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Seven Decades of Rendezvous Between Fashion and Film

From the runways of Paris and the influential advertising of fashion business to the red carpets and silver screens of Hollywood, fashion and movies have always co-starred in their very own rags-to-riches plot of style. Fashion and film connoisseurs are aware of the intimate bond that has existed between both industries throughout the past decades. Tough maybe an arbitrary choice, in this article, I will refer to some of the most representative fashion trends of each era. Going here from the 1920's to the 1980's, some of these were inspired by iconic movies of their time, while others were cultivated thanks to their big screen exposure.

1920's: The Jazz Age woman was introduced to world in the silent comedy The Flapper (1920). Emphasizing the era's youth careless lifestyle and air of frivolity, the film originated a new breed of girls who had removed the corset from female fashion and wore short skirts, heavy makeup and bob hair cuts. People were flocking to the movies to see stars closely identified with the style, like Clara Bow in It (1927) and Joan Crawford, who danced the Charleston in Our Dancing Daughters (1928).
As for men, they would emulate Rudolph Valentino's shiny, slicked hair and meticulous male grooming in The Sheik (1921).

Our Dancing Daughters, 1928

1930's: Depression-weary audiences went in record numbers to the movies, avid for some much-needed glamourous escapism, where leading ladies, such as Marlene Dietrich and Bette Davis remained relentlessly stylish. Movies represented a world of opulence that most could only dream of, and the costumes worn had as much pulling power as the stars themselves. Hollywood was then the ultimate showcase for a designer's work. The broad-shouldered suits in which costume designer Gilbert Adrian dressed Joan Crawford became very fashionable, and her puff-sleeved dress in 1933's Letty Lynton sent female audiences rushing to their sawing machines to produce their own versions of the look. Adrian, who created the signature look of stars as Jean Harlow, brought to the silver screen high-fashion styles -e.g., French designer Madeleine Vionnet's sensual, bias-cut satin gowns- that dominated American fashion during the 30's. In 1939, his fantasy lingerie and dramatic evening gowns got the star treatment in The Women. Starring Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer and Rosalind Russell, the otherwsie black & white film had a fashion-show segment in color. But the glamorous fashions on the big screen did not reflect the wardrobe of mainstream America, as unemployment reached 25 %.
Diametrically opposite was Katharine Hepburn, the best-known actress to introduce trousers into the mainstream. Wearing men's trousers since her debut film role A Bill of Divorcement (1932), she broke down the female dress code; women who admired her non-conformist style -on and off set- started wearing pants. Her androgynous, modern fashion sense was a breathe of fresh air in a generation where cleavage, curves and pouts were everywhere.

Letty Lynton, 1933

1940's: After the war, eveningwear took a more delicate and feminine feel. Romantic satin gowns that showed a much tinier waist, flounces and low-cut necklines with puff sleeves were influenced by the Southern belle, glamorized in films like Oscar-winning Gone with the Wind (1939), whose costumes made their way into fashions. John P.John, under his millinery label John-Frederics, created Vivien Leigh's bonnets, trimmed in ribbons, feathers and lace veils, providing inspiration for hat and hair trends for most of the 40's, including rolled hairstyle and snoods.
Meanwhile, in the heyday of Hollywood, men were encouraged by movies and allusive advertisements to don de rigueur fedora, as Humprey Bogart in Casablanca (1942), and follow the looks of other trendsetter stars, as Clark Gable and Errol Flynn with their pencil-thin mustaches and smart suits.

Gone with the Wind, 1939

1950's: The decade brought about the flair of new movies idols. Elizabeth Taylor's white, strapless, cinch-waist gown in 1951's A Place in the Sun became one of the most imitated prom dresses of the period. James Dean (Rebel Without A Cause, 1955) and Marlon Brando (The Wild One, 1953) became heroes of youthful rebellion, but nothing could rival the impact of Elvis Presley's rock'n'roll (Heartbreak Hotel, 1956) on the youth culture. With the matinee heartthrobes, arrived an American teenage look of straight black jeans and leather jackets for boys, and poodle skirts, bobby socks, saddle shoes and tight sweaters for girls. In those days, Brigitte Bardot's appearance in And God Created Woman (1956) popularized bikini.
Still one of the most memorable wardrobe looks was showed in 1957's Funny Face, where the Audrey Hepburn-Hubert de Givenchy tandem set a great example of their mythical fashion chemistry with many of the French couturier's outfits the actress character's wore; they exuded a timeless yet modern elegance that influenced the style of those in search of the ladylike look.

