Once in a while a movie comes along that captures, or creates, the fashion of an era. And we remember these films as much for their wardrobe as for their characters or storylines.
Here then are some great movies that started fashion trends and captured the spirit of the times with just the right stitch, fabric and cuts.
Flaming Youth (1923)
Everyone followed the trend to bobbed hair, especially after Colleen Moore created the look of the archetypal flapper in this movie about disgruntled gals looking for fulfillment in the Jazz Age.
Sultry 20s sex symbol Clara Bow was the flapper to end all flappers. Not only did she have the bobbed hair and start the beaded-dress look, she carried herself with a certain insouciant sensuality that defined the time. As the plucky, flirty star of Mantrap, Bow thrilled the masses.
Sometimes, it’s not what you wear, but how you wear it. Greta Garbo dons a Gilbert Adrian hat tilted down over one eye in this film which set a fashion trend for the rest of the decade. And we dare say the film’s theme—Garbo garnering the attention of a young priest—is also daring for its time.
Marlene Dietrich conceals her famous gams in what up until that time was the fashion bastion of men only: slacks. Soon, this fashion trend was imitated by the women of America everywhere.
Letty Lynton (1932)
A prime example of the synergy between fashion and movies is another Adrian creation for Joan Crawford, the Letty Lynton dress, shown in the 1932 film of the same name. This creation was copied and sold to the public, proving so popular that Macy’s of New York alone sold more than 500,000 pieces.
Today We Live (1933)
For this WWI-set romance, costume designer Adrian created the padded-shoulder look for Joan Crawford and thereby started the trend for tailored suits that sloped upwards from the neck. Crawford herself was so fond of the style that she went on wearing padded shoulders long after they had gone out of fashion.
It Happened One Night (1934)
This early screwball romantic comedy about opposites attracting captured the big five Academy Awards® and sent undershirt sales plummeting when Clark Gable shed his button-up to reveal bare chest. Aside from setting a trend for what not to wear, Gable, playing a gruff, drunkard reporter, generated laughs verbally jousting with Claudette Colbert, playing a spoiled heiress.
Jungle Princess (1936)
When Dorothy Lamour, playing a female Tarzan of sorts, wore the first of her many celebrated sarongs in this movie, it generated a huge demand for tropical fabrics that lasted more than a decade.
The Wild One (1954)
Teen angst never looked as good as when Marlon Brando donned leather jacket and straddled his Triumph in The Wild One. While some argue that this biker movie is little more than a shrewdly marketed teen-vs.-the system cliché, nothing takes away from the fact that The Wild One popularized the image of biker as outlaw and made teen rebellion cool.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
In her signature role, Audrey Hepburn looked dynamite in her Givenchy frocks, large shades and blond-streaked hair-all of which became the craze after the film’s release. As Holly Golightly, Hepburn transcended the prostitute-with-a-golden-heart cliché, and she managed to appear both regal yet down-to-earth in everything from designer gowns to a bath towel.
Designer Hubert de Givenchy lavishly dressed his “muse”, Audrey Hepburn, in this romantic caper set in Paris. Opposite the dashing Cary Grant, Hepburn’s star burns brilliantly in Givenchy’s dresses, petticoats and other wares. Giving off a vibe both sensual yet classy, Hepburn set herself apart from her busty bombshell contemporaries.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Playing half of America’s most notorious crime couple, Faye Dunaway started a global craze for designer Theodora Van Runkle’s berets and maxiskirts. But the movie’s influence extended beyond pushing Depression Era fashions; with its unprecedented violence and sympathy for the titular anti-heroes, Bonnie and Clyde changed American filmmaking forever.
In the Roger Vadim space fantasy, Jane Fonda matched knee-length white vinyl boots with a mini dress, and the sixties were changed forever. But aside from fashion, Fonda, playing an intergalactic traveler who really got around, personified the burgeoning sexual revolution.
The Great Gatsby (1974)
Robert Redford and Mia Farrow donned 1920s period fashions-three-piece suits and derby hats for men, and flowing sleeveless dresses and flapper haircuts for the ladies. The movie didn’t deliver on its promise at the box office, but this adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic sparked an enduring fad for vintage Twenties wear.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
John Travolta in his immaculate white suit remains one of the most iconic images in film history. The film’s poster alone, in which Travolta strikes a cocksure, finger-to-the-sky pose, says so much about Tony Manero and disco-era New York. While Tony endures his dead-end job by day, he rules the roost at night, with the dance floor as his ultimate escape.
Annie Hall (1977)
While the masses were at the disco, Woody Allen was, as usual, being neurotically in love-with the titular Annie Hall. Played by Diane Keaton, Hall’s penchant for mannish, baggy clothes-suspenders, tweed overcoats and the like-became de rigeur for the urbane ladies of the time.
To this day, nothing says “1983” like a pair of legwarmers. And in Flashdance, Jennifer Beals captured the country’s heart wearing little more than a leotard and legwarmers. Playing an exotic dancer with ballerina dreams, Beals’ performance and knockout looks made Flashdance a box-office hit and started a trend with teenage girls, who donned legwarmers for everyday use.
Ahhh, flannel. Thanks to bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana and director Cameron Crowe’s coupling-cum-grunge fest Singles, flannel became the youth fashion item in the mid 1990s. In short, looking like a lumberjack suddenly became cool, as earthy Seattle styles, and coffee (Starbucks), came to dominate the land.
The Matrix (1999)
Sleek, futuristic and with just a hint of S&M styling (think form-hugging latex), the fashions pushed by The Matrix are every bit as cutting edge as the film’s ideas, technology and special effects. So why didn’t we see more people dressed like Neo and his cyber babe Trinity? Simply put, tailored latex bodysuits ain’t cheap, and you have to have a Hollywood body to pull it off.
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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