Padmé Amidala has the most extensive, and most fashionable, wardrobe in Star Wars. The Padmé Fashion Project analyzes all of it.
While the peasant disguise is not my favorite gown or outfit or ‘item of clothing Padmé wears during the film’ (that’s either the light up red brocade we first see her in or the effervescent pale silk we last see her in), it is my favorite costume in the film.
First of all, where does she even get it? The Queen’s Wardrobe is extensive, and includes matching gowns in various colors for her handmaidens, but Padmé’s peasant disguise looks nothing like anything she or any of the others ever wear.
The concept art has a few nods to Naboo fashion but they’re left off the final result (which makes sense, she’s not disguised if she’s still wearing a diadem). It does, however, somewhat resemble what Anakin and others on Tatooine wear. This makes it a good disguise. But how does she know that and where does she get it?
I’ve decided she and her handmaidens spied on Qui-Gon’s preparations and approximated an outfit to match out of bits and pieces of various individual’s clothing on the ship. Scavenged hand-me-downs explain why it fits so loosely and is made out of rough, simple fabrics. Conceivably, it might even be made out of blankets and miscellaneous cargo (if the handmaidens are as crafty and quick witted as I like to imagine).
The outfit also vaguely resembles Captain Panaka’s uniform, which supports the idea.
Second, I love, love, love, love, love, that Padmé is wearing the simplest and plainest and commonest outfit we literally ever see her in when Anakin first sees her, and calls her an angel, the most beautiful creature in the universe.
I love that he meets her not only not as the Queen, but as a servant, dressed not dissimilarly from himself. She looks so young, and fits in with the terrain so well, like she belongs. It makes her approachable to him. But at the same time he sees her – pure Padmé, with no paint or trappings – as a heavenly creature.
Third, there’s this great recurring plot point in the Tatooine sequence of The Phantom Menace wherein Qui-Gon dismisses Padmé’s entirely reasonable concerns about “trusting our fate to a boy we hardly know”.
Let’s pick this apart a little. While on Tatooine, Padmé is not acting as Queen of Naboo. Although I think it’s clear Qui-Gon is not fooled by the handmaiden disguise, she is not in a position to assert her authority. Also, Qui-Gon is acting as a representative of the Jedi Order under the purview of the Republic and does not appear to consider Padmé an equal even when she is acting as Queen. However, he is more deferential when she is dressed as Queen.
Whether worn by Padmé or Sabé, Queen Amidala’s wardrobe includes a formal gown and hairstyle, and ceremonial make-up, and she is accompanied by a contingent of handmaidens in matching gowns. As Padmé the singular handmaiden doing recon on Tatooine, she is dressed in pants. And not only is she dressed in pants, she speaks her mind and challenges Qui-Gon’s authority. And he waves her off.
Women, and especially teenage girls, are expected to be feminine which means demure and pretty. When a woman, and especially a teenage girl, challenges the authority of a man she is routinely dismissed, at best, or punished, at worst. Is that a generalization? Of course. Is it an unfair generalization? The experience of every woman in real world politics would suggest no.
The peasant disguise may appear simple, but the costume supports Padmé’s narrative, characterization, and relationships in significant ways.