We all have different reactions when it comes to watching classic films. Some overanalyze the meaning of the film, some get interested in its historical context, some develop a crush for and actor or an actress, some sing while watching a musical (I have a lot of difficulties not to sing while watching Hair), etc. For me, it’s a bit of all that, plus, I have a considerable interest in the world of fashion that can so beautifully be presented in the films of yesteryear. It could be gowns designed by the unbeatable Edith Head, by the elegant Cecil Beaton or the master of class, Adrian. All those designers gave importance to what our eyes are seeing, and I’m not only talking about the camera shots and the different angles.
But, but, but appreciating what Grace Kelly or Gene Tierney are wearing on-screen while lying on our couch and saying to ourselves “why don’t we have clothes like that anymore” is just the peak of the iceberg in our appreciation of fashion in films. Talking for myself, I can watch a film and be inspired by the style of an actress (a character) and, the following day, I’ll try to reproduce it with whatever I have at my disposition. Ok, we have to be realistic, as much as Scarlett O’Hara’s gowns are pretty, those will never be back in fashion, plus, they aren’t very practical. On the other side, have you ever watched a film and thought “hey, those clothes could easily be worn today without looking like “old clothes”? This happens to me constantly. And I’m not only talking about clothes that could be worn today in a very general way, but also about clothes that could be easily worn in everyday life (if class is what you are looking for).
When I get dressed, I sometimes have fashion moods so it can be a classy Audrey Hepburn-inspired look, a more punk-ish style (not film-inspired, more Debbie Harry-inspired), or fancy pants à la Katharine Hepburn. It depends on my feelings and on the films I have seen!
My favourite place to buy clothes in Montreals is the thrift shop Renaissance. Yeah, these are used clothes but I’ve found so many great things there. I also love the local store Belle et Rebelle, were they sell Annie 50 dresses, which are very 50’s looking. The clothes you’ll find at Belle et Rebelle are locally made and designed. So, it’s a good ecological alternative! These aren’t exactly cheap so I’ll buy a dress there no more than once a year. But, meanwhile, I can console myself with the multitude of beautiful and very cheap clothes at Renaissance where I found some of my movie-inspired ensembles.
I have previously talked about this on my blog Three Enchanting Ladies (follow it if you haven’t!) in an article about Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn as fashion icons but these two ladies might be the very first vintage stars that inspired my way of dressing.
I think this is the first dress I ever got that came from the boutique Belle et Rebelle. As you can see, it could easily remind us of that black polka-dotted dress that Audrey Hepburn wears at the beginning of Sabrina (Billy Wilder, 1954). Black is a colour that we can easily associate with Audrey Hepburn because she wore it so beautifully. It was at her advantage and elegantly highlighted her tiny waist.
Audrey Hepburn and French designer Hubert de Givenchy were well-known for their life long friendship and fashion collaborations. The first time they worked together was precisely during the making of Sabrina (Givenchy initially thought he would be working with KATHARINE Hepburn). The gowns were both designed by Edith Head and Givenchy (a newcomer) but, as much as we love Edith, it’s Givenchy’s creations that more easily defied time. The little black dress is one we’ll find lovely but I think my favourite ensemble of the whole film is that elegant black one piece. I WANT ONE! The short and shirt that Audrey wears on the boat could also be easily worn today.
Talking about black one-piece, when I wear my black cross-country skiing suit, I feel very much like reproducing the Bohemian dance from Funny Face. I relate to that type of clothes because they are classy but kept simple.
Also, the other day, I saw a guy wearing glasses that looked a lot like those Audrey wears in How to Steal a Million (William Wyler, 1966), what makes us realize that even 60s psychedelic fashion can be back in style (ok, I honestly love 60s fashion).
On her side, the beautiful Grace Kelly has worn gowns that are so beautiful that I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever have the occasion to wear something as majestic, and many of them would look great at a ball or very chic occasion but not necessarily to go buy milk at the grocery store. However, I once tried to master a look that was inspired by her green ensemble designed by Edith Head for Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954). It’s not necessarily my most favourite look from the film but I had that green tweed skirt that could be used to produce a similar look (shorter and not exactly the same green, but we use what we have), plus a white shirt and, of course, pearls! I even wore white gloves and felt very fancy when I did. Yes, there’s obviously something very vintage about this look and this made of tweed, it’s not necessarily the most “timeless” ensemble ever but it is a cool one for sure. When I wore it for the first time, it was at CEGEP. I had spent a considerable time on the clothes themselves, but also the hairdo and the makeup (that was a time where I usually didn’t wear so much makeup. Now people are confused when I’m not wearing my colourful eyeshadow. LOL). I swear the amount of compliment I received that day for that look was very uplifting. That was missing accomplished and I knew that even people that aren’t into classic films or vintage stuff can appreciate things that are out of their “comfort zone”. At the end of my cegep years, we did that little tv show which was like a gala where the two hosts gave prices and I received both the prices for best public speaker and most stylish person! Was it due to that Grace Kelly inspired ensemble? Well, I sure suspect it has helped!
