There are many factors that make a movie iconic – the actors used, the skill of the director, the plot, the cinematography. But it’s undeniable that fashion plays a significant role, and has done ever since the silent movie era. It not only transforms a film, but inspires the designs used in future movies, and can shape the way we all dress in the years following, whether it’s the style of a hat, a man’s suit or a woman’s skirt, it can often define a time.
An integral part of movies
The clothes worn by actors and actresses are far more than accessories to the movie. They’ll often tell their own story about who the person is, where they’ve come from, and who they’re trying to be.
A classic example is the sunglasses worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. These had large square frames which perfectly conveyed her role as the eccentric socialite.
More recently, the LA Fashion Festival pretty much proves the point that fashion is vital to the movie industry. And fashion films, such as Coco Before Chanel (2009), are surging in both popularity and quantity.
Setting the trends
Very often, a brilliantly-designed costume – or simply an idea – can send waves of inspiration through wider society, making it a look that helps define a generation.
This dates back to the 1920s when actress Pola Negri would dye shoes to match her costume – a behaviour copied by women worldwide.
Parents in the 1930s would dress their girls like child actress Shirley Temple, and style their hair with her trademark ringed curls.
The likes of Greta Garbo made it fashionable for women to wear trousers, and when Clark Gable’s character in the 1934 picture It Happened One Night was revealed to be without an undershirt (unusual for the time), sales of undershirts in the US dropped by a whopping 75 per cent.
Ever since Breakfast at Tiffany’s, women have followed Hepburn’s lead, not only with the sunglasses, but also with the petite black dress that she wore. And the trend of people imitating what they see in the movies has continued to be hugely popular to this day.
People will always idolise their heroes, and nowhere has been better at producing heroes than the movie industry.
While the look given to a particular actor or actress will be about the character they’re portraying and the story they’re telling, there’s little doubt that style and the wider impact is also considered, hence movie makers employing the great designers of their day.
And the public’s desire to see their favourite stars in glamorous costumes means there’s no doubt that fashion plays an essential part in the popularity of cinema.