Good style is timeless. In an age where daily web browsing, apps and newsletters will tell you what to buy, when to buy it and why you need to wear it immediately, it’s refreshing to take a deep breath, curl up with a movie and learn from the past. The marriage of style and movies spans decades and what’s somehow more remarkable is that as much as fashion changes, it always stays the same.
So put down the popcorn and start taking notes. We’ve rounded-up some of the icons who did it best; men and women in spring, summer, fall and winter must-haves to inspire your style and get pumped up for Fashion’s Night Out on September 6th.
- The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
Probably the ultimate sophisticated/dangerous/glamorous movie of all time. Directed by Norman Jewison and featuring amazing costumes by Theodora Van Runkle, the heist classic stars Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen in cat-and-mouse running around Boston, assorted coastlines, playing chess in some of the finest evening wear of all time and in general burning through the silver screen with insane chemistry.
While the nighttime high drama outfits (silk, strapless, top bunned and bespoke) is amazing – it is really the daytime, more casual outfits that shine and look thoroughly modern even now-the white pants, rumpled shirts, cashmere sweaters and really good shorts are the ultimate in is-it-his-or-hers leisure wear. Just look at the photos (and yes, the remake is pretty stylish too).
- Network (1976)
This Sidney Lumet-directed, Paddy Chayefsky-written classic is still probably one of the best media movies ever made (watch the opening scene of Sorkin’s “Newsroom” and tell me this show would even exist without Network) but it is Faye Dunaway’s power hungry Diana Christiansen that steals the style show.
Growing up, when I imagined what dressing up for work in a dream scenario would be like, I always came back to her clothes: slim camel skirts, silky body-grazing button ups, menswear cut jackets and a sea of whites, creams, sable browns and cashmere. Plus, I am pretty sure that the day after college when my Mother took me investment shopping for “a good pair of brown knee high boots, a fit-all-leather bag and a good, well tailored cream coat” to start my work wardrobe, she had Dunaway’s character in mind (hopefully I turned out a little nicer). Basics, when done well, are the best.
- Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)
By now-I am sure you see a pattern emerging: Faye Dunaway movies ARE some of the best dressed movies ever, in my mind. In this ’70s paranormal mystery written by John Carpenter (ft. also a young Tommy Lee Jones) Dunaway plays a New York City fashion photographer (a lady Helmut Newton of sorts, famous for edgy, aggressive, overly sexualized fashion editorials to boot) who happens to be seeing through the eyes of a killer.
The plot doesn’t hold much water but Laura Mars does carouse through the streets of Manhattan in terrific skirts with high slits (for ease of manouvering with the camera), Halston-y cape coats, and the models around her run around with crimped hair, fur coats, silk undergarments and the kind of party dresses that make you want to go to Studio 54 STAT. Fashion actually worth dying for.
- American Gigolo (1980)
For a movie that is mostly about being UNDRESSED, Paul Schraeder’s glamour note to male prostitution (hey, only in the very early 80s) is also a serious forever-lesson in classic sportswear done right. It obviously helps that the clothes are being worn by the insanely good looking Richard Gere circa 1980 and the ultimate American supermodel-turned-actress Lauren Hutton.
If there was ever a pair to make button up shirts look good (his’n’hers and interchangeable) than these are the two for the job. The then unknown Giorgio Armani swathes Gere in linen slim suits, classic polos and some serious cashmere coats, and while Bernandene Mann is officially credited as the costumer for the movie, everything Hutton wears on screen looks like an Armani original (with some classic Halston thrown in).
And a true sign of a stylish movie: in what has become the movie’s most referenced/definitive scene, Gere lays his wardrobe of beautifully cut blazers, collared shirts, slim ties, skinny belts and more across the bed as he peacocks around selecting outfits from his gorgeously edited closet. It’s product placement 101 (and later referenced by every movie from Clueless to Pretty Woman): Irresistible and yet discreet enough to not throw labels in your face. A class act if there ever was one.
- Ocean’s 12 (2004)
This is a sequel that’s utterly superior to the original. I understand this is not a popular opinion; my love of Ocean’s 12 has stopped polite dinner conversation in its tracks, and even inspired hostile debate. I don’t care: Ocean’s 12 is weird, terrific fun. The reason why it’s better than Ocean’s 11 is the same reason it’s one of the most stylish movies ever made.
