We all love a good movie that entertains, makes us laugh out loud, and moves us to tears. If you’re a fashion lover, however, a good movie is not just something that stirs the emotions. To the sartorially inclined, a good movie has beautiful clothes – clothes that fuse character and actor and bring the story to life.
Some movies capture a period or a moment in time, and with their clothes, act as commentary on the social, political, and economic issues of the times.
Some movies have such iconic clothes that they speak to whole generations, inspiring trends and movements. Then there are other movies where the clothes act as timeless ambassadors of cultures.
Here’s a rundown of 13 iconic movies which marry cinema and fashion in the best way possible.
Fashionista Movie #1: Funny Face (1957)
Though Sabrina (1954) marked the beginning of Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy’s friendship, the French couturier’s influence and designs were never acknowledged by Edith Head who won an Oscar for Best Costume Design.
Upon Hepburn’s insistence, Givenchy’s designs for her bluestocking character in Funny Face were finally given proper credit. Diana Vreeland fans will also pick up on the allusions to the legendary fashion editor in Kay Thompson’s character.
Fashionista Movie #2: Heathers (1988)
All fashionistas know the Heathers are the OG Mean Girls. Besides gifting us with “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw!” and other endlessly quotable lines, this darkly comical film epitomises ‘80s fashion.
Those padded oversized blazers, monocles, coloured tights and every single kitschy outfit Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) wears are on our Christmas wishlists.
Fashionista Movie #3: Clueless (1995)
Naive, lovable matchmaker Cher Horowitz, as portrayed by 90’s It Girl Alicia Silverstone, showed us that there are essentially only three style rules:
- Dress for the occasion. Like Cher, put on your most responsible-looking ensemble for a driving test.
- Know your favourite designers and fight for the clothes you love (even at the point of being robbed).
- If Calvin Klein says it’s a dress, it’s a dress.
Fashionista Movie #4: Atonement (2007)
As a big-screen adaptation of Ian McEwan’s metafiction novel, it’s rather faithful. As a showcase of 1930s fashion, it’s exquisite. The dress Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) wears in the film’s climactic scene is manna from heaven.
The bias cut, the perforated details in the bodice, the knot in the front, the low back… and that insane emerald green silk that skims her body lovingly as if she were a nymph. All these details make the dress dreamy perfection.
Fashionista Movie #5: Marie Antoinette (2006)
Though it’s derided by some critics for playing out like a pop video, Sofia Coppola’s historical biopic of the doomed queen is a meditative piece on the alienation that so often consumes adolescent women. Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) had barely entered puberty when she was married to Louis XVI and the film reflects her alienation in a foreign land all too well.
In the beginning, her necklines are chaste, the colours are light and frothy and she is mocked by the court for her innocence. As she grows more politically astute, the necklines get lower, the colours deepen. For this true coupling of character and costume, designer Milena Canonero’s Oscar win was well within reason.
Fashionista Movie #6: 2046 (2004)
It’s usually Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love that makes Best Fashion Movies lists and it’s not for nothing. The cheongsams that hug Maggie Cheung’s character, Su Li Zhen spoke volumes about her inhibitions and the repressed love that she felt for the mild-mannered Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung), but 2046’s futuristic and retro garments also deserve much praise.
From the metallic garb seen on the androids to the cheongsam-clad women who bring back Chow Mo Wan’s memories of his lost love, the clothes transport us into the future and the past all at once.
Fashionista Movie #7: Star Wars: Episodes I-III
Star Wars purists who worship Episodes IV to VI often bash the prequels for the lack of chemistry between the leads, Hayden Christensen’s stiff performance, and the relatively weak scripts. However, the prequels were worth devouring for the costumes alone. In the time of the Galactic Republic, civilisations flourished. People were dressed in the most elaborate and sophisticated garments of their cultures and planets. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Padme Amidala’s ensembles. Inspired by the imperial regalia of Mongolia, Russia, and Japan among others, Padme’s outfits give us glimpses into distant cultures and civilisations. As an instrument of storytelling, they also foreshadow her fate.
Fashionista Movie #8: Nana (2005)
Following two girls named Nana through love, heartbreak, loss, and success, both Ai Yazawa’s manga and its silver screen adaptation are phenomenal. The coming-of-age drama is well-known for the musical hits it spawned and its slice-of-life storylines, but it also captured the zeitgeist of the 2000s in Japan through the outfits the characters donned. The looks worn by the first Nana (Aoi Miyazaki) are symptomatic of several trends, including the maid style and the simple, feminine Office Lady look. Meanwhile, the second Nana (Mika Nakashima) and her rock band embody the visual kei movement with their eye makeup, bold outfits, and accessories.
Fashionista Movie #9: Rear Window (1954)
The women in Hitchcock films are always stylishly attired, but Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly) never wears the same dress twice. Every outfit Kelly wore has its moment. The black deep V-neck blouse and chiffon tulle skirt combo we first meet her in as she kisses her wheelchair-bound photographer boyfriend Jeff (James Stewart).
The black organza number with its sheer sleeves and the floor-sweeping nightgown and negligee she puts on to seduce Jeff. In her mint green suit and white halter-necked blouse, she exudes more elegance and sensuality than many women could hope to in their lifetimes.
Fashionista Movie #10: The Handmaiden (2015)
In Park Chan Wook’s critically acclaimed erotic psychological thriller, Kim Min Hee plays Lady Hideko Izumi, an innocent Japanese heiress forced to perform readings of rare books under the controlling thumb of her uncle. Things get twisty when her Korean maidservant who moonlights as a swindler falls for her. The film plays up Hideko’s sexual repression through her frilly, buttoned-up blouses and reveals their attraction as they unbutton corsets and bateau-necked gowns.
Fashionista Movie #11: Blade Runner (1982)
Blade Runner 2049 was well-received by critics and audiences alike. If we’re being honest, the clothes were a disappointment. The prequel fared much better. From Rachael’s padded shoulder suit to Zhora’s cyberpunk garb and clear plastic raincoat to bizarre headgear and motorcycle goggles on extras, Blade Runner is a visual delight.
Fashionista Movie #12: Paradise Kiss (2011)
Paradise Kiss revolves around high school student Yukari’s induction into the fashion world when she gets cajoled into being a model by a group of student designers. While the movie’s message is truly heartwarming, we’re here for the apparel. Yukari’s metamorphosis into a supermodel is marked by several stunning outfits. The royal blue dress adorned with hand-painted rose appliqués in which she struts down the fashion academy’s runway is one such moment.
Fashionista Movie #13: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
A woman in a long black sheath dress with a neck full of pearls and a mini tiara in her blonde-streaked chignon clasps a cigarette holder between her fingers. That is, perhaps, the most iconic image of Audrey Hepburn. In spite of the yellowface practiced in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the romantic comedy, another Givenchy-Hepburn collaboration, remains one of the world’s most beloved fashion movies. Holly Golightly’s wide-brimmed hat, long black dresses, mock turtlenecks, and Tiffany Blue coloured sleeping mask will always be in vogue.
By Zoe Liew.