Fashion is an important part of almost all films. In fact, there are many films where the costume design becomes a focal point of the movie, winning awards in the process and creating looks that people want to copy around the world. For many of these films, not only are designer brands used, but much of the clothing is originally crafted by the talented hands of master garment creators, seamstresses, and tailors. Famous costume designers can go on to win the highest honors in the way of Academy Awards or honors from the Costumers Designers Guild, a union of professional costumers, assistants, and illustrators in the film industry. Let’s look at some of the most stylish films every fashion lover should see at least once.
If you’ve seen and liked the movie, The Talented Mr. Ripley, then you’ll be happy to know that Purple Noon is the original created in 1960. It stars Alain Delon as Tom Ripley who tries to swindle his wealthy friend and his fiance who live in Italy. As a thriller, this is an exciting film that glamourizes identity theft and an unforgettable story of obsession. But who cares about the plot? Let’s get to the clothes. Fashion-wise, it’s the ultimate in summer style for men with blue oxford shirts, crisp white shorts, and suede Gucci loafers without socks, of course. The looks are casual and elegant especially when Tom is jetting around town in a linen suit trying desperately to look as well-to-do wealthy as his friend, Philippe. All of the styles in the movie are timeless and classic, and could easily be worn today.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
If we’ve talked about the fashion of Purple Noon, it’s an obvious choice that you should see the costuming style in the update from 1999. The Talented Mr. Ripley is swimming with talent with Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow in the lead roles. The movie takes place in 1950s Italy with the style reflecting that time period. The clothes got rave reviews with many people saying that it’s one of the finest wardrobes in the history of film. High praise indeed, but when you look at all the outfits that the well-off couple, Dickie Greenleaf and Marge get to wear, it’s clear that the clothing was the true star of the film. Short-sleeved patterned shirts with pointed collars, rolled-up linen pants, and porkpie hats are a few looks that Dixie wears, while Marge is lovely in puffed-sleeve blouses and full to mid-lengths skirts with bright patterns. Ann Roth and Gary Jones were both Oscar-nominated for their work in costuming on the movie.
Phantom Thread starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville, and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, came out in 2017. The film follows a haute couture dressmaker in the 1950s who takes a young lady into his workshop as his muse. They form an odd couple, but their romantic relationship is just something you have to see and the clothes are artfully constructed by the designer’s skilled hands. Mark Bridges was the costume designer on the movie, and he said that the Day-Lewis himself would put together his own looks for certain scenes by going into a large room full of different costume pieces. One of the most memorable looks is a tweed jacket paired with lilac pajama bottoms, a cardigan sweater, and an ascot scarf with a paisley print. It’s exactly the kind of look that you could see an eccentric fashion designer wearing in real life. Picture Karl Lagerfeld in his younger days.
The Great Gatsby
There are two versions of The Great Gatsby. The first one came out in 1974 starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow as Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchannan. The costume designer, Theoni Aldredge won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design on the stylish film that featured 1920s New York City glamour. In 2013, Baz Luhrmann directed a lavish remake of the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan in the title roles. Every costume in this film was spot-on perfection. The tuxedos, the dresses, the casual elegance of it all. Just positively stunning. The film netted the costume designer, Catherine Martin, an Academy Award for her work, along with a BAFTA in costume design. If you haven’t seen either version of the film, stream both of them to compare the glorious clothing all the characters get to wear.
The Royal Tenenbaums
It seems like if Gwyneth Paltrow is in your movie, the fashion is going to be right on target. Look no further than the quirky style of The Royal Tenenbaums, a film directed by Wes Anderson in 2001. All of his films have a strangely graceful and distinguished style to them that is hard to describe. This one is a dramedy about a dysfunctional family that stars Paltrow alongside Luke Wilson, Gene Hackman, Angelica Huston, and Owen Wilson. Karen Patch is the costume designer on the film, and the only instruction she received from the director was to build all the clothing from scratch. Wow. The result is 60s and 70s-inspired with vintage flair. One of the most famous looks is worn by Gwyneth’s character, Margot Tenenbaum, in a light brown fur mink coat with a Lacoste-style dress underneath and a tan Hermes Birkin bag. People often wear her look from the movie as a Halloween costume to this day.
Bonnie and Clyde
The most famous bank-robbing duo of all time has a story that was immortalized in the movie, Bonnie and Clyde, starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. In this 1967 film, the costume designer was Theadora Van Runkle. The fashion of this film is supposed to represent the actual time period that Bonnie and Clyde lived in during the 30s. Glamorous, sharply tailored clothes that made the actors look like they belonged on the pages of a vintage Vogue Magazine were present in every stylish scene. Most of Faye’s outfits were topped off with a beret-style hat. Mr. Beatty got to wear three-piece tailored suits and polished wing-tipped shoes as they robbed banks around the city. This is definitely a famous gangster-style look that people emulate for costume parties all the time.
