Since the dawn of Hollywood, fashion and cinema have been intimately linked. Extravagant outfits and creative costumes will add symbolism and visual splendor to any movie room. In turn, the best clothes on the big screen have influenced shoppers around the world. From Afrofuturistic tribal designs to Shakespearean characters dressed in designer clothes, these films are a feast for the eyes.
Sofia Coppola’s ode to the controversial Queen of France finale lives up to the titular heroine’s reputation as fashion’s first celebrity. Each gown designed by Milena Canonero steals the stage and relays Marie Antoinette’s rise from a naive Austrian princess to extravagant levels of nobility. As the protagonist’s confidence grows, we see her wigs grow, with one even accurately depicting a model ship to celebrate France’s naval power. Marie Antoinette even stuck to the Queen’s ‘cottagecore’ phase as we see Kirsten Dunst flee to the countryside in a delicate white shirt.
Canonero refuses to adhere to the militant historical accuracy that complements the film’s tongue-in-cheek aura, also evident in the film’s pop soundtrack. Amidst the anachronistic use of “I Want Candy,” we see heaps of candy-colored Manolo Blahnik shoes (with the brief glimpse of a Converse) that remind the viewer to revel in lavish scenes and never take the leap. film too seriously.
Ruth E. Carter’s costumes perfectly encompass Black Panther’s pressing theme of Afrofuturism. Throughout the creation of the film, Carter diligently researched and incorporated traditional pieces from across the continent. No scene embodies this more than T’Challa’s initiation ceremony into his royal role, when the tribes of Wakanda line the cliffs of Warrior Falls; each figure is adorned with deliberately chosen African clothing such as Basotho blankets and Maasai headdress.
“Carter has balanced traditionalism with cutting-edge fashion design”
To promote the MCU’s brand of superheroes, Carter balanced traditionalism with cutting-edge fashion design, such as 3D printing and interweaving of fictional vibranium metal in myriad costumes. One set that captures this is when a River Tribe elder (Isaach de Bankolé) wears a modern suit by Ghanaian-British designer Ozwald Boateng paired with an African lip plate. Balancing African tradition with current black tailoring, Carter’s costumes are essential in promoting the film’s message.
For Luis Buñuel’s 1967 film, beautiful day, the costumes help tell the story of a married young bourgeois woman, who spends her days as a high-class sex worker while her husband is at work. Catherine Deneuve, who plays Séverine Serizy, is dressed head to toe in Yves Saint Laurent, the couturier responsible for her entire wardrobe. Vogue described this film as “YSL’s most remarkable contribution to cinema”.
Adapted from Joseph Kessel’s 1928 novel, the costumes capture the duality of the character, at once prudish, erotic, seductive and alluring. The black vinyl trench coat has become a cult classic, making its way into mainstream fashion; you can still see it on the catwalks today. Even the shoes Deneuve wore for the film, which were part of YSL’s 1965 spring-summer collection, were eventually named after the film. Deneuve herself says it, “the character’s style really owes a lot to the image that Saint Laurent has created for itself”. However, perhaps it’s not just Séverine who should thank the Parisian designer, but fashion as we know it.
Take a Closer Look at Baz Luhrmann’s Reimagining of William Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet. You’ll notice that it’s not all gangsters and glitz running around beautiful Verona – well, Venice Beach – but there are some pretty ostentatious outfits too.
“There are also quite ostentatious outfits”
For that, we can thank Australian costume designer Kym Barrett, contemporary of Luhrmann’s wife and two-time Oscar-winning costume designer, Catherine Martin. Initially joining the couple as a wardrobe assistant at Luhrmann Ballroom strictly (1992), Barrett shared the director’s radical vision, as head of wardrobe, as they dared to tackle – or rather take over – Shakespeare’s classic romance. From the simple Hawaiian shirt worn by Romeo in the film’s opening scenes, to Tybalt adorned with devil horns at the Capulet ball. From Mercutio’s sparkling lingerie set to Juliette’s more modest angel wings. In collaboration with Prada, Yves Saint Laurent and Dolce & Gabbana, Barrett brings Luhrmann’s screenplay to life, marking his film not only in the history of cinema, but also in the history of fashion.
