The Best Fashion Films

Three years ago I blogged a list of fashion-themed films but I have since found more. This time I also rated them: 3 stars for ‘must-see’, 2 stars for ‘okay’, 1 star for ‘don’t bother’. Those without stars are on my ‘to-see’ list or it has been so long since I have seen it I can’t remember it anymore. I am including theatre and television films as well as television series, but documentaries will be done separately:

101 Dalmatians (animated 1961) (live action (1996)**

Although these films are about dognapping, the catalyst is Cruella’s desire for a coat made from the puppy skins. Both versions are entertaining.

After the Ball (2015)**

Cute retelling of the Cinderella story set in Montreal’s dwindling fashion industry. There are some funny lines and scenes and some great characters but the production suffers from poor directing/editing that bring it down.

Beau Brummell: This Charming Man (2006)*

Mediocre quality television movie about the biggest dandy of all time.

Beauty Shop (2005)**

Gossip and make-up are the setting for this comedy.

The Big Tease (1999)**

Comedy about a BIG hair competition done like a documentary.

Blow Dry (2001)**

A more serious version of the Big Tease about the world of competitive hair dressing.

Blow-Up (1966)***

A mod fashion photographer in London accidentally witnesses a murder. The fashion photography scenes are great.

Boss Girl – (AKA Crimes of Fashion) (2004)

…a comedy about an aspiring fashion designer who inherits her grandfather’s mob syndicate… not sure I will see this — ever.

By Design (1981)

I saw this Canadian movie decades ago but can’t remember a thing about it other than Patty Duke was in it so I am going to have to put this into ‘unwatched’.

The Cobbler (2014)**

This didn’t do well at the box office but I thought it was funny. The story of a cobbler and his boring life until he discovers a secret about an old sewing machine in the basement that gives him a new lease on life.

Coco avant Chanel (2009)**

Glib overview of the highlights of Chanel’s early career. Full of historical errors but lovely to look at. This is the best of all the Chanel biopics.

Coco Chanel (2008)*

A  heavily edited Chanel biopic with an uninspired performance by Shirley MacLaine… give it a miss.

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009)*

Tepid tale of Chanel and a possible love affair she had with Igor Stravinsky. The best scene is a recreation of Paris’ reaction to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring ballet debut, the rest of the film is mind-numbingly boring.

Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009)

… Haven’t seen it yet even though I own the video!…

Le couturier de ces dames (the ladies’ dressmaker) (1956)

…A French version of Roberta (1935), about a man who inherits a salon and makes a go of it, while falling in love…

Cowboys & Angels (2003)**

Young roommates in London one of which is a fashion student dealing with the world of clubs and drugs. Actually a very good movie.

Cover Girl (1944)

…A girl wins a contest and becomes a celebrated cover girl model…

Cover Girl Models (1975)

…Three American models inadvertently become involved in international espionage…

Designing Woman (1957)*

Despite the premise of Lauren Bacall playing a fashion designer, there is virtually no fashion storyline or scenes in this film.

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)***

A young assistant succeeds at a high-powered fashion magazine but loses her identity along the way. Great clothes and fashion theme.

Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991)*

I almost put this into ‘okay’ but it is such an Implausible story. A mom goes out of town for the summer and leaves her children under the charge of an ancient babysitter who promptly dies. The oldest girl lies her way into a gig at a clothing manufacturer and a BIG fashion show saves the day…

The Dressmaker (2015)**

Approach this tragic comedy with caution because I didn’t love it. From a fashion perspective, the main character was supposed to have apprenticed with Vionnet and Balenciaga, but her clothes are more typical of Balmain and Fath, and in the close-up scenes it’s clear she hasn’t the faintest idea how to sew.

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)**

Fashion, murder, and psychic visions. Great Helmut Newton style fashion shoots.

Falbalas  (1945)***

Great film that takes place primarily in a Paris fashion house immediately after the occupation in 1944/45. The story isn’t that mesmerizing but the scenes in the fashion house are fascinating.

Fashion (2008)

…Bollywood fashion musical…

Fashions of 1934 (1934)**

Bette Davis in a comedy about pilfering Parisian fashion designs for knocking off American copies.

Fashion Victim (2008)

…”He’s Pretty, He’s Wanted, He’s Deadly”…

Fashion Victims (2007)

… German comedy about a young fashion designer, rivals, coming out, and family issues…

Fausto (aka A La Mode) (1993)**

French tale of a young apprentice who becomes a sensational new designer and finds love along the way

Funny Face (1957)***

An unwilling bookish girl becomes a big fashion model in Paris and falls in love with her photographer. Fashions by Givenchy.

