Why do we love film? Obviously, that’s a big question – huge – and certainly too big to tackle here. But let me try: in so many words, we love film because we love any reminder of what it means to live the human experience. And a lot goes into a film to earn our trust on that. Whether or not the plot is plausible in any way, we crave that feeling of knowing we’re in good hands – that something about what we’re seeing is authentic and genuine. Sets, locations, props, lighting – they all contribute to our ability to imagine ourselves within the context of that movie. But arguably the most important, at least to me, is fashion.
Now, why do we love fashion? Still a tough, slippery question to try to answer. But I believe we love it because it’s the best, most direct way of telling the world who we are. Life choices, social standing, our level of creativity, our goals in life, our human experiences thus far and the way we see the world, the way we hope for the extraordinary. You can’t possibly tell a person all of these things in your first conversation with them. You can, however, wear clothes that show them all.
As a film audience, we automatically get a sense of a character from the clothes on her back. (For the sake of space, I’m being sexist and dealing with women’s wear; the same can be said for men too, though.) Once fashion becomes important to you, it becomes a part of the way you see the world. And once a character from a film becomes a style icon, history has shown that culture will never be the same.
It may not say great things for the fashion industry’s ability to push forth in fresh directions, but it is a comforting fact to know that, every season, I will open a fashion magazine and see many of the same film icons referenced as inspiration. The people that, without fail, continue to be the source of inspiration for trendy new runway shows. The pieces that say something, that suit certain classic personalities. The effortless looks that are the cleanest ways to tell the world who we are.
Katharine Hepburn, Sylvia Scarlett (1935) / You are: A spunky, determined, perhaps career-driven woman who likes men…but sure doesn’t need them.
Four days out of seven, I wear pants. (That’s an actual statistic.) I wonder if that would be true without Katharine Hepburn. Sylvia Scarlett may not be the most popular of her films (or quite frankly, the best), but pants appearing on screen – on the legs of a woman – would change fashion, film, and the American woman forever. But she did more than simply wear pants: somehow, Katharine had the magic to turn wide-legged, high-waisted trousers into the boldest statement of female independence. We take for granted the jeans and slacks hanging in our closets. Without her undeniable sense of self, I wonder how long it would’ve taken for them to reach us.
Jean Seberg, Breathless (1959) / You are: A tomboy or a Francophile. Or both.
Somehow, I made it through 19 years without ever having seen this Godard masterpiece. Luckily, the rest of the world was not so slow: at least twice a year, I open an issue of Vogue, Elle or Vanity Fair only to see a black and white photograph of Jean’s sweet-yet-sly smirk surrounded by cut-outs of fedora hats, striped boat-neck shirts, skinny black pants and little cinch purses to help readers “get the look.” Breathless put a charming, doe-eyed American on the map as a model for Parisian style – and we have looked to her to mimic it ever since.
Brigitte Bardot, And God Created Woman (1956) / You are: A feminine, vivacious woman who may or may not be used to men falling at her feet.
Pouty lips, check. Wavy hair, check. Hourglass shape, check plus. Whether she appeared on screen in underwear, sheer shirt dresses or... well, nothing at all, Brigitte set a new standard for what it means to be a sexy woman. In life and film, she dressed her bombshell personality with cinched waists, corseted bodices, full skirts and dark liquid eyeliner. Brigitte Bardot opened a door for women, showing that a sexualized image could actually be empowering – not demeaning. This was an idea that would endure not only through the next decade, but as a timeless template for seductive style.
Uma Therman, Pulp Fiction (1994) / You are: Mysterious and tough as nails, period.
Yes, I’m going there. Fashion might not have been the first thing on your mind while watching Quentin Tarantino’s crowning achievement, but women left the theatres ready to bring touches of Mia Wallace into their everyday. Think black: midnight nail polish, inky blunt bobs, and sharp dark stilettos exploded with Pulp Fiction. More importantly, women tend to look to these accessories for the quickest way to an edgy, darker style even today. We’ll pass on the needle through the heart, though – no need to be that edgy.
I know I’m committing a blogging crime by leaving another pretty Hepburn off this list (the little black dress is incredibly iconic and one of my favorite films of all time, Funny Face, is so fabulously rooted in fashion that I felt I couldn’t do them justice), but the truth is that there are still so many more. The newbies – Zooey Deschanel, Anne Hathaway, Sienna Miller, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kirsten Dunst. The classics – Lauren Bacall, Catherine Deneuve, Grace Kelly, Greta Garbo, Diane Keaton. They are archetypes of the facets of female style that don’t grow stale: the girly girl, the sophisticate, the tomboy, the low-maintenance, the eclectic. It’s no secret that women are complex, if not slightly confusing, creatures…but these style icons complete us. I venture to say that is why their faces smile up at us from glossy pages on a regular basis. And with these staples already in our closets, we’ll walk confident, knowing we’re already one timeless step ahead.