Director Steven Soderbergh recognizes that style is more important than suspense or the particulars of the heist. He shifts focus to his good-looking cast and the fun they have. They all look terrific and say hilarious things, so the action becomes incidental. Ocean’s 12 is the rare movie where I think the time between takes would be more fun to watch than what happens on screen.
- Marie Antoinette (2006)
It’s strange how stylish movies can be so divisive. I’ve heard complaints that Marie Antoinette is all fluff, historically inaccurate, and is a disservice to the Queen herself. Once again, all this criticism misses the point entirely. Writer/director Sofia Coppola uses modern idiosyncrasies to help us understand. Accuracy and fact are incidental.
This is accomplished through American actors and references to the 1980s. As beautifully-costumed actors dance to Siouxsie Sioux, the reaction is more immediate since the song is catchier than, say, anything classical. Marie Antoinette does not convey much in the way of information, but thanks to its stylish incongruities, we have an idea of what it was like to be there.
- Le Samourai (1967)
Ok, I realize my choices reveal that I’m a die-hard Francophile, but hear me out. Director Jean-Pierre Melville deals with existential heroes: they are defined by what they do and not what they think (they’re too taciturn for that.) A big part of what these characters do is what they wear.
Alain Delon stars as Jef, a contract killer whose mannered behavior is like an impression of an ideal that he’s trying to convey. He barely speaks, never betrays his thoughts, and wants to look fucking badass. The result is a perplexing thriller where the hero is defined by his hat more than his dialogue. This is not to say, however, that Le Samourai is superficial. The deliberate focus on style says more than any one-liner could.
- Rear Window (1954)
Sorry, gentlemen, but this one is for the ladies. Legendary Hollywood wardrobe designer Edith Head won more Academy Awards than any other woman in history, and for good reason. Grace Kelly’s adorable day dresses and perfectly designed evening wear consistently impress throughout the film, epitomizing class and timeless forever-outfits. The plot, of course, makes it easy for Kelly–who plays socialite Lisa Fremont–to steal the show as Jimmy Stewart spends the majority of the film in his pajamas.
Hitchcock’s aim was to create a character very much the cinema archetype Stylish Girlfriend From Another Social Realm; he succeeded in this as well as creating an iconic wardrobe that’s been talked about/lusted over for roughly 60 years. The lesson to be learned from Rear Window is that classiness never goes out of style (and a good pencil skirt suit is a must for every woman). Speaking as a fan of vintage, if I’m going for an effortlessly timeless look, I’ll frequently try to compare the cut, pattern and color of a piece to Head’s work in Hitchcock films because I know I’d never be steered wrong.
- Casino (1995)
This is a film equal parts style for men and women, from what I’d consider to be Scorsese’s most unfairly overlooked film. And while it’s really a phenomenal piece of cinema in a few respects, the wardrobe is absolutely stellar, be it in ’73 or ’83. Before I let Sharon Stone dazzle you in a fit of sequins, I’d like to take note of the colorblocking of De Niro’s wardrobe (seen in salmon, yellow, blue, and green throughout the course of the film). Playing a gambling handicapper who runs one of the largest casinos in Las Vegas, De Niro–Sam Rothstein–looks sharp; he’s always on his A-Game, even if it means wandering his home in a pink silk bathrobe. Let’s all just take a moment to appreciate this gorgeous ensemble:
Sharon Stone’s wardrobe undergoes the largest transformation in the film’s run, ending in a trashy pile of early ’80s excess where only money–and a heavy drug habit–can convince one looking so cheap is a great idea. But if we backtrack to Stone’s cardshark Ginger, the one Rothstein falls in love with at the film’s start, we’re wowed by some of the most glamorous dresses in Scorsese’s catalogue. It’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off her, which is entirely the point.
