Cinematary Canon #8: Wardrobe Goals
By Zach Dennis, Courtney Anderson, Michael O'Malley, Jessica Carr, Diana Rogers, Ash Baker, Lydia Creech, Andrew Swafford, and Paige Taylor.
Note: These films are not ranked by quality, but rather in chronological order.
Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday (1940)
Look, I just love hats, and Rosalind Russell’s Hildy Johnson wears one of the hattiest hat ever to hat. It’s a work of art. As with Duvall in 3 Women, this is largely aspirational; I try on plenty of hats at stores and have even visited a hat-specialty haberdashery or two (one I ran across in downtown Portland, OR, is excellent), but my hat-wearing rarely risks the world outside of retail dreaming. It’s a scary thing, wearing a hat for all to see. I have a few that I break out when I mow the law (gotta keep the sun off my neck!), but if aren’t willing to take a few fashion risks when using heavy machinery to trim grass to an arbitrary length, then why even look to the movie stars for image advice? But for the most part, I lead a hat-free life. Watching Hildy, though--just for a minute, it makes me want to be that person, the person who is confident enough to strut into a newsroom with that hat and matching coat (and gloves!) and just start owning. For what it’s worth, Cary Grant wears a very nice hat in this movie, too (one that you might recognize from popular gifs [below]), but truthfully: there are hats, there are very nice hats, and then there are hats that make you want to be a better person, hats that clarify the purpose of living, that cleanse your soul. I think we all know who wears which. - Michael O’Malley
Rock Hudson in All That Heaven Allows (1955)
At first glance, the costumes worn by Rock Hudson in All That Heaven Allows seem fairly unremarkable: clad almost always in blue denim and red plaid, he at once looks like today’s run-of-the-mill hipster as well as a textbook lumberjack: the guy on the Brawny label, basically.
It’s definitely “a look” but it’s not a “that’s a look” look, you know what I mean? It’s not so much “wardrobe goals” as it is “wardrobe reality” (at least as far as this guy’s closet is concerned), but its simplicity and accessibility is exactly what makes this costuming great.
In All That Heaven Allows, Rock Hudson is a humble, lower-middle-class dude who does landscaping for wealthy suburbanites for most of the year and sells Christmas trees during the off-season. When Jane Wyman’s character (an older and much richer widow who travels in aristocratic circles) falls in love with Hudson’s, the film becomes an elemental parable about societal norms. How dare she date a man so much younger than she is! How dare she consider marrying outside her social class! How dare he pay no mind to the decorum of the country club! How dare she move out of the family house to rough it in a cabin! All of these actions are cause for outrage because they suggest that the elite’s societal scripts and elegant ornamentation are wasteful bullshit and vanity, not worth even a passing thought to someone who can find happiness and fulfillment outside of that system (i.e. anyone).
(It is, of course, no surprise to see a scene in which Wyman’s character happens a copy of Walden and reads: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." She asks a mutual friend if this is her lover’s Bible, and hears back “I don’t think [he’s] ever read it. He just lives it.”)
Rock Hudson’s soft-cloth-laden loverboy is not only an embodiment of this anti-competitive mindset, but is also a paragon of non-toxic masculinity (yes! it exists!). A man’s man who also happens to be in touch with his own emotions, Hudson’s character is a role model for what it means to be strong-willed, strong-bodied, and gentle-hearted all at the same time. He is, in the words of fellow Cinematarian Paige Taylor, “A man who perpetually speaks like an inviting bowl of tomato soup. He also loves plants, repairs teapots, and has incredible interior design skills.” He has no desire to dominate anyone, and is merely happy to exist peacefully with his hobbies in the tranquility of nature, as illustrated beautifully in the brief scene of him feeding (not hunting!) a sweet little deer.
Captured in the coziest Technicolor by the great Douglas Sirk, Hudson’s wardrobe in All That Heaven Allows is a near-constant visualization of his stoic apathy towards opulence and domination, and the one scene in which he is forced to make an appearance in a tuxedo just feels downright wrong. The fact that anyone can dress like him is a testament to the fact that anyone can be like him, too. – Andrew Swafford
Warren Beatty in McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
It’s a bit easier to go into detail about the aesthetic and taste of a fashion item, but here, let’s raise a glass to functionality.
