Fashion In The Movies April 05 2020
Fashion and film have always been inextricably linked, borrowing stuff and copying from each other like a couple of teenage girls. Women bobbed their hair in droves to try and copy Louise Brooks, star of the silent screen, sales of gingham fabric rocketed when The Wizard of Oz came out, and women everywhere wanted copies of Scarlett O’Hara’s green velvet curtain dress in Gone with the Wind. If it had been today, demand would have crashed the website.
On the cusp of being a teenager, who shopped at Tammy Girl and C&A, I aspired to dress like Ali McGraw in Love Story. As I sobbed my way through it, in my sensible Clarks T bar sandals and Holly Hobbie style tiered dress, she just looked so cool in her ribbed turtleneck, plaid skirt, camel coat with the collar turned up, and that red crochet hat that sparked a thousand imitations. The next craze was Sandy in Grease in that rather dubious transformation scene. I teamed my school leotard, footless tights and bagged a pair of wooden soled high heeled, single strap shoes like she wears and went over on my ankle. In the eighties I flirted with the safari look pretending to be Meryl Streep in Out of Africa wearing jodhpurs and a khaki jacket which had so many pockets the driver invariably had to wait whilst I rifled through looking for my bus pass. Over the years, I learnt what suited me more. I knew I could never pull off braces, a skinny tie and a bowler hat like Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. I bypassed altogether the fad for Empire line dresses at the height of the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice mania.
I grew up watching musicals – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Funny Girl and High Society. I always envied Grace Kelly’s groomed perfection and her style in High Society still looks fresh and new: crisp cotton or linen shirts tucked into Capri pants worn with a wide leather belt; a stunning pale blue dress in a froth of tulle with huge bell sleeves and a sailor style collar. Off screen, her wedding dress to Prince Rainier of Monaco sparked a sensation. She is one of the few people to have a handbag named after her. The story goes that whilst shopping with the legendary costume designer, Edith Head, for Hitchcock’s 1954 To Catch a Thief, they came across a shop window of Hermes accessories. Kelly was particularly taken with a trapezium shaped bag with a high handle, padlock and hardware, and four little studs on the base to enable it to stand up. It had already been through various reincarnations – starting life as a way for ladies to carry their saddle around in. Kelly was pictured using it to shield her growing pregnancy bump from the paparazzi and in 1977 it became known as the Kelly bag.
Another star to have a bag named after her is of course Jane Birkin. The opposite in some ways to Grace Kelly’s glacial perfection, Birkin represented that laid back, thrown together but somehow effortlessly cool chic. In pictures, she can be seen carrying an open topped wicker basket. On a flight, she happened to be sitting next to the Chief Executive of Hermes, when the contents of her basket, lodged in the overhead locker, spilled out everywhere. Moaning that she couldn’t find a bag she liked, he decided to design a bag for her and so the Birkin was born. It is still probably the most recognised and coveted bag of all time, attracting waiting lists of years.
Another perennial favourite of mine is Faye Dunaway’s wardrobe in The Thomas Crown Affair. She wears a succession of mini dresses and skirt suits in delicate lilacs, her hair piled high like a plaited cottage loaf, huge bug eyed sunglasses, Pucci-esque headscarves, and long tapered nails in a shade of nude. I spent a long time searching for that particular shade of nude.
When I got out Revolutionary Road on DVD, a particularly bleak portrait of the disintegration of a marriage set against the backdrop of 1950s suburbia, I freeze framed every other scene to get a better look at Alice Wheeler’s (Kate Winslet) beautiful wardrobe: a parade of fitted shift dresses with peephole necklines in a palette of ice cream colours, worn with matching gloves, clutch and courts.
And who could forget when the shops were filled with a delicious choice of Art Deco inspired clothes to coincide with the release of Baz Luhrmann’s lavish spectacle that was The Great Gatsby? Even if you couldn’t run to a pair of Tiffany & Co chandelier drop earrings, which were worth so much actress Carey Mulligan had to have an on set security guard, there was dozens of drop waisted jewel encrusted dresses, feather capes, bags and headbands to covet.
There is still a massive appetite to see the clothes worn in films as witnessed by the massive crowds at the Hollywood Costume exhibition at the V&A. I queued with hundreds to see Keira Knightley’s green dress from Atonement, Tippi Hedren’s suit from Hitchcock’s The Birds. They even had Meryl Streep’s Out of Africa jacket. It looked remarkably like mine !
Alison is a freelance journalist (ex BBC) who specialises in features on homes and gardens, designs and craft. Alison has just had her first novel published called " Just like you"