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Turner Classic Movies' favorite fashion films

September 8, 2009 |  9:37 am

Mame_jpg Enlisting the expertise of designers Todd Oldham and Manolo Blahnik, Turner Classic Movies has compiled a list of its favorite fashion films. I agree largely with their choices, but might have added "Gilda" (1946), which I watched over the weekend. Those Jean-Louis gowns that Rita Hayworth wears are ravishing. Or maybe it's just Hayworth who is ravishing. Here are TCM's choices:

"Pandora’s Box" (1929) – Louise Brooks once said, “A well dressed woman, even though her purse is painfully empty, can conquer the world.”  That could have been the motto of Lulu, the role that made her a fashion icon for the ages.  Brooks had been wearing her famous Buster Brown haircut and dressing in the height of flapper fashion for years, as had many other actresses, but her sleek hairdo and half-naked beaded gowns were a perfect match for the amoral charmer in "Pandora’s Box."  In many countries, the severe black bob is still referred to as “the Lulu.” 

"Letty Lynton" (1932) – Joan Crawford and the designer Adrian were a match made in fashion heaven.  The young designer’s work on this 1932 romance about a woman fleeing a disastrous love affair showed Hollywood just how much influence it had on the way women dressed.  For Crawford, Adrian created a no-nonsense look that, while maintaining her femininity, accentuated her athletic shoulders.  Letty’s white organdy dress with shoulder ruffles was copied and sold to more than a million women.  And the broad-shouldered power suits Adrian designed for Crawford created a national rage for shoulder pads.  Little wonder Edith Head once called Letty Lynton the greatest influence on fashion in film history.

"It Happened One Night" (1934) – When Clark Gable had trouble keeping up the pace while removing his undershirt in the famous “Walls of Jericho” scene, director Frank Capra suggested he just remove his shirt to reveal a bare chest.  The scene was so sexy, men stopped buying undershirts, leading to a rumor that one underwear manufacturer had tried to sue Columbia Pictures.  As if to make up for it, the clothes Gable did wear in the film – Norfolk jacket, V-neck sweater and trench coat – rose in popularity as men around the nation imitated Gable.  After the film took off at the box office, Gable decided that trench coats were his good luck charm and wore them in any film he could.

"Pat and Mike" (1952) – While there really isn’t a single Katharine Hepburn film that established her impact on fashion, this 1952 comedy about an athletic coach breaking into pro sports is the perfect embodiment of her liberating – and at times gender-bending – image.  From her arrival in Hollywood, Hepburn defied convention and, for some, morality by dressing like a man, claiming her high-waisted trousers, pantsuits, men’s shirts and loafers were simply more comfortable.  The look fit the feisty, independent characters she played to perfection, revolutionizing fashion by freeing women for more active lives with a greater range of choices.  So great was her influence that, in 1986, the Council of Fashion Designers of America honored her with a special award.

"Rear Window" (1954) – The meeting of clotheshorse Grace Kelly and legendary designer Edith Head was sure to produce fashion magic.  This Alfred Hitchcock classic established Kelly’s understated elegance, which stood in stark contrast to the florid, oversexed Hollywood designs of the ‘50s.  With Kelly perfectly cast as a fashionable socialite, Head was able to create haute couture designs that didn’t seem out of place for everyday wear.  From a pale green skirt suit with unfitted jacket to the floral print dress with multiple crinolines, the designs taught working women of that time how to be chic.  Kelly’s little square overnight bag even prefigured the “Kelly Bag” that Hermés would eventually name for her.

"Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) – Fashion would have been the furthest thing from Jim Stark’s (James Dean) mind when he donned a T-shirt and red jacket for a night of trouble.  Thanks to Dean’s smoldering presence in "Rebel Without a Cause," however, the two items became essential fashion for any self-styled rebel.  Filming in color, director Nicholas Ray and costumer Moss Mabry decided that a red jacket, not brown, would help the character stand out.  Some sources credit Dean with the idea.  Regardless of who thought it up, though, the red jacket became, as Variety editor Robert Hofler has described it, the symbol of “a generation’s despair.”
"And God Created Woman…" (1956) – When Brigitte Bardot sunbathed wearing neither clothes nor the slightest hint of self-consciousness in "And God Created Woman…", a new kind of sex symbol was born, a sexual rebel whose freewheeling approach to romance anticipated the hippie era of free love.  When she did wear clothes, though, she had the wardrobe to match.  The long-ignored bikini became an international sensation.  The ballet flats, cotton gingham beach dresses and open necklines (the latter dubbed “the Bardot neckline”) that captured her sense of abandon onscreen were soon the rage.  And her tousled, up-swept hair, dubbed choucroute (sauerkraut), remains the height of casual elegance.

"Auntie Mame" (1958) – When John Galliano debuted his new line for 2009, the combination of zany colors, exaggerated silhouettes and exposed undergarments had many commentators crediting Madonna as his inspiration.  But The New York Times’ Sameer Reddy placed the influence earlier – on Rosalind Russell’s over-the-top costumes in the 1958 "Auntie Mame." Russell’s Mame Dennis lives and breathes fashion (some commentators have suggested the character resembles Vogue editor Diana Vreeland).  Although not very influential at the time, Australian-born designer Orry-Kelly’s innovative and daring wardrobe for Mame has since gone on to affect collections and inspire young people to take up careers in fashion.