If you’re a prospective entrepreneur trekking along the Old West, you’re mighty likely to run into a scourge of problems from rattlers, disease or a host of unruly characters among your travels, and while wearing the finest silks and dress may be appealing at first, surviving is key — which makes Warren Beatty’s fur coat in McCabe & Mrs. Miller the ultimate Swiss army knife of Western attire.
Imagine it: you’re out on the lam. Low on food, shivering to your willy and following your prey with a wavering intensity can wear on a man. Thankfully the Beatty fur coat allows not only immense comfort for these harsh conditions, but throw it over and hide in a brush, and boom...working blind spot.
It also works as a makeshift spot for the ladies. Bring a broad back home with the intent to bed her and you have a wondrous spot to plop down and consummate the moment. Hard wood floors or a stiff bed are things of the past with the luxury fur of the Beatty coat.
The Beatty fur coat — ideal wear for the Western dwadeler, and must-have for the shaggy neanderthal looking to make the most of the opportunity presented to him. Available now at your nearest fur trapper or buried in the ground amongst the rubble of emerging American capitalism. — Zach Dennis
Shelley Duvall in 3 Women (1977)
Robert Altman’s 1977 Persona riff has several of the most yellow objects ever created, and Shelley Duvall wears most of them. Yellow is nowhere near my favorite color, but when Shelley Duvall’s Millie Lammoreaux appears, I just want everything I wear to be that shade of canarie; I want to chain smoke and wear my hair in a bob. I will never do any of these things in real life, because my clothing rut is very much of the jeans-and-sweater (and smoke-free) variety, and even if I were to try, there’s the reality that there is only one Shelley Duvall and that her shade of yellow exists only in the cinematic imagination and not in our drab flesh-and-blood world. But watching Millie in 3 Women gives me aspirations. The magic of cinema is often the magic of these aspirations, to make you believe that you can be remade in the image of the impossible, beautiful people and things on the screen. And Shelley and her clothes have that magic pretty strongly here. — Michael O’Malley
Diane Keaton in Annie Hall (1977)
If there’s anything I learned from Annie Hall, it’s that Diane Keaton looks amazing in anything. She wears a lot of menswear in this film, collared shirts buttoned all the way up and topped with vests or blazers. Keaton wears the stuff better than any of the men in the film would hope to, and maintains a feminine charm that makes the viewer fall as much in love with her as Alvy (played by Woody Allen). It seems like she always has the perfect accessories, too--scarves or glasses or ties.
In perhaps the most iconic look of the film, Keaton rocks a Chaplin-esque getup. Billowy slacks, a fitted vest, white button shirt, and wide, spotted tie. At first, she also wears a wide-brimmed hat with the look, perhaps a feminized take on Chaplin’s bowler. Her is tied back loosely, just a strand hanging free.
Near the end of the film, she wears a plaid flannel with a black turtleneck underneath, and jeans cuffed almost to the knee.
Keaton serves so many looks in this film, and her personality is just as exciting and fresh. It’s no wonder Allen’s character is left in the dust behind her. — Ash Baker
River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in My Own Private Idaho (1991)
I recently saw a photograph of the leading cast of My Own Private Idaho posing in costume with director Gus Van Sant. Together, their blend of flannel and leather, worn out boots and high-top sneakers, buzz cuts and long, messy mops make the group look like a grunge band.
The two leads in the film, 90s teen idols River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, play the best-looking gigolos you’ve ever seen. While Phoenix’s outfits are worn and at times mismatched, they remain killer looks. Through most of the film, River wears highwater pants with worn out boots, and a black tank top under a rust-orange jacket with a brown suede collar. His hair is mussed when it’s not covered with the too-tight cap he begins the film in.
Keanu Reeves’ character is a clean-cut guy who comes from a wealthy background and only lives the street life in resistance from his family. He stands on the corner in crisp white shirts and slacks and bunks down in the diner in a black vest. If one didn’t know any better, they might think he was the other boys’ lawyer. In one scene, when he goes to visit his father, Reeves wears a leather collar and a black shirt unbuttoned all the way down.