Funny Face, 1957

1960's: In 1961, Audrey Hepburn shone again as adorably sophisticated Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's, whose glamorous Givenchy little black dress inspired the cocktail-party uniform for generations. The straight empire-line shift dress, cut to the knee, with narrow shoulders and a high boat neckline was given classical status when she wore it with pearls and big black sunglasses.
Ursula Andress, in her white bikini, and Sean Connery, in his slim suits, also contributed to settle the stylish tone in Dr.No (1962), the first James Bond film.
An interesting case was Dr.Zhivago (1965), a film that triggered a Russian fashion trend, as women donned maxi coats over miniskirts, fur hats and military boots, which moved seamlessly into Renaissance and Gypsy trends.

Dr. Zhivago, 1965

1970's: No movie evokes the decade quite like 1977's Saturday Night Fever, which had a deep impact on fashion. For men, the emblematic look of the 70's was the white pantsuit, unforgettably worn by John Travolta in the film. Even classic American denim brand Lee got into the craze with its own version in white double knit. In the women side, even Barbie dolls were attired in slinky dance dresses or hot pants made of shiny metallic and glittery materials such as sequins, Lurex and gold lamé. Disco fashion was as flashy as the mirrored ball that spun above the dancers.
At the same time, two films defined the nostalgic and romantic trends in US fashions that would begin to predominate on and off the screen in the 70's: The Great Gatsby (1974) and Annie Hall (1977), for both of which Ralph Lauren was the costume designer. He demonstrated his ability to fabricate a pervasive image and evoke a lifestyle with the class aspirations encapsulated by The Great Gatsby and the feminist aspirations incarnated by Diane Keaton's androgynous look in Annie Hall. The first one was about preppy slacks, polo shirts and sweaters reminiscent of Princeton in the 20's, and the latter initiated a rage of women clad in men's shirts, ties, vests and trousers, accessorized with cinched-in belts and hats, as the title character of Woody Allen's film.

Annie Hall, 1977

1980's: Though a less than memorable film, American Gigolo (1980) took the credit for sparking a return to smart menswear following the riotous 60's and 70's. And after Richard Gere contemplated his huge Armani wardrobe in the famous opening scene of the film, the Italian designer was catapulted to fame through his relaxed and polished suits.
However, Flashdance (1983) was the epitome 80's style, with the leg warmers and ripped, off-the-shoulder sweatshirts Jennifer Beals' main character wore. The dance and activewear furor had begun with 1980's Fame, but reached its zenith with the blockbuster romantic musical, which soon after being released, had women all over the country slashing their sweatshirts and baring shoulders. Then, another youth-oriented fashion trend was promoted by Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), a film that put the spotlight on Madonna's vintage-chic style.
Working Girl (1988), on the other hand, echoed the feelings of women who sought to break through the glass ceiling of banking and industry, and the image of the modern career woman developed. The distinctive outfit presented by Melanie Griffith was the tailleur, a fitted tailored jacket worn over a knee-lenght skirt that ruled the mid-80's trend for tailoring.
American Gigolo, 1980

For the aforementioned cases, we can appreciate to what extent film stars and costumes had become a showpiece for America's eclectic and evolving taste in fashion. Then, as now, it was not strange for certain films and stars to pionner a fashion trend. But, it could also happen that films served to set the stage for some of the most ubiquitous clothing items of the era to root. Sometimes, fashion borrowed from cinema, often the exchange was reversed. Whatever way the influence came, film and fashion seem to have joined hands over the past century most symbolic decades, maybe to help to consolidate a distinct look of each period.

María José Perez de Arenaza