There’s one word that can describe Paul Tazewell’s designs in Spielberg’s remake of the 1961 classic: burst. The characters burst out of their costumes and the costumes burst from the screen. One would imagine that best dressed would be the character with the most obvious sex appeal, Anita, in her lemon dress trimmed with blood red ruffles. This outfit is present in the film’s most exuberant and carefree number, Americawhere Tazewell sneaked in a tribute to the past, with an all-dancer dressed in the famous lilac dress that Anita wore in 1961.
Respectful of history, it is not hampered by it. It confidently inverts the color palette that depicted gangs at war in 1961, yellow and purple. Now the latter wear rusty copper vests and are the first to walk the streets in a darker palette. Their muscles almost burst from the torn, oil-stained vests. It feels like youthful energy can explode out of these confines of fabric at any moment.
At first glance, it might seem like there’s not much to like about Ralph Egleston and Deanna Marsigliese’s costume designs for the 2004 and 2018 iterations of The Incredibles, at least beyond those amazing fitted suits (pun intended). Still, it’s no surprise that a movie starring a fashion designer as sassy as Edna Mode is full of fashion secrets. Did you know that Edna is based on the real life of Edith Head, eight-time Oscar winner for her styles of the 1950s? Egleston took inspiration from Head’s mid-century shapes by making the character pieces simple and elegant – you can almost smell Frozone’s smooth periwinkle turtleneck!
“Edna is an ode to fashion, the real heroine dressed to kill”
In animation, there is an unwritten rule that a character should not change their appearance too often, lest the changes break the audience’s suspension of disbelief. As a result, every costume has to pack a punch, and that couldn’t be more true than the gems of the movies: Edna’s outfits. She appears in a dripping satin kimono and a squeaky black beetle costume, among other things. Edna is an ode to fashion, the true heroine dressed to kill.
Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin strike gold again in this film adaptation of Gatsby the magnificent, again starring Leonardo DiCaprio, alongside Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire and Joel Edgerton. Winner of an Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Martin owes many of his iconic outfits to Prada, Brooks Brothers and Tiffany & Co. These brands alone symbolize the glitz and glamor of the film and its era.
“Martin’s goal was to modernize and sexualize the Roaring Twenties”
From Gatsby’s pink suit to Daisy’s diamonds, suits are key to differentiating “old money” from new. Tom Buchanan (Edgerton) even snidely remarks that “the man in the pink suit went to Oxford”, indicating that an “Oxford man” would never wear such an untraditional ensemble. While costume historians argue over the lack of authenticity, Martin’s goal was to modernize and sexualize the Roaring Twenties and the characters who lived through them. The costumes perfectly complement the contemporary soundtrack, featuring Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful,” Beyonce’s haunting take on “Back to Black,” and the equally ethereal cover of Jack White’s “Love Is Blindness.”
Few films cover two distinct fashion decades; Back to the future is a rare find in this respect. When Marty McFly travels back in time from 1985 to 1955, he wears Nike sneakers, a red padded vest and a pair of Levi 501s, all under a yellow hazmat jumpsuit. Immediately he stands out, mistaken for a space invader when he first met him in the 1950s. When Marty’s mother, Lorraine, meets him, she still calls him Calvin because Calvin Klein is “written everywhere [his] underwear”.
The film’s climax occurs at the Enchantment Under the Sea school dance, where Marty’s parents have their first kiss. Lorraine wears a pastel pink strapless dress with a 1950s-style flared skirt, and George, Marty’s dad, wears an all-white suit with a black bow tie. Meanwhile, Marty dons a gray blazer and burgundy tie but accidentally exposes himself as an outsider while playing “Johnny B. Goode”. While Back to the future isn’t about fashion per se, costume plays a vital and often overlooked role in film’s successful portrayal of culture clash.