At different points in the movie, Reeves wears floral print shirts and leather jackets. Phoenix wears red-lens sunglasses and a mechanic’s shirt with a name patch that says, “Bob.”
Perhaps the greatest takeaway from these looks, even stronger than my desire to emulate them, is that we can’t let the designers at Urban Outfitters see this movie. — Ash Baker
Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice (1993)
Poetic Justice was the first movie that made me pay attention to the cast’s wardrobe, and I think it has informed my taste in clothing as I’ve grown into adulthood.
I just saw Poetic Justice when I was a little kid. It was one of those movies that I was entirely too young to be watching. So while a lot of what Janet Jackson’s character Justice goes through went over my head, what most definitely did not go over my head was what she wore. I guess you could call Justice’s style a little tomboyish: baggy jeans, jerseys, sneakers. Every once in a while, you got a crop top, some lipstick and big silver hoop earrings. That outfit that immediately comes to mind is the faded black crop top, baggy blue mom jeans, with the black hat, black boots and a big black belt. Justice always kept it cute while being simple and no-fuss.
I think it was that boyish nature of her clothes that I was drawn to. She looked comfortable, and I appreciated that she was clearly feminine without having to wear a dress.
But really, if you’re talking about Poetic Justice and fashion, you’re talking about Justice’s hair: the thick, long black jumbo box braids that cascaded down Justice’s back. Every Black woman and girl has had or wanted some box braids like Janet Jackson wore in Poetic Justice. They’re versatile, comfortable, and just cute as hell. Justice’s hair is the most iconic part of the movie, and they’ve become part of the culture. I think I’ve spent most of my life being in love with Justice’s look ( . . . and Janet Jackson.) — Courtney Anderson
Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love (2001)
As a non-crossdressing white dude, I’ll stay in my lane to a certain extent here by giving a disclaimer that I have no aspirations to put on any cheongsams – the traditional Shanghainese dresses that Maggie Cheung iconically wears throughout In the Mood For Love. If the film inspires any “wardrobe goal” for me, it is the hope that I might someday look half as good in anything as Maggie Cheung looks in those cheongsams. In director Wong Kar-wai’s biography, he said of the actress: “She and the dress had chemistry. They brought out a kind of elegance in each other. In a way, the dressed captured a part of her essence.”
That chemistry is what I want to highlight here (In the Mood For Love being a movie full of things worth highlighting), as the way in which Cheung seems completely fused with her own wardrobe is significant: in a film about unconsummated desire stifled by one’s own moral standards and community taboos, there is no costume more appropriate than the cheongsam, which fits tightly over the body all the way up to the neck, restricting movement of and contact with the skin beneath. Covered in ornate and enticing patterns, each dress seems to (in the words of Wong biographer John Powers:) “suffocate the very passions it adorns; those cheongsams can squeeze the life out of you.”
What’s equally important to the way Cheung’s dresses restrict her body, however, is the way they make her visually distinct from other characters, and, at times, indistinct from the surrounding architecture. Cheung’s character lives in an apartment building that is split down the middle both physically and culturally – one side populated by Shanghainese people and in Shanghainese fashions, the other by Cantonese ones. “On one side,” Wong Kar-wai explains, “everybody’s well dressed. Even if they’re playing mahjong, they have suits and ties and cheongsams. On the other side, the landlord is basically wearing his pajamas...In those days [the 1960s], Shanhainese ladies did not wear pajamas at home or in front of people. They were always well -dressed. Maybe they didn’t have as many as Maggie’s character, but every day they dressed their best.” The cultural underpinnings of these costume choices are never directly commented on by the film, but what Wong here outlines as the overly-conscientious Shanghainese fashion standards of the day feel of a piece with the moral standards her character holds herself to: unable to enter into an explicitly romantic relationship with another man even after she has been cheated on and abandoned by her former husband.