Gia (1998)**

Better than average television movie based on the model Gia’s rise and fall.

Girlboss (2017)*

The vintage fashion business exploded in the early 21st century due to people like Sophia Amaruso, the real woman behind this fictionalized Netflix series. Unfortunately, this badly written/acted story tries to make a badass heroin out of the very unlikeable Sophia, who in reality was kicked off eBay for bid shilling, and other offences.

Glyanets (2007)

…Russian film about a girl from a coal-mining town that goes to Moscow with dreams of becoming a super model…

Head Over Heels (2001)*

5 models sharing a flat and diamond smugglers… pretty lame movie I originally saw in a drive-in double bill!

Hobson’s Choice (1954)***

Set in the 1880s, a shoemaker with a weakness for drink gets straightened out by his head strong daughter. This is a delightful black and white English comedy. The shoemaking subplot is interesting for its period information.

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)***

Three women share an upper east side New York apartment while working as models and looking for rich husbands. The fashion storyline is not prominent but there is a great fashion show scene.

I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1951)

…A ruthless fashion designer steps on everyone on her way to the top…

Identity Crisis (1989)

…a rapper finds himself possessed by the soul of a dead fashion designer – I  don’t expect I will ever see this one…

If the Shoe Fits (1990)*

Yet Another take on the Cinderella story… I barely remember seeing it, but I remember thinking it was pretty lame.

It Started in Paradise (1952)

…’All About Eve ‘ set in the world of fashion…

De jurk (the dress) (1996)

…Dutch film about the history of a dress (sort of like the red violin…) Great concept, looking forward to seeing it some day…

Kicks (2016)

…A 15-year-old gets his sneakers stolen and goes looking for them…

Kinky Boots (2005)***

A failing shoe company hires a drag queen to create a new product line to save their business.

Kurragomma 1963)

..Swedish film about a convict who assumes the identity of a professor to reveal a criminal syndicate who smuggles diamonds hidden in Parisian clothing…

Lovely to Look At (1952)**

Predictable tale borrowed from Roberta (1935) with a fabulous finale fashion show by Adrian.

Macho (2016)*

Borderline offensive Spanish comedy about a straight fashion designer who pretends to be flamboyantly gay, or is he pretending…

Made in Paris (1966)**

Ann Margaret stars in this film about a fashion buyer’s first trip to Paris, but the movie has little to do with fashion, although there are some interesting scenes.

Mahogany (1975)**

A Chicago designer tries to become internationally famous. Some great clothes, but the fashion storyline is just a vehicle for a love story.

The Man in the White Suit (1951)***

Great black and white British comedy about how the textile industry doesn’t want a new fabric developed by a chemist who discovers an indestructible, non-stainable fibre that may revolutionize the world.

Mango Souffle (2002)

…Indian film about a gay fashion designer and his friends. I did see this but can’t remember it at all, so I have to put it into the unseen category…

Mannequin (1987)*

Guy falls in love with a girl, but it turns out she’s a mannequin. Total crap film but so bad it has a certain period charm. Believe it or not, there is also a Mannequin 2 movie which I am not including because it’s about a wax mannequin in a museum not a fashion dummy.

Maytime in Mayfair (1949)**

Same storyline as Roberta and Lovely to Look at. Entertaining bit of fluff about a man who inherits a fashion salon and makes a go of it, and falls in love along the way.

Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris (1992)***

Charming tale of a char woman who saves up for years to buy a Dior couture dress.

Neptune’s Daughter (1949)**

A swimwear designer protects her sister from a cad. This is one of those classic Esther Williams films with synchronized swimming. Entertaining but not really a ‘fashion’ story.

A New Kind of Love (1963)**

A fashion designer is mistaken for a Parisian call girl. Some good scenes including a St. Catharine’s Day parade for Parisian spinster midinettes, but overall — meh.

The Pajama Game (1957)*

Fun musical with Doris Day, but don’t expect the pajama factory setting to have much importance in the storyline – it could have been set in any factory where female workers get together during breaks and sing…

Personal Shopper (2016)

…A personal shopper in Paris is in search of her twin bother…

Phantom Lady (1944)

…A woman must be found to prove a man’s innocence and the only clue is that she wore a very specific looking hat…

The Pink Jungle (1968)*

Silly comedy about a fashion shoot gone wrong that relies on sight gags of men wearing lipstick for the biggest laughs. James Garner apparently hated making this film from start to finish… I can see why

Prét-a-Porter: Ready to Wear (1994)***

Comedy about what goes on behind the scenes amongst the  journalists, editors, designers, and models at the 1994 Paris ready to wear shows.