A Quentin Tarantino production, Pulp Fiction, starred a huge cast of wacky characters. The most famous among them being John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, and Uma Thurman. As hitmen, Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, Travolta and Jackson, shine in this film. The suits they wore while doing their jobs in this comedy/drama/thriller as assassins are something that Tarantino refers to as their “black suits of armor.” Costume Director Betsey Heimann based the looks on another Tarantino film, Reservoir Dogs. (There were slick black suits in that one, too.) In Pulp Fiction, Travolta’s suit was black linen so that he looked a little bit sloppy, while Jackson’s suit remained crisp. And no one will forget just how amazing Uma Thurman looked in the diner dance scene, as Mia Wallace, with slim black capri pants, a crisp white button-up blouse, and gold flats. Iconic and chic as hell.
The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway headed the stylish 1968 flick, The Thomas Crown Affair, about a banking executive who feels like he can pull off a lucrative art heist. It’s a cat-and-mouse chase for Faye’s character, Vicki, to prove that Thomas Crown is behind the scheme. The fashion is 60s haute couture with Theodora Van Runkle designing all the costumes herself for the film. Faye wears 29 different dresses, while the men’s fashion is showcased in the smooth frame of McQueen in suits that are sophisticated and impeccable tailored befitting of a multi-millionaire business magnate.
A Single Man
Any film that is directed by fashion god Tom Ford is bound to have some eye-catching looks. Made in 2009, a few years after Tom left his post as head fashion director of Gucci, A Single Man is about George Falconer who is played by Colin Firth. He’s a college professor that is grieving the death of his partner during the 60s. The clothing is understated and subtle which is odd considering how beautifully flamboyant and sexy Ford’s designs were for Gucci. The basics that Firth’s character wears are simple things like a crisp white oxford shirt, brown suits, thick-framed glasses, and black cap-toe dress shoes. The goal was to showcase classics that don’t distract from the main point of the story, which is actually about the spiritual journey of solitude when someone you love dies. Serious stuff.
La Dolce Vita
The 1960 film, La Dolce Vita, is an Italian classic directed by the great Federico Fellini and starring Marcello Mastroianni. It follows a roving gossip reporter making his way through Rome as he looks for love – and a good story. Even though this is a black and white film, the style is unmistakable with high fashion looks that are perfect for the wealthy of the grand European society. Mastroianni dons dapper suits with Italian flair and a masculine edge. Sexy and smart. For the ladies in the film, there was elegance in little black dresses with perfectly coiffed hair and jewels to match. The most famous of these was a stunning strapless evening gown with a sweetheart neckline worn by Anita Ekberg as she splashes around in the Trevi Fountain, arguably one of cinema’s most iconic scenes.
The movie musical Grease had some terrific costumes in it – classic looks worn by the star, Olivia Newton-John, as Sandy and her would-be love interest, Danny Zuko, played by the incomparable John Travolta. All swagger and slicked back hair with tight jeans, even tighter white t-shirts, and iconic black leather greaser jackets like all the “T-Birds” wore are the stuff of legendary costuming. The film was released in 1978, but takes place in the 50s with big poodle skirts on the “Pink Ladies”, paired with letterman jackets, and Peter Pan collars. Everyone loves the end scene where Sandy finally shows Danny her wild side by wearing a tight leather jacket, off-the-shoulder top, and black spandex pants. She was a goddess!
For those not in the know, a “gigolo” is a male prostitute or escort. In the film, American Gigolo, the male hooker at the helm of the film is played by Richard Gere. All high-end style and 80s excess, this movie is a crime thriller that showcases some beautiful clothing. The female star in this one is Lauren Hutton, but in all seriousness, you’ll never want to take your eyes off of Gere in a wardrobe that was made entirely by Giorgio Armani, who credits the movie for launching his fashion career into the stratosphere.
Romeo + Juliet
Another film from flamboyant director, Baz Luhrmann, is Shakespeare’s classic Romeo + Juliet, which portrayed the Bard’s work in a completely new way. The fashion in the doomed romance is updated to reflect what people actually wore in the 90s when it was made, albeit slightly over the top. Think cool Hawaiin shirts, sunglasses, and lots of bright colors on the Montagues and gaudy, gang-inspired styles on the Capulets. Juliet’s wardrobe mainly consisted of simple white dresses and clean lines. All of this is part of what makes the movie such a fascinating watch. The juxtaposition of Shakespeare’s words with a modern set and contemporary costumes imbued with symbolism make this a work of art you could analyze for hours.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E
A fun spy film directed by Guy Richie, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was released in 2015 but is based on a 1960s television series of the same name. Costumer Joanna Johnson created a wardrobe for the film that reflected the cool, mod styles of the era. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer star in the film donning chic muted colors, rich tweeds, turtlenecks, and Harrington jackets, while Alicia Vikander sports simple, colorful sheath dresses.
Another 60s spy film with epic style is Dr. No. The film that launched the James Bond franchise, Dr. No features the incomparable Sean Connery in the title role as Agent 007. His wardrobe in the movie set the tone for what we now consider “classic Bond” attire – fitted swim trunks, open button-down shirts, and the killer suits that Bond is known for. Are you in the mood for a martini, shaken not stirred, yet?
BONUS: House Of Gucci
What do you get when you put Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino in a movie about one of the greatest fashion houses of all time? You get House Of Gucci, inspired by the shocking true story of the family behind the Italian fashion empire. Based on the trailer alone, we can say with confidence that when it’s released in November, it will quickly become known as one of the most fashionable films in history.