So what can we learn from Casino? If you want to make an impression, invest in a gown with some splash, get it tailored if necessary. Keep the rest relatively simple. Know you’re being watched. Work the room. (General life mantras.) And remember, ladies:
- The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Speaking of equal opportunity fashion films, let’s not forget The Royal Tenenbaums. I’ll wager everyone reading this post–and the site in general–has probably seen it backwards and forwards a dozen or so times in the last decade, so we’ll skip the summary. I’ve always felt that Wes Anderson films have a very seasonal feel to them; their plots can weave in and out of a year (or many) but the general color schemes and themes tend to remind me of very specific seasons. Tenenbaums always struck me as a fall film. The blazers (tweed for Gene Hackman, wool for Luke Wilson, corduroy for Bill Murray) remind me of the perfect time of the year for outdoor walks while the leaves are turning. Just take a look at this getup and get ready for another glorious season of leather accents, rich warm tones mixed with cool, plus outerwear and caps. Heavenly. (Though let’s be honest, this particular outfit on Hackman would look just as fetching in spring.)
And of course there’s always Margot’s fur coat–perfect for fall and winter, though her mix of classy (fur coat) with casual-child (hair barrets) and designer (Lacoste polo dresses) with that gorgeous vintage leather bag all serve as perfect inspiration to branch out across style barriers. Fall fashion icon of my heart forever:
- Inception (2010)
Let’s talk tailoring, gentlemen. One of the sharpest films in men’s fashion in the last few decades (but really the history of film) tracked six or seven male characters, plus Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard. But make no mistake–while Page and Cotillard looked, well, not on the cutting edge of fashion, the men of Inception sported some immaculately tailored suits. (My god, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s vests!) It’s actually stunning how much of a difference this can make.
The film’s wardrobe–wrought with dark tones–also manages to teach us a thing or two about accessorizing and matching far beyond the standard black/gray combinations it could have easily fallen prey to along the way. Subtle stripes and polka dots teach a lesson in fashionable restraint while the overall sleek aesthetic proves a perfect how-to for the modern man.
Richard Roundtree brought cool style and explosive action as the title character in 1971’s Shaft. He was angry, proud, and fiercely sexual, but also conveyed intelligence and street smarts to culminate in a revolutionary movie character for black men in the early 70s. He wasn’t a slave or criminal, or an agreeable presence subservient to the (white) man. He was a working class hero, dressed stylishly in a beatnik sort of way. Roundtree as the title character, even if slightly dated , with his tight turtleneck sweaters, knee-length leather jacket and straight leg pants, as a badass that basically everyone aspired to become.
Shaft rocked the color black plenty of leather. Combined with funk music and New York in the seedy early Seventies, his look an swagger that defined cool. Shafts look inspired his attitude to create an irresistible and stylish character.
- 8 1/2 (1963)
8 1/2 is one of the best movies about filmmaking that I can think of, in part because of how keen of a stylist Frederico Fellini was. He knew that not only must his backdrops and stories be interesting, but his characters should be lovely to look at too. Often himself considered to be one of the best dressed men in cinema, Fellini had an eye for putting sharp dressed men in his work. Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni oozes style here (as he does in La Dolce Vita as well) in crisp, trim black suits with white shirts and skinny black ties — all made by Brioni especially for the film. Those black wraparound sunglasses aren’t too shabby either. Some things never go out of style.
- Breathless (1960)
It’s going to be hard make this entry about something other than just Jean Seberg and her pixie haircut. Scene after scene she steals the limelight as the infectiously cute partner in crime to Jean-Peal Belmondo. Seberg’s character was a clumsy American expat is stylish but vapid, pretty, with great taste, but with little else to offer. And maybe that what’s helped keep French New Wave popular: cool, expatriate-beatnik-bougie style. What? You came for the story? Sorry, this is French New Wave.
Belmondo’s character is a callback to American film icon Humphrey Bogart. Belmondo’s character in the movie didn’t have a job, yet he still appears for much of the film in a suit and tie, because, well, that’s what Bogart would do. Actually most things that Belmondo does in the movie can be justified by “but that’s how Bogart did it.” That’s probably why his look is centered around a trademark, noir-ish fedora. Once again, the only thing he really has going for him is style. But if movies have taught us anything, it’s that’s all that ever matters is looking good.
- Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
James Dean’s red jacket, white shirt and blue jeans look so plain it’s hard to remember why that look is important at all. These three normal items of clothing worn by Dean in RWAC have gone on to become the most iconic jeans-and-T-shirt combination in movie history, and changed the way teenagers perceived what was cool. Suddenly dressing down was suddenly more favorable than dressing up.