Pretty in Pink (1986)*

Not a fashion movie, but the title alludes to a certain pink dress that has an important role in the film.

Rage (2009)*

An odd film about various characters at a New York fashion show plagued by misfortune. The entire film is done as a series of interviews by a blogger. Clever method of filming but I can’t say I enjoyed watching it much.

Ripple Effect (2007)

…Fashion designer on the verge of success undergoes personal crises…

Roberta (1935)**

The original version of many remakes about a man inheriting a fashion salon and making a go of it, while falling in love. All of them are predictable and end with a big fashion show…

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)**

A high school reunion doesn’t go as planned but results with Romy and Michele starting a fashion business

Ruthless People (1986)**

A comedy with Bette Midler about a kidnapping precipitated by a pissed off designer whose idea for the lycra miniskirt was stolen.

Saint Laurent (2014)***

The film is badly edited, not always good at introducing characters, and uses a gratuitous nude scene to unnecessarily expose the considerable asset of the lead actor. Despite this, the film is good because of the acting, art direction, cinematography, location shots, costuming, and soundtrack.

Scruples (1980)*

Painfully dated mini-series filmed in 1979 about the owner of a high-fashion store in Rodeo drive. Although the main characters are often dressed well (this is really the only reason to watch this), the story has nothing to do with the fashion industry.

Slaves of New York (1989)***

Off-beat fashions, art, and life in the Village – great Stephen Sprouse fashion show.

Tales of Manhattan (1942)**

The tale of a tailcoat as it gets passed from owner to owner, affecting each wearer in a different way.

Threads (aka Garmento) (2002)

…Expose of the other side of the fashion industry…

The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal (1979)**

A dramatised version about Triangle Shirt Mfg. Co., fire in New York in 1911 that resulted in the deaths of 146 young women who had been locked into the workroom. The event lead to changes in work safety and a rise in union labour organizing.

Underwear (aka Atelier) (2015)***

Charming Japanese TV mini-series about a young, ambitious assistant working in a couture lingerie business in Tokyo. Similar storyline to The Devil Wears Prada, except that the boss isn’t  a monster… At times, the writing is overly detailed with characters explaining the obvious, but at other times has very salient insights into how the fashion industry works.

Vogues of 1938 (1937)***

A runaway bride becomes a fashion model – the fashion show finale is spectacular.

We’ll Take Manhattan (2012)

…A look at the love affair between model Jean Shrimpton and photographer David Bailey in the 1960s…

Where the Heart Is (1990)**

Wealthy parents force their spoiled, artistic daughters to fend for themselves but then the tables turn when their parents lose their fortune. Crispin Glover plays a young fashion designer who creates a fashion finale.

Who Are You, Polly Magoo? (1966)***

A must-see parody of the Paris fashion industry

The Women (1939)***

Don’t bother with the horrible 2008 remake, the 1939 original is the only version worth seeing for its bitchy banter and fabulous all-colour fashion show.

Women Must Dress (1935)

…a woman discovers she has a talent for fashion designing after her husband runs off with another woman…

Yves Saint Laurent (2014)**

Interesting film with great original clothes from the YSL archives. The story is a bit trite and ponderous about YSL and Berge’s life together, primarily set between 1958 and 1976, and there are some inaccuracies with the history, but it’s worth watching for the clothes.

Zoolander (2001)***

Funny film about the absurdities of the modelling world. Zoolander 2 (2016)** isn’t as funny as Zoolander 1, but there are still some very sharp bits aimed at the fashion industry.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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6 Responses to The Best Fashion Films

  1. Hari says:

    Thankyou for the list! Am still scrolling through and have bookmarked for future viewing. So many I haven’t seen! But I did just want to say you MUST see The Dressmaker! It’s an Australian film with a typical dark Aussie humour no Tarantino bloodshed I promise and the fashions are divine! Better yet read the book by Rosalie Ham as well, the film obviously couldn’t fill out the characters and nuances as much or it would have been too long. But Oh My God the clothes!

  2. Racquel says:

    I second Hari – The Dressmaker is fabulous!

  3. The Lodger by Alfred Hitchcock has a heroine who works as a fashion model and there’s a fashion show scene, and also an amusing sight gag (well, it IS a silent film) where one of the other models uses hair pieces to hide her golden hair from the mass murderer. Not really a fashion film though…. but an interesting early glimpse of a 1920s fashion show seen through the lens of British cinema.

    • Jonathan says:

      I have been gathering info about silent films with fashion scenes or themes – there is another one with Clara Bow where a little black dress plays a significant role in the plot… Thanks for the tip!

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