I have a weakness for films set during World War II, especially if they are about civilian life during the war. I wrote my book Forties Fashion to clarify the differences in national styles during the war, because women in London, New York, Paris, and Berlin all had very different wartime experiences and wardrobes, but those differences often aren’t apparent in films that recreate the period. Although, some films do a better job than others.
One of my favourite costume designers of 1940s films is Anna B. Sheppard. Her Polish background has given her insight into wartime continental fashion. She became so proficient at the job that she got into a bit of a rut doing 1940s films including: Band of Brothers (2001), Schindler’s List (1993), and The Pianist (2002), all of which are extremelly well done, as well as Inglorious Basterds (2009), which I didn’t see but assume the costuming is equally as good.
Another of my favourite costumers who did several films that took place in the 1940s is Shirley Russell. Her work included: Yanks (1979), Hope and Glory (1987), and Enigma (2001). Costumer Sandy Powell often takes on historically set films, including several that were set partially during the war, including Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005), and The End of the Affair (1999).
Also worthy of seeing are: Swing Shift (1984) Joe Tompkins costumer; A League of Their Own (1992) Cynthia Flint costumer (but don’t look too closely at the extras); The Land Girls (1998) Shuna Harwood costumer; Rosenstrasse (2003) Ursula Eggert costumer; Valkyrie (2008) Joanna Johnston costumer; Charlotte Grey (2001) Janty Yates costumer; Radio Days (1987), Jeffrey Kurland costumer (a bit uneven but mostly very good); Bon Voyage (2003) Catherine Terrier costumer; and Black Book (2006) Yan Tax costumer (although there are a couple of dresses and one pair of shoes I really don’t like, otherwise the costuming is well done.)
The British television series Fortunes of War (1987) and Foyle’s War (2002-2009) are both great series for their stories but not always the best when it comes to civilian costuming for the period. (Added April 15, 2013 – I just rewatched 4 of the Foyle’s War, and I have to say I was too hasty in my judgment – the costuming is very well done. There are a few small errors here and there, but the costumer did an excellent job on what must have been a shoestring budget.) However, outweighing any indiscretion by any film made in the last thirty years are the slew of war films aimed at the postwar veteran audience such as: From Here to Eternity (1953), Battle of Britain (1969), and Tora Tora Tora (1970). These films rarely even attempted period costuming and have aged badly because of their lack of attention to recreating the period. Unless you want to see them for the war campaigns, they are generally not worth watching.
Added August 22/11: Just discovered another worthy film – ‘Cristabel’ – a 1988 television movie about the true story of an English woman, married to a German lawyer, who lived in Germany for the duration. The costuming was done by Anushia Nieradzik.