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The Way We Wore: Fashion in the movies and on the high street

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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.

Mantrap (1926)
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.

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Romance (1930)
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.

Morocco (1930)
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.

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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.

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Charade (1963)
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.

Barbarella (1967)
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.

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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.

Flashdance (1983)
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.

Singles (1992)
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.

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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.


Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.

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