Visually constricted by these dresses and ethically constricted by cultural standards, Cheung’s character essentially has no will of her own, but is rather an ornately decorated object, standing static in rooms full of other ornately decorated objects. Perhaps this is why, as in the screencap above, her dresses often seem like extensions of the rooms themselves. “Most of the characters in the film are very formal people,” Wong says, “So the film has to be formal. Everything’s formal and rigid...And what’s underneath in the darkness is very interesting.” Maybe it’s important to remember that, as good as some of these actors might look in their finery, any sort of elegant costuming is still fundamentally a type of packaging, objectification, or boxing in. – Andrew Swafford
Renée Zellweger in Down with Love (2003)
Modelled after the Doris Day/Rock Hudson romantic comedies of the 60s, every detail in this movie is perfect, going the extra mile to make it really feel as if it could have been filmed in the era, but I especially want to highlight the costumes. Hats! Gloves! Bold colors! Structure!
I could not have been more delighted by the extravagance. In a featurette on the DVD, costume designer Daniel Orlandi talked about tracking down exciting textured fabrics and using color charts to handmake new “vintage” clothing (in the 60s, it would have just been the trendy fashion of the day) for every one of the over 100 costumes for Renée Zellweger. I’m not a bright colors kinda girl, but I would kill to have such a coordinated wardrobe. Each outfit is a statement--especially her iconic pink suit (the writers also did Legally Blonde 2, so I’m sensing a theme).
It’s a silly thing to feminize what are traditionally considered masculine things (like guns or duct tape or suits) by slapping some pink on there, but this movie is deeply in on the joke. It’s a “battle of the sexes” story, and she is *fully* armored. I know I’d feel powerful as hell in a custom tailored pink suit – moreover, I think anyone would.
The thing this movie really understands is how this type of hyper-femininity is all performance all the way down. The actors aren’t just wearing awesome costumes, the characters are too. “Barbara Novak” has put a lot of effort towards totally transforming herself into a sort of (white) feminine ideal, in part because she knows how disarming that actually is. As pointed out by Andrew in his In the Mood for Love blurb, the emphasis on formal wear during this time period was actually extremely restrictive to women (in all societies, it seems), but it is played for funsies in Down With Love. A killer wardrobe (and a dye job) is a part of her arsenal, and in a fantasy like this, sometimes that’s all you need. – Lydia Creech
Eva Green in Casino Royale (2006)
The “Bond Girl” is usually loaded with the perception of easy sexuality and loose mythology when she appears in any of the James Bond movies up to 2006’s Casino Royale, which not only beckoned in a much more complex iteration of the trope but also set the template for many blockbuster leading women for the years to follow.
This is not to say Eva Green doesn’t ooze beauty and sexuality as Vesper Lynd in the re-ignition of the Bond franchise with Daniel Craig in the leading spot. But those traditional “Bond Girl” values are weaponized into a more traditional noir-based femme fatale-esque narrative that provides more emotional complexity than any of its predecessors even attempted.
The attractiveness of Vesper relies a bit on her physical appearance but is remembered most for her confidence. This parallels with the hetero-male fantasy of Bond as the dashing, tuxedo-clad Achilles has less depth to its viewer aspirations than what Green presents to us as Vesper. You want to be Vesper — maybe in some senses because of the dresses she wears — but more of the way she moves in them. She commands the room in lavish wear and that ability to gain confidence from one’s attire is what is most striking about the character.
Similar molds have followed, most explicitly with scenes of Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation or Gal Gadot as Diana Prince in Wonder Woman, but the competing parallels of this sleeckly dressed, confident and intelligent woman matched up to the epitome of masculine fashion aspirations is aspiring.
You may want to be James Bond, but in the end, you’re more powerful as Vesper Lynd. — Zach Dennis
Felicity Jones in The Tempest (2010)
I had a difficult time with Julie Taymor's adaptation of The Tempest. It was my introduction to the play, so maybe the fault lies more with the source material than the director, but I found the story to be convoluted, overlong and oddly detached. For the most part I couldn't connect with the characters or the performances, though I've enjoyed most of the major players in other roles. It actually took several days for me to get through the movie in its entirety (I kept dozing off and had to watch in small, digestible installments) but two things about it managed to keep me invested: Ben Whishaw's turn as the ethereal, gender fluid Aerial, and Sandy Powell's jaw-droppingly gorgeous costumes.
