Film and Fashion: Top 10 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s Fashion Films

(Originally blogged August 16 – 24, 2010)

When I watch films for period costuming I am usually interested in how the costumer recreates the past, however, a great way to learn about the past is by watching films set in the present. In the 1970s there were a lot of science fiction flicks, gory horror films, gritty cop movies and realistic dramas that aimed at realism, and high fashion was just not a big part of those genres. However, I still managed to find ten films I think best captured 1970s style:

10 – Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)

You probably think I am crazy for suggesting this, but the highlight of this film is when Zira gets a makeover, exchanging her loden green wool and leather Courreges-look tunic for Adele Simpson-like pastel floral caftans – it’s a look…

9 – High Anxiety (1977)

This Mel Brooks Comedy is a send-up of Hitchcock movies and fashion branding. Madeleine Kahn plays the leading lady who is so fashion conscious that she wears Louis Vuitton from head to toe and even rides in a Vuitton insignia emblazoned Cadillac.

8 – Klute (1971)

Jane Fonda was a fashion muse in the 1960s, even appearing on the cover of Vogue. She plays a prostitute in this 1971 comeback film but a chic prostitute with a shag hairdo, maxi coats, and fringed shoulder bag!

7 – What’s Up Doc (1972)

Barbra Striesand shone in her sexy sweater tops and feminine-styled pant suits in this film. Madeleine Kahn also appears in this movie as the repressed Eunice Burns whose forced exit from a ballroom with heels dragging across the waxed floor is comic genius.

6 – The Stepford Wives (1975)

It’s hard to ignore the original version of this film because of when it was made – at the height of the women’s liberation movement. Some women may have burned their bras at the time but frilly aprons and picture hats were still in fashion too…

5 – Mahogany (1975)

Diana Ross plays the part of a struggling fashion designer determined to succeed. The most interesting tidbit about this film is that the clothes are of Diana Ross’ design (and not terribly successful.) Let’s face it; if Diana Ross had been born thirty years later she would have her own label right now alongside every other singer/actress.

4 – Foxy Brown (1974)

Black culture was no longer marginalized in the 1970s; Dashikis, hoop earrings, ebonics, and Pam Grier’s afro were fashionably fierce in 1974; So much so that Barbra Striesand gave an afro a try in a Star is Born two years later (but we all make mistakes.)

3 – Saturday Night Fever (1977)

You knew this film had to be here. There were other ‘Disco’ movies in the late 1970s (Car Wash, Thank God It’s Friday) but Saturday Night Fever best captured mainstream fashions for the poly crowd. One of the white suits (there were two) sold at auction years later for $145,000!

2 – Annie Hall (1977)

Diane Keaton’s man-drag look is a part of her signature style and Annie Hall is where she honed the look with oversized vests and loosely knotted ties. By the way, those clothes in the movie were from her personal wardrobe not the costumer’s rack.

1 – Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

You have to give kudos to this thriller because it is set in the fashion industry. Other than the Helmut Newton style photo shoots, if you want to see quintessential late 70s high fashion this is the best film to see.

Picking 80s films that feature great 80s fashions turned out to be more challenging than anticipated. There was a definite increase in period flicks in the 1980s (fodder for another post on another day) and, like the 70s, many genres downplayed anything too fashion conscious, probably because it would date the movie and distract from the storyline. However, some genres had plenty of trendy styles to pick from. Here are my top ten picks for 80s fashion in 80s films:

10 – Earth Girls are Easy (1988)

Even though the California beach blond-styling was a little young for Gina Davis and a titch past its best before date when the film was finally released in the summer of 1989 (production had begun in 1986), the musical numbers spoofing makeovers and blonds by Julie Brown are worth the price of admission.

9 – Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

This film was great for showcasing Madonna’s girly-punk look and was one of the few films of the decade that included a character dressed in counter culture street-wear or club fashions.

8 – Slaves of New York (1989)

Stephen Sprouse designed the clothes for this film’s fashion show by ‘Wilfredo’. The avant-garde styles featured a green faux fur coat with a tail that wannabe milliner Bernadette Peters dragged around Manhattan throughout most of the film. For more green faux fur fun check out the over-the-top mall fashion show in True Stories (1986.)

