Some people would say that fashion in films is just a fluffy extra—pretty, but less important than the other cinematic details. For fashion lovers, however, it’s a completely different story.
Reflecting character, social class and, most of all, cultural relevance, fashion in films creates grandiose, or even simple, worlds that are tangible and realistic. From setting the time and place, clothing isn’t just a prop but an inside clue to a movie’s ultimate message. For nine films that show this exceptionally well, check out my list of must-sees for every fashion lover.
- “The September Issue” (2009)
The first of many fashion films to come—and most of the world’s introduction to fashion stylist extraordinaire Grace Coddington—“The September Issue” charts the most influential month of fashion from behind the scenes at the world’s most coveted style magazine, American Vogue. From the tails of Anna Wintour’s daily outfits to the exquisitely made designer duds in every documented photo shoot, this film is a whirlwind through the fantasy and hard work that goes into the multibillion dollar fashion business, and every minute is a rare design treat.
- “You’ve Got Mail” (1998)
The third time pairing of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (and second time in a Nora Ephron film) didn’t just make for box office gold, but it also showed exactly what New Yorkers looked like fashion-wise in the late 1990s. As those same trends—minimalism, neutrals and menswear inspired—come back strong in this millennium too, it might be time to hunker down for some film research and take a nod or two from Meg Ryan, Parker Posey, and Heather Burns.
- “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006)
Andy Sachs’ transformation from college newspaper editor to gleaming and glossy magazine assistant is one of the best on-screen transformations since “My Fair Lady” (and Anne Hathaway’s other famous fashion transformation in “The Princess Diaries”). “The Devil Wears Prada” explores the famed halls of a leading fashion magazine (loosely based on Vogue) and the fashion-filled life of one assistant who gets in the middle of it all. My personal must-see is Meryl Streep’s closet; as the editor of the fictional Runway Magazine, her outfit choices are the culminating spectacle of the whole storyline.
- “Marie Antoinette” (2006)
No list about the best fashion movies of all time is complete without a nod to the most fashionable woman of all time—Marie Antoinette. From her sumptuous mile-high hair creations to her pastry-colored custom gowns, the most notorious queen of France is a style icon, there’s no doubt about it. Paired with Sofia Coppola’s ’80s pop-infused rendition of the ill-fated heroine’s story, it’s one of the most visually appealing movies of all time and perfect for any style lover to watch endlessly for fashion inspiration.
- “Valentino: The Last Emperor” (2008)
Follow Valentino Garavani throughout his last few years as the head of his couture house. “Valentino: The Last Emperor” isn’t just about Valentino’s gorgeous creations (though there are ample amounts of them in the film) but also about the extravagantly fabulous fashion lifestyle the designer lives. Not only do you see his ravishing designs, but you also get a glimpse of his house outside of Paris and his design studios in Rome. This documentary is one that will reveal the inside world of couture fashion in a way that will dazzle and inspire its viewers.
- “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005)
While “Memoirs of a Geisha” may not have been the critical success that was expected, there is no doubt that this opulent story is one that exposes traditional Eastern fashion and culture in a singularly elegant and accurate manner. From the intricate rituals of the geisha to the transformation of Japan after the end of the Second World War, this movie encompasses not just the story of a traditional art form but all of the fashionable accoutrements that follow it, and it’s a wonder to behold.
- “How to Catch a Thief” (1955)
Alfred Hitchcock is well known for his thriller, but “How to Catch a Thief” deserves special recognition not only for its cinematic prowess but also its incredible fashion. Starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, this movie flits between the casual attire common to a French Riviera beach town in the 1950s to the sumptuously costumed creations fit for a king, and it’s all designed by the legendary Edith Head—easily the greatest costume designer to live. Any lover of fashion will love sinking her teeth into this black-and-white classic.
- “Working Girl” (1988)
There is very little doubt that any movie of the 1980s defined the tumultuous fashion and socioeconomic environment of the decade better than “Working Girl.” Sigourney Weaver’s elegant business get-up cemented the power woman spectacle of the era, and the early dressings of Melanie Griffith’s trend slave mindset showed the very opposite end of the same decade. From feathered hair to slick chignons, sneakers and suits, to bulky leather jackets, this heroine movie isn’t just about the rise of the American Dream in the 1980s but all the fashion it took to get there. If you haven’t seen this classic, it’s currently available on American Netflix for streaming, so get to watching!
- “Sabrina” (1954)
Audrey Hepburn was a cemented style star long before this film came out, but with the added help of Givenchy’s sumptuous creations, she catapulted her status into the stratosphere for fashion lovers to fawn over for all time. With Hepburn’s simple yachting attire to her epic black-and-white embroidered ball gown, this movie is a classic reminder that fashion, glamour and movie stars have always gone hand in hand.
About Me: Isa Cox is a creative writer who loves to combine her two favorite things—fashion and film—whenever and wherever she can. From street style to runway looks, she hopes you get a chance to really appreciate these picks for the fashion they encompass, and if you have any favorites to add to the list, please leave a comment below!
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