. When Enjolras bursts into “One Day More” belting his face off with a musket in the air and wearing that sexy vest, I would jump up and die for his revolution right then, no questions asked.

Of all the costumes I was excited to see in the movie, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t already pictured Aaron Tveit in that manly ensemble. But I waited and waited and before I knew it the barricade was built and Enjolras had died backwards out a window and even through my tears I realized it had never surfaced. This omission did not make or break the movie for me but it did make me question why such an iconic part of the musical wasn’t incorporated at all.

The vest has always been a point of intrigue because I never truly understood why Enjolras would wear anything relating to the military in any capacity. I finally justified this plight by realizing that Enjolras wanted to declare his resentment of the government by proudly wearing something that mocks it. (Not to mention it helps keep Enjolras in focus and utilize the powerful, symbolic color that he has already sung about ad nauseum.)The latter ideal is presented in the musical, while the book & movie lean towards straying away from any sort of military affiliation.

The vest’s inspiration comes from the Hussar uniform, historically worn by military and cavalry of the Hungarian army (and later by several European countries, including France during the Napoleonic Wars). The vest itself was not a common style, as the uniform was usually a jacket, but clearly artistic liberties were taken. The color red is an appropriate color of the uniforms, but in France the Hussar uniform also appeared in, you guessed it, black.

Although there is no vest, red is still a prevalent color in the movie for Enjolras, silently upholding his leadership over the situation. His wardrobe is just more consistent with that of his peers. He stands out through artful editing and color, not necessarily by his style of costume pieces. I understand the dismissal of Enjolras’s vest in the movie because it didn’t complement the story director Tom Hooper and costume designer, Paco Delgado were trying to tell.

That being said, I truly prefer the stage version of Enjolras’s barricade costume. It is, to state the obvious, more theatrical. It is far more dramatic and evokes a heightened sense of passion for the cause that the audience immediately connects with. It lets everyone know efficiently and effectively that Enjolras is the leader and he is not scared of the government and the consequences he faces. He is openly satirizing the government and anyone who tries to stop him by wearing a uniform that internationally associated with rule of a monarchy – the very thing they are striving so enthusiastically to overthrow.

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4 Responses

  1. Huzzah! I am so glad you all enjoyed the article!

    And Kate, you are so right. The vest adds an aura of awesome to every Enjolras I can think of! A lot of actors say a costume really helps define and promulgate a better understanding of the character for both the actor and the audience, and I think the legacy of this vest speaks to that.

  2. This was exactly what I was thinking! Having seen the stage show several times, and having fallen in love with the man in the “xylophone” time and time again, the subtleties of Mr. Tveit’s costume were very well executed. The way his presence simply dominates a scene, whilst he plays Enjolras, is simply astounding.

    I must, however, agree with Amelia on this one – I do prefer the stage costume – it is a legacy, as the title of this article suggests. Who can ever wipe from their mind a practically /glowing/ David Thaxton striding downstage in the finale or Killian Donnelly holding his rifle aloft and crying for a new world or, even more recently, Jason Forbach who, though we get a laugh from his twitter escapades, is also greatly deserving of bearing the proud token in the U.S. Tour.

  3. Thank you for this article! I’d heard of the infamous vest donned by Enjolras in the musical production, but I had yet to look into what it really meant and why it was such an object of adoration.

  4. Though Enjolras’ costume for the film was more subtle than the xylophone vest of awesome, I do enjoy the fact that apparently Aaron insisted on “dying” in it, to keep as close to the stage tradition as possible. :)