"Breakfast at Tiffany’s" (1961) – When Audrey Hepburn ate a Danish while gazing at a Tiffany’s window, the little black dress she wore became the crown jewel in any woman’s wardrobe.  Created by her favorite designer, Givenchy, it highlighted her slight figure with simple, straight lines.  That wasn’t the only fashion influence exerted by this classic 1961 comedy, one of the last films made with a sense of old Hollywood glamour.  As ticket sales soared, so did sales of triple-strand pearl necklaces, sleeveless dresses and oversized sunglasses.  But it is the little black dress, dubbed by Manolo Blahnik as “Divine!” and recently auctioned off for $900,000, that established a new standard for elegance that endures even today.

"Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) – Initially, Faye Dunaway wanted to wear slacks in "Bonnie and Clyde," arguing that she’d need mobility for the getaway scenes.  When she got a look at Theodora van Runkle’s assembly of printed scarves, pencil skirts, knitted sweaters and bias-cut dresses, she not only changed her mind, the onetime model altered her entire approach to fashion, once saying “… until I met Theodora, clothes ... had just been part of the job.”  Thanks to the anti-establishment comedy-drama, the “gun moll look” took off, triggering a resurgence of ‘30s retro chic.  Even the lowly beret – once the sole property of Frenchmen and struggling poets – became a hot fashion item.

"The Thomas Crown Affair" (1968) – When Steve McQueen traded in his usual casual duds for tailored suits in this sexy 1968 caper film, the British Invasion hit U.S. menswear in a big way.  Top English tailor Douglas Hayward created an assemblage of three-piece suits with two-button jackets and suppressed waists that captured the character’s affluence and set off the star’s lean frame to perfection.  Even the accessories – from his $2,250 Patek Philippe pocket watch to the blue-lensed tortoise shell Persol sunglasses – were meticulously chosen to create a timeless image of opulence.  Although British menswear had already been showcased at the movies before, it was this film that brought it to American stores and continues to inspire such designers as Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford.

"Shaft" (1971) – Considered the first “blaxploitation” film, Shaft mirrored the rise of urban chic among young, working-class African Americans.  Former model Richard Roundtree’s wardrobe in the film captured the sleekness and empowerment behind the new styles.  Three-quarter-length leather jackets and leather pants combined with turtlenecks and other tight knits made him a fashion icon, the ultimate “sex machine to all the chicks.”  Almost 30 years later, Giorgio Armani would draw on the look with a collection inspired by the release of the 2000 remake.

Flashdance "Annie Hall" (1977) – Diane Keaton didn’t have to go far to help create a look that changed women’s fashion in this Oscar-winning comedy; it originated in her own closet.  Her eclectic style – mismatched pieces of oversized menswear, from floppy hats to baggy chinos, with a Ralph Lauren tie as the coup de gras – sent women running not to boutiques but to the neighborhood thrift shop.  It also triggered the renewed popularity of women’s slacks on a par with the craze created in the ‘30s by Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn.  Designer Ruth Morley was not sold on the idea initially and tried to nix it.  But when Keaton showed up for shooting, director Woody Allen insisted, “She’s a genius.  Let’s just leave her alone.  Let her wear what she wants.”

"Saturday Night Fever" (1977) – The ultimate fashion icon of the ‘70s was not of some charismatic actress or famous model.  It was John Travolta in his white disco suit, pointing to the heavens in the poster for "Saturday Night Fever.  He originally wanted a black leisure suit until designer Patrizia von Brandenstein explained that white would catch the disco lights and help him stand out from the crowd.  Stand out he did and, for one of the few times in fashion history, men came to the fore.  The film inspired a flock of polyestered peacocks in form-fitting clothes with electric colors, open collars and a medallion dangling from the neck.  With a pair of platform shoes and a generous application of styling mousse, it was the birth of a new type of glamour designed for working-class kids who blew off steam at the local dance club.

"Flashdance" (1983) – When the sweat shirt Jennifer Beals wanted to wear as welder-by-day/dancer-by-night Alex Owens shrunk in the wash, a fashion craze was born.  Designer Michael Kaplan had to cut off the top just to get it over her head, and the image it created on the film’s poster swept the nation.  Activewear was in, but not the kind worn on the playing field.  Combining torn sweatshirts (specially cut by manufacturers) with leg warmers, spandex pants, headbands and hi-tops, "Flashdance" fashion made young women everywhere feel as if they were headed to the nearest dance studio.  And the feeling is coming back today as the ‘80s revival has generated new interest in the film, its leading lady and her trend-setting look."

--Booth Moore

L.A. Times: 10 classic style movies

Scene Stealers: Movie costumes that started fashion trends

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Photos: Top, Rosalind Russell in "Auntie Mame." Credit: Warner Bros. Bottom: Jennifer Beals in "Flashdance." Credit: Paramount.