“Is this the Lisa Fremont who never wears the same dress twice?”
“Only because it’s expected of her.”
Fashion and film are factories of dreams — fashion in film is the ultimate fantasy. From the runway to the streets, from cinephiles to couture devotees , there’s no doubt that style on the silver screen has captured the imagination of thousands. So with not a little nostalgia for the look of Hollywood’s golden age, here’s a list of the six greatest classic films with iconic and memorable fashion. It’s a lead-in to old era movies that’s by no means complete, but still offers just a glimpse into a seemingly untouchable dream world.
Shanghai Express, 1932
Marlene Dietrich is a magnetic presence as femme fatale Shanghai Lily in this elaborate drama acclaimed for its black glamour. Following the story of two women aboard a hijacked train, the film may seem outdated and confusing at times — but it’s unmissable, if only for its stunning chiaroscuro cinematography and costumes. Black velvet swathed in feathers, half-veils, draped crystal beads, and embroidered kimonos make for a visual masterwork that can’t be touched.
The Big Sleep, 1946
Film noir at its finest, this hard-bitten, dark-hearted thriller doesn’t disappoint in its skein of desire and crime, to say the least. Old Hollywood icons Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall surpass themselves in chemistry, caustic wit, and to die for wardrobes, big-city style. With Bacall’s boyish houndstooth suit, padded shoulders, and dirty-blonde curls complemented flawlessly by Bogart’s smart black-tie, it’s no wonder it’s been hailed as one of the best movies of its decade and a must-watch for film buffs and fashionistas alike.
Roman Holiday, 1953
Light and careless circle skirts, cotton blouses, and chic silk scarves complete Audrey Hepburn’s escapade outfit, worlds away from her life and dress as pent-up Princess Ann. Rome is for romantics, and when the rebellious royal runs away to explore the city on her own, she stumbles into the arms of a charming American expat, played by Gregory Peck. It’s the perfect late summer love story, a romantic comedy for any age, and a vintage fashion feast.
Rear Window, 1954
It had to be murder. When a wheelchair-bound photographer begins spying on his neighbors to pass the time, he doesn’t expect to witness a sinister crime— but this is Hitchcock. One of the famed director’s best films, the slow-burn mystery thriller has been hailed as both a haunting study in suspense and a visually perfect masterpiece. Just watch for screen siren Grace Kelly’s spellbinding performance as James Stewart’s icy socialite girlfriend. Every piece of clothing is symbolic — from pleated silk organza dress to chiffon shoulder straps, eau de nil suit to white pearls — and utterly unforgettable.
Parisienne dress, a fairytale romance, and La Vie en Rose— Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina Fair is the stuff of dreams. She’s the chauffeur’s daughter, magically transformed from shy ingénue to society swan, and the forbidden love of two vying aristocratic sons. She has a wardrobe designed by Givenchy, complete with a black satin cocktail dress, off-the-shoulders white organdy gown, and pleated chiffon turban hat. And she never, never ceases to look at the world through rose-colored glasses. As she famously declares, in one of the film’s most exquisite scenes, “The moon is reaching for me.”
French New Wave cinema was defined by its infectious spirit of youth, and nowhere is that clearer than in this neo-noir love story. Set in the streets of Paris, the classic film depicts the doomed affair of a young criminal on the run and his unwitting girlfriend, played by gamine Jean Seberg. It’s worth watching for the drama alone, but art-lovers will be drawn to its bold design and beatnik style. Seberg’s understated look — pixie cut and black eyeliner paired with sailor stripes, cigarette pants, and Trilby hat — is effortlessly and enviably chic.
Honorable Mentions: La Dolce Vita, 1960; The Seven Year Itch, 1955; Funny Face, 1957;Morocco, 1930; and more!
This article originally appeared in the August/September, 2015 issue of UNIT-E. It was written by Chelsea Liu, a student at the International School of Beijing.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.