Despite the fact that her clothes are very youthful (and I am well past the age where I should be aspiring to look like a dewey ingenue), I was most enchanted by Miranda's wardrobe. The dress she wears for most of her scenes - a white, billowing knee-length concoction with a raw, asymmetrical hemline hemline, twisty, knotted shoulder straps and something that looks like biker shorts underneath - is part fairy princess, part sporty wood nymph. There's an organic quality to both the fabric and the shape of the garments, almost as if they weren't designed at all, but simply grew in the ocean or on the island that Miranda calls home. She looks lovely but also unencumbered, and it's the perfect ensemble for flitting about the shore, or among the trees, caves, and tide pools where she and her sorceress mother live in exile.
Towards the end of The Tempest, Miranda switches to a more formal variation of her everyday look: a pale, seafoam green dress and bustier combo that might have been cobbled together from the detritus of a shipwreck. The bustier, printed with what Vogue describes as " the faded image of a crowned Spanish woman," is my single favorite article of clothing in the movie. It's both frivolous and regal, and the distressed quality of the design lends it an air of antiquity and authenticity. It's literally wearable art, and if it were mine I'm pretty sure I could find an excuse to wear it every single day. — Diana Rogers
Tilda Swinton in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
When it comes to Tilda Swinton onscreen (or off, for that matter) there's a plethora of artful, exquisite wardrobe offerings to choose from for inspiration, but my personal favorite is the look she rocks in Jim Jarmusch's hip, lackadaisical vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive. As Eve, a thoughtful, cultured, passionate 3000 year old immortal who loves literature and the music of Jack White almost as much as she does her brooding, melancholic husband Adam, Swinton's appearance reflects the tastes of a woman who's literally had several centuries worth of trends and styles to draw upon when crafting her own personal aesthetic.
Like her character, Eve's wardrobe looks like it's got some history. Her clothing choices aren't era-specific, they're timeless, just like the woman wearing them. Her clothes look well cared for but they don't look new. The look lived in, in the best possible way. We know that Eve has the ability to date an object through touch (she places her hand on a guitar at one point in the film and can tell Adam almost exactly when it was made) and we know she has an affinity for humanity, even though she engages very minimally with the outside world. It makes sense that a character like that would choose articles of clothing with a great deal of thought and care, maybe even opting to select pieces because they make her feel connected to moments in her own personal timeline.
While her nature dictates that she live a nocturnal existence, Eve's reclusive by choice, only interacting with a small circle of other vampires and a handful of human acquaintances over the course of the film. She and Adam have evolved past the point where they hunt for blood, opting to procure sustenance humanely, from third parties. So, on the rare occasion when she does venture out in public, Eve is not attempting to seduce potential victims, or draw attention. She's not dressing for anyone but herself, which I love.
My favorite of Eve's sartorial ensembles is the one she's wearing when she and Adam get dragged out to a bar by Eve's rowdy baby sister, Ava: skinny pants, a silky sleeveless top, a suit vest, and a dainty pair of leather gloves and a leather jacket that both look so pliable and buttery I want to eat them. Aside from the vest and a pair of sunglasses, everything Eve's got on is cream colored; combined with her pale complexion and disheveled, voluminous, white blonde-mane (created using a combination of human and yak hair) she's positively monochrome, desaturated and exsanguinated. She also looks stunning, powerful, feral, and otherworldly, but in an understated way. And she looks comfortable. It's almost like Eve is wearing armor, a second skin that somehow protects her from the rest of the world. Her clothes, almost like characters themselves, not only look amazing, they look like they'd feel amazing, too. — Diana Rogers
Cate Blanchett in Carol (2015)
I think it would be fair to say that any piece of clothing would look amazing on actress Cate Blanchett, but she looks especially fantastic in Todd Haynes’ film Carol. Decked out in 1950s attire, she carries herself with such grace. It’s no wonder that when I saw the film for the first time, I was envious of the various coats, scarves and dresses Carol and Therese wear from scene-to-scene.