7 – We have a tie! Xanadu and Can’t Stop the Music (both 1980)

These box office flop musicals came out within a few months of each other and were often shown together as a double feature. However, both captured some of the best trends of 1980; in Xanadu the finale has dancers dressed in everything from urban cowboy to New Wave and in Can’t Stop the Music there are numbers where the back-up dancers look more like Disco fashion models.

6 – Flashdance (1983)

Nobody was going to this movie until word got out about the great dancing scenes. Jennifer Beals and her dancing double inspired fans to wear leg warmers and leotards as fashion items and cut off the collar and sleeves of sweat shirts.

5 – Pretty in Pink (1986)

There were a lot of teen angst films to pick from (Risky Business (1983), Heathers (1989)…) but Pretty in Pink seemed the best choice for fashion because it’s about a girl with a talent for sewing, a unique sense of style, and a passion for vintage. Unfortunately, the pink dress (which inspired the movie’s title) was the ugliest frock ever made! Leading lady Molly Ringwald said in an interview years later that she kept all the clothes she wore in that film BUT the pink dress.

4 – The Secret of My Succe$s (1987)

Of all the films with high fashion content (Overboard (1987), Troop Beverly Hills (1989)…), there was just something about Aunt Vera’s outfits in The Secret of My Success that showcased the chicest designer clothing of the period.

3 – Working Girl (1988)

There were a lot of films about women in the workplace (Nine to Five (1980), Baby Boom (1987)…) but Working Girl captured the fashions better than anyone else. From big hair and power suits to a six thousand dollar dress that was ‘not even leather!’

2 – The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

You either love or hate this art film, but you can’t deny it’s stylish. The costuming was done by leading fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier; he would go on to costume other films, including 1997’s The Fifth Element.

1 – American Gigolo 1980

Film fashion usually focuses on women’s clothing but it’s hard to ignore American Gigolo for its stylish men’s attire. This film made Richard Gere and Giorgio Armani famous, and it defined men’s fashion for the balance of the decade.

While looking for the best examples of 1990s fashion in 1990s films I was surprised to find I ended up with most of my choices coming from the middle of the decade. I looked again but I just couldn’t find any from the beginning or end of the decade worthy of displacing my top ten choices:

10 – Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

There were a lot of contenders for 10th place but Four Weddings and a Funeral won out for its use of really big hats!

9 – Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)

After the angst of a high school reunion, Romy and Michelle redirect their lives and find a passion for fashion when they create their own line of clothing – unfortunately it’s marabou-trimmed metallic pastel baby doll dresses…

8 – Basic Instinct (1992)

Okay, so this film is better known for its lack of costuming – the point is only psychopaths don’t wear knickers!

7 – True Lies (1994)

The reason this film made the list is Jamie Lee Curtis’ self-directed makeover in a hotel hallway. With a few tugs and tears, she transforms herself from a mom in a ruffled dress into a ‘Palmerette’ in a sleek LBD.

6 – Tank Girl (1995)

The costumer of this sci-fi film (based upon a graphic novel) rather brilliantly created Mad Max styling using off-the-rack clothes from the local mall.

5 – Pretty Woman (1990)

Apart from Vivian’s ”You made a HUGE mistake” shopping scene, the thigh high boots worn by her at the beginning of this film inspired the shoe industry to infuse a bit of hooker chic into future collections.

4 – Unzipped (1995)

Isacc Mizrahi’s tribulations while creating his fall 1994 collection are shown in black and white in this film. Although this is a documentary, it is also highly entertaining.

3 – Party Girl (1995)

Parker Posey plays a directionless young woman who excels at partying and wearing fabulous clothes (even if she has to steal them.) The costuming in this comedy realistically captures the edgy New York trends of the day.

2 – Clueless (1995)

This updated version of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ captures a variety of leading trends of the mid 90s from retro chic to skater grunge.

1 – Prêt-à-Porter: Ready to Wear (1994)

This satire of the fashion industry by Robert Altman includes an impressive company of actors playing eccentric fashion editors, reporters, and designers who all interact with each other amidst the chaos of the spring 1994 prêt-à-porter fashion shows in Paris. Karl Lagerfeld blocked the release of this film in Germany because of a line in the movie uttered by Forest Whitaker’s character that accuses Lagerfeld of plagiarizing his designs! Way to go Karl – what a sense of humour you have!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.