Gandalf is one of the most beloved characters in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Played equal parts curmudgeonly and majestic by Sir Ian McKellen, Gandalf was the figure that bound a ragtag group of hobbits, dwarves, humans, and elves together. Gandalf had been sent by the immortal Valar to Middle Earth in an age when first Morgoth, and then Sauron were amassing great power, and he felt the most affinity for its inhabitants (his favorite being hobbits).
Like every character both large and small in those film series, Gandalf's costume was unique to him and helped convey his character's journey. The costumes of Middle-Earth helped to transport audiences to a fantasy world that looked real because of their detail, and their lived-in quality. Gandalf had two costumes, first as Gandalf the Gray and then as Gandalf the White, each telling a different story. Below you'll find 10 hidden details about them that you never noticed before.
10 THE HAT WAS THE HARDEST PART TO DESIGN
A wizard's hat is arguably their most iconic piece of livery. It defines their silhouette, and in some cases, is as much a source of their power as their staff or wand. In the case of Gandalf's hat, it was the most difficult to design for Ngila Dickson, and she spent months getting it right.
Apparently many of the early sketches she drew made it look like there were "great ships" sailing on Gandalf's head. She wanted it to be functional but also mysterious, and magical with a sense of whimsy to it. It had to hearken back to an ancient age but also be timeless.
9 IT HAD TO BE INCREDIBLY DURABLE
Not only did the costumes in The Lord of the Rings trilogy need to be beautiful, but they also needed to be durable. Because Gandalf was part of the original Fellowship of Nine, he had to be able to traverse the wilds of the New Zealand countryside for weeks at a time.
Scrambling along mountains, near cliffs, across streams, beside rivers, and partaking in skirmishes and battle scenes meant that the actors needed to be able to get maximum wearability out of their costumes. One main costume was made for the principal actor, and one made for the stunt actor.
8 THE COSTUME WAS INCREDIBLY HOT TO WEAR
As you can probably imagine, wearing that much heavy, draped wool would be difficult in New Zealand. The Fellowship of the Ring was filmed in the summer months, when it could get mercilessly warm for anyone in cloaks, armor, and wizards robes. You would think costume designer Ngila Dickson would have made his costume out of something more breathable, but she wanted the weight of the wool.
Ian McKellen would have to take frequent breaks, and use an umbrella to keep out of the scorching sun. He also sometimes used a small fan underneath his beard to get access to some cold air. There are even rumors the tiny fan was under his beard in certain shots of the film.
7 HIS BEARD GOT SHORTER (ON PURPOSE)
In the books and in the film, Gandalf has an impressive beard, made all the more so by his emphatic stroking of it when he's contemplating the problems of Middle-Earth. Originally, Peter Jackson wanted the beard to be three feet long which, while a strident visual, would have been terribly impractical to work with.
Gandalf's beard appears just over a foot long in The Fellowship of the Ring, and by the time he becomes Gandalf The White, it's less than a foot long and neatly trimmed. The progression of the beard mimicked his progression as a character, from a bit wild and harried, to in full command of his powers and faculties.
6 THERE WERE LAYERS TO IT THAT WERE NEVER SEEN
Costume designer Ngila Dickson never wanted her costumes to stand out. In fact, she wanted them not to appear like costumes at all, but like the clothing that the characters lived in every day. That's why it was important to make them authentic, right down to their undershirts.
When Gandalf became Gandalf the White, he wore beautiful robes that appeared simply off-white, but if you look closely at them, there's gold and silver thread winking out from the embroidery to evoke Gandalf's status as a Maia. He even has an embroidered undershirt, which viewers never see, but actor Ian McKellen said helped him slip more easily into character.
5 IT WAS MEANT TO EVOKE TWO WORLDS
As an immortal Maiar and servant of the Valar, Gandalf was a being not originally from Middle Earth, but who had a great affinity for its inhabitants. Given his age and wisdom, he had more in common with the Elves and enjoyed a close friendship with Galadriel, the Ruler of Lothlorien, and Elrond, the Ruler of Rivendell.
When Gandalf became Gandalf The White, his robes were designed to reflect Elven craftsmanship. He wore an Elven brooch as a clasp for his cloak, an Elven buckle on his belt (also braided in an Elven fashion), and even the delicate pattern on his sleeves was the same leaf-like, autumnal pattern that could be seen on Elrond's costumes.
4 HIS SWORD WAS MADE TO ECHO ITS RICH HISTORY
The sword that Gandalf carried was known as Glamdring, a sword of exceptional Elven craftsmanship that was known in the Sindarin tongue as the "foe-hammer." The smiths assigned to The Lord of the Rings trilogy worked extensively to bring the large, two-handed sword that once belonged to the Noldorin Elf King Turgon to life.
They crafted it in the fashion of most Elven swords, which was in the shape of an elongated leaf, with a small uncut blue stone on the crossguard and inscribed onto it the Sindarin runes that described its heritage as the foe of Morgoth's realm and offered a protection spell.
3 HIS SWORD WAS MADE WITH ELVEN CRAFTSMANSHIP
The smiths that worked on Peter Jackson's films weren't Elves, but they might as well have been. For Gandalf's sword Glamdring, they fashioned the handgrip from a single piece of wood that was then put over the metal tang, over which was put brass wire which was curled into rings.
Over the rings, a piece of wet leather was wrapped, dyed blue in the style of the Elven blades crafted for Elrond's guards. They made the pommel overly large, to balance the immense length and weight of the blade. It was intended to be so perfectly balanced it could be wielded one-handed. Sir Ian McKellen kept the sword he used in the films.
2 HE HAD ONE OF THE RINGS OF POWER
The Elves were once given three Rings of Power by Sauron the Deceiver. Narya, the Ring of Fire, was given to Gandalf by Cirdan of the Grey Havens. It has the ability to resist tyranny and oppression, can conceal the wearer from direct observation (unless the possess the One Ring), and can slow the passage of time for the wearer.
Gandalf isn't seen to be wearing Narya in The Fellowship of the Ring but has it in The Two Towers when he leads the charge with Eomer to defend Helms Deep. It can only be visible to certain people, most notably those who have worn the One Ring themselves.
1 HIS STAFF CHANGES
Gandalf's staff is one of his most important possessions and an integral part of his costume. It doesn't just make for a good walking stick, but serves as a conduit for his power, and is used as a weapon against everything from Orcs to other Istari. Gandalf had five different staffs onscreen, three of them as Gandalf the Grey.
In The Hobbit, his staff was designed by the Weta Workshop to resemble an opening flower. In An Unexpected Journey, it's a wooden version of his staff as Gandalf the White. In The Battle of the Five Armies, he uses the staff of Radagast the Brown. In The Fellowship of the Ring, his staff is confiscated by Saruman after their duel, and Elrond gives him a new staff in Rivendell affixed with a crystal.