It’s true: nobody can wear a fur coat quite like Cate nor could anyone rock a santa hat like Rooney Mara. Both women wear outfits that compliment their characters in the film. Cate wears lots of red from her red lipstick and nails to her red dresses and coats. Red is known to be a power color which is a perfect representation of Carol’s dominance in the relationship. Therese played by Rooney Mara usually wears more youthful tomboy outfits which is definitely reflective of her more submissive role. It is very clear that Haynes carefully chose the wardrobe for the film to go along with the narrative.
To be honest, I would love to have ANY of the outfits from Carol in my closet. Can you imagine me walking down the street in a huge fur coat, black leather gloves, and cat eye sunglasses? Sounds like a Christmas wish come true to me. — Jessica Carr
Vicky Krieps in Phantom Thread (2017)
The dresses from Phantom Thread are absolutely exquisite, but they are definitely not “chic.” In fact, Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) takes a pretty negative stance on the word as a whole. He doesn't want any of his dresses to be chic. Instead, he wants their beauty to be everlasting--something that never goes out of style. He pours his heart and soul into the designs of these dresses. Each thread and stitch is done with tender care. And so when they appear on screen, the audience is meant to take in each dress with care also.
In the film, you can see how confident the dresses make Alma feel when she wears them. She exudes a simple beauty which pairs nicely with the elegance presented by each dress. Some of my favorites in the film are the lavender silk dress with lace, the red dress with a white lace collar and white lace design at the bottom and the green dress from the photoshoot. All of these gowns are something I could only dream of ever having the chance to wear.
Still, there is something to be said about pieces of clothing that can tell a story. To me, all of these dresses are timeless pieces of art. They are not chic, but they are surely going to stand the test of time, which is exactly what Woodcock intended. — Jessica Carr
Lana Condor in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
When did teenagers learn to dress themselves??? I looked like trash my whole youth*!!!
I’m not the only one seriously impressed with Laura Jean’s fashion sense, as evidenced by the many, many, many “how to dress like Laura Jean Covey from ‘To All The Boy’s I’ve Loved Before’” articles and listicles and videos, which I definitely “don’t” know because I definitely “didn’t” immediately start googling while the movie was playing.
Laura Jean’s looks were so immediately iconic (yep, that word again), that people started imitating her and sending author Jenny Han their recreations on social media that Halloween (To All the Boys debuted on Netflix mid-August), causing her to cry “tears of joy” for all the Asian and Asian-American girls who got to see themselves have really, really cute and positive representation.
The one thing I don’t understand about Laura Jean is that she considered herself a bit unpopular. Like… Laura… You’re cute as FUCK. You’re so much your own person and you dress so well, which actually takes a ton of self-confidence? That’s hard for adults even.
Chalk it up to typical teenaged myopia (and…teens really don’t look like that), but I think it’s important to have aspirational figures. Movies give people ideas about how to model themselves, and as an adult who clearly still struggles, I admire the recent slate of teen movies that provide such good roles (Love, Simon and Before I Fall also had super well-dressed teenagers).
Seeing teens just be their best selves makes me think the folks coming up after us are just gonna be the coolest.
I…. I think I found my next Halloween costume? – Lydia Creech
*will not be providing evidence
Blake Lively in A Simple Favor (2018)
There’s something about a well-fitting suit. And if you put a woman in a suit it is scientifically guaranteed that she will gain both the power and intimidation of a suit of armor AND the irresistible, slinky appeal of the little black dress. It’s a deadly two-for-one combo and Blake Lively successfully utilized it to kill me.
Around 2012 I discovered a woman named Esther Quek, a fashion director whose knack for rocking suits paired with playful accessories made many a gal on Pinterest faint right at their rose gold keyboards. I have no doubt that she was an inspiration for Blake Lively’s wardrobe and a number of other femme fatales in suits. (Helloooo Cate Blanchett in Ocean’s 8 😍) Esther Quek if you’re reading this God bless you for you have blessed us all.
Speaking of blessings I have to talk about Anna Kendrick in this movie as well. If Blake Lively’s wardrobe is the embodiment of weaponized sexuality then Anna Kendrick’s is the embodiment of festive macaroni art and I am here for it. The two of them are hilarious and captivating together and seeing them paired in more movies would suit me juuuust fine. — Paige Taylor