Fashion in Film

Is it possible to separate characters in films from their wardrobes? Here Cherwell takes you through films with an emphasis on style, investigating the metaphorical significance of what characters wear can have, and the general portrayal of style in the film industry.

With wealth and luxury being the chief themes of The Great Gatsby, the costumes add a visible dimension to the divide between old and new money. Daisy Buchanan’s 20s style, with her cropped hairstyle, extravagant jewellery and gowns, makes patent her wealth and capacity to express her love of beautiful things. There are references to Gatsby’s ostentatious pink suits as signs that he tries hard to impress through his money. As Gatsby showers Daisy with his many shirts, it is a colourful reminder of the efforts to which he has gone to fit in and display his riches. Mrs Wilson’s gaudy costumes show a less tasteful style, mirroring what we learn of her lifestyle. The red fishnet tights and figure-hugging dresses of Buchanan’s mistress compared with his wife’s pale silks form a visual reflection of the contrast between their personalities.

In 27 Dresses the main character’s unfeasibly large collection of bridesmaids’ dresses is a metaphor for her emotional baggage. Whilst the images of her trying on all the dresses and reliving the weddings are undeniably funny, we are still reminded by the physical presence of vast amounts of silk ruffles that she has an emotional problem with moving on.

Pretty In Pink’s main character Andie Walsh’s self-expression is usually centred on her choice of outfit, and she has no fear about breaking free of the style which clamps her fellow classmates into a world of pale sweaters and big, flowing hair. She is a perfect visual contrast to her peers, and this juxtaposition mirrors her personality; the references people make when criticising her outfits for being cheap or wacky are in fact barbed insults about her family background. Andie is unperturbed, and the final scenes of her stunning homemade prom dress are a symbol of liberation.

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Other films have fashion embedded in their plots. The Devil Wears Prada gives Vogue-addicted style stalkers the opportunity to indulge their passions in a sea of designer clothing. The shots of the heroine travelling to work in about twenty different outfits gives condensed inspiration to a fashion junkie, but in all the film is centred around what is appropriate and acceptable to wear. A different film exploring the boundaries of fashion is Mean Girls, where Regina George’s imposed laws – such as only being allowed to wear pink on Wednesday or a ponytail once a week – are a more light-hearted version, poking fun at rigid style diktats.

Screen style is nothing new. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg isa French film from the 1960s with Catherine Deneuve starring as Genevieve, a young girl who somehow, working as an assistant in her mother’s umbrella shop, can afford the most exquisite garments. Think pale pinks and blues, pretty shift dresses and simple yet chic hairstyles, and a beautiful beige mac which she wears with youthful insouciance as she flits around the streets of Cherbourg. The detailed paid to her fashion, along with her mother’s wardrobe, gives a finesse to the look of the film. Designed to look good, Les Parapluies demanded the most stunning array of clothes in order to achieve its goal of beauty, and costume designer Jacqueline Moreau, who worked on many films, operas and plays, crafted a simply wonderful wardrobe.

As visual media firmly connected with the zeitgeist, both following and leading trends, it is unsurprising that fashion and film are closely linked. Wardrobe choices can define characters just as much as any other aspect of production, and indeed fashion can be the greatest sphere of influence for a film, as the many blogs promising to help visitors achieve Daisy Buchanan’s style, for example, make obvious.