When I was wearing those Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn’s inspired clothes, I was, however, not thinking of them as “clothes that can be wear in the 21st century” but simply as beautiful ensembles, without asking myself the question whether they look “modern” or “old”. I think it’s more precisely in the recent year that I became aware of how timeless some classic movie costumes can be.
Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn are easily associated to the 50s (although Audrey Hepburn also made some of her most important films in the 60s) but this is not the only decade where fashion can be timeless and inspirational at some point. Actually, from the 30s to the 80s, I have concrete examples that concern me personally.
Merrily We Live (Norman Z. McLeod, 1938) was definitely an eye-opener for that (no thanks to Billie Burke’s dresses!). Constance Bennett is initially presented to us with that lovely grey suit designed by Irene (well, I kind of assume it’s grey but being a black and white film it’s hard to say- but grey looks fine). Immediately when I saw it, I thought “Hey, this is a 1938s film and I could totally imagine someone wearing that today without looking odd.” I have, unfortunately, never found something that looked like that in any thrift shops but I’m not losing hope.
Another film that highly inspires me fashionably-speaking is Leave Her to Heaven (John M. Stahl, 1945). When I watched it for the first time and saw Gene Tierney wearing those red pants and beige turtle neck I thought, “Hey! I have red pants!” No, it’s not exactly the same cut but it’s a start. Finding a beige turtle neck in a thrift shot wasn’t too difficult as it reminds something quite basic. I would have liked to find one with short sleeves but maybe I will eventually.
At one point in the film, when she and Cornel Wilde are at the lake, she wears these large red pants with a white shirt. That’s another look I would love to develop and that I would proudly wear.
I also have those sunglasses that can remind us of those she wears in the infamous boat scene.
As I said before, I love 60s fashion. It was colourful, sharp and overall very creative. A style that I tempted to reproduce was Jean Simmons’s one in The Grass Is Greener (Stanley Donen, 1960), more precisely the one with the orange dress, which was designed by Christian Dior. One day, I was casually buying stuff at Renaissance without necessarily looking for some movie-inspired clothes when I came across that orange dress and it immediately made me think of the one Jean wears in that film. It’s shorter, but it’s pretty much the same shade of orange and seems to be made of the same material. This, of course, has to be worn with blue eye shadow! As you can see by looking at the photo of the dress, it has a very 60s style, not only for its bright colour but also its shape. My father told me that it reminded him of the suits the hostess were wearing at the Expo 67 that took place in Montreal in 1967.
But if you look at some of Jean Simmons pictures, many of styles look like they could easily be worn today. Here are a few of my favourite examples:
Another film that astonished me for its fashion was, unexpectly, Trafic (Jacques Tati, 1971). First of all, I loved it much more than I would have thought and this was not only due to the comedic genius of Tati, but also thanks to Maria, the character played by actress and model Maria Kimberly. I love the attitude of her character, the way she moves and talks with a lot of assurance and elegance, very above everything, and, of course, her sense of fashion! Actually, it’s part of the many gags of the film. She practically changes clothes in every scenes and it’s just a lot of fun. She also has a way to transform one ensemble into one completely different without having to go somewhere to change. Everything is done very rapidly almost like a magic trick.
Her costumes were designed by Jacques Esterel.
It’s with those large pants, this beige turtle neck and these jackets that I created a Trafic-inpsired look, very 70s.
As you may know, my favourite film of the 80s is Desperately Seeking Susan. Needless to say that I love Madonna’s style in it (well, it pretty much was her general early 80s style). Some years ago, my grandmother (!) gave me that top that she wasn’t wearing anymore and I couldn’t help thinking of one of the tops Madonna wears in the film. I wear it from time to time, especially when I go clubbing.
Of course, these are not the only films and actresses that inspire me fashionably-speaking but these are concrete examples and maybe not the most obvious ones so I thought it would be interesting to share them with you! I’ll be thrilled to know if you are also somewhat inspired by films when the time comes to dress in the morning. As you could have realized while reading that article, most of the time, it will never be a replica of the original ensemble, but that’s not what matters. What matters is the intention behind it.