Seeking movies to help me think about clothes.
January 12, 2013 12:42 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn about the cultural significance of clothing, as well as how clothes are made, but I want my process to be fun. What do you think are the best popular Hollywood-style movies, in which the characters discuss what clothes mean to them? What about movies in which the characters are involved with the sewing or designing of clothing? Do garments play a major part in the plot of any movies? Any suggestions for movies that have helped you to think about clothes would be most appreciated.
posted by mortaddams to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (42 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
The September issue is about Vogue (and in particular about Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington) and about the fashion industry. A documentary and not a Hollywood-style movie, but well-made and engrossing.
posted by rjs at 12:50 PM on January 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Clueless is the first thing to come to mind for me, a child of the 90's. I also like the way clothing is used to signal character change in Mean Girls. A lot of films aimed at teenage girls or with young woman coming of age themes express important ideas about character through changes in that character's personal style.

Also, not a movie per se, but Mad Men and the accompanying style blog helped me to think about costuming for film and television in very interesting ways. I especially like the posts that follow a character through an entire season of the show, though the episode recaps are also interesting because they deal with interesting minutia and characters who don't merit their own posts.
posted by Sara C. at 12:54 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Best Fashion Movies, IMDB
posted by wryly at 12:56 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does The Devil Wears Prada count? ...totally saw it on a date, don't look at me that way :)
posted by Jacen at 12:56 PM on January 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you want fictional, it's hard to beat this scene from The Devil Wears Prada.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:56 PM on January 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

Pretty Woman has several scenes about clothing and culture and class. Pretty in Pink a little too.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:03 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels comes to mind.
posted by colin_l at 1:11 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to point out that costume design is a major part of movies: they are another way to understand the characters. I remember an interview with the costume designer from "Ocean's Eleven" talking about the Brad Pitt character was a smooth talker, a salesman, who was sleek & slippery. So she dressed him in literal sleek & slippery fabrics: bright silks, form-fitting, etc.

TL;DR...any Hollywood movie is a lesson in clothing & character.
posted by honey badger at 1:35 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the documentary, Bill Cunningham New York, may be of interest to you.
posted by shw at 2:10 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have an interest in menswear or womenswear (or both)? My answer would be different depending on which you are interested in.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:35 PM on January 12, 2013

Kinky Boots, if shoes count.
posted by Safiya at 2:38 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Gone with the Wind--Scarlett's dresses are major plot points
Jezebel--b/w movie with a bright red dress as a major point
Cinderella-- a dress sewn by animals
Little Women
posted by Ideefixe at 2:39 PM on January 12, 2013

If you're interested in reading analyses of how clothing makes the man (or woman) in movies, I suggest reading Clothes on Film in conjunction with the current and classic movies they discuss. It's a fantastic resource and fun enough that I just read it for pleasure.
posted by immlass at 2:52 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

oh! By mentioning Little Women, Ideefixe reminded me of the importance of dress and fashion (puffed sleeves!) in Anne of Green Gables. I'm not sure if the various film versions focus as much on dresses, but it would be fun to check out.

Hello, tailor is not a film, but a fun blog to explore costume design. I especially loved the breakdown of The Avengers costumes.

I tried to channel my inner history nerd and come up with some films that tackle either sumptuary laws or the shift in clothing in colonized countries (e.g. the advent of the "Western" suit vs. Gandhi's homespun khadi) but couldn't think anything that includes clothing as more than a side note.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:59 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

The mini-series Signe Chanel goes into great detail about how true couture is created. From Karl Lagerfeld's designs, to patternmaking, to the production of the trim for the boucle jackets (spoiler: it's a woman in a barn in rural France!) to the white coated women who actually hand sew all the amazing garments, it covers the entire process.
posted by vespabelle at 4:01 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

If TV shows are ok, then I'd recommend Downton Abbey. Absolutely beautiful clothes, and a LOT of talk about what those clothes signify, especially for the men, which is rare.

Pretty in Pink also comes to mind. Molly Ringwald's clothing is a key part of her character.
posted by lunasol at 4:16 PM on January 12, 2013

Real Women Have Curves features women sewing dresses-prom dresses I think- and some discussion about class, duty, proper behavior.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:45 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is about 4 women sharing a pair of pants that miraculously fits them all.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:49 PM on January 12, 2013

Clueless has already been suggested, but also 27 Dresses? It's literally in the title and all.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:45 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

House of Eliott is a nice movie (television series), about two young women starting their fashion house.
I am not sure if it is Hollywood style.
posted by Oli D. at 6:11 PM on January 12, 2013

Black Swan makes fascinating use of costume.
posted by mynameisluka at 6:37 PM on January 12, 2013

A book, not a movie, but utterly engrossing (a sometimes fun, often bleak retelling of a historical murderess's tale, in which all motives and meaning come from clothes): Slammerkin.
posted by feral_goldfish at 6:38 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Funny Face. And, uh, Legally Blonde. Not only is Elle in Legally Blonde a fashion expert, but that movie is secretly FULL of clothing-as-class-signifier. East Coast Old Money vs. West Coast Glitz: The Story of Elle Woods' Slowly Emerging Freckles. (That is my pretend book title, because fo reallllll.)
posted by Charity Garfein at 7:11 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

You should totally take a look at the blog Clothes on Film.
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:12 PM on January 12, 2013

Pret a Porter
posted by gingerbeer at 7:16 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Desperately Seeking Susan did a fantastic job of showing how wardrobe choices can influence if not dictate your personality, if you want them to.
posted by Mchelly at 7:29 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Who are You, Polly Maggoo?
posted by larva at 8:04 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Book, not movie:Alison Lurie's The Language of Clothes.
posted by brujita at 8:57 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

How to Marry a Millionaire is a good one-- the broke women characters model clothes as living mannequins in an upscale department store, but pretend to be rich women in their spare time. Lots of interesting power dynamics with how women are constantly negotiating class and gender in the way they choose to present themselves.

Also, Rebecca. They couldn't actually make Joan Fontaine look plain as the second Mrs. De Winter, but they put her in a lot of dumpy tweeds, and her attempts to play at "sophistication" in dress are portrayed as pathetic and laughable. Furthermore, the impossible elegance of her husband's first wife is always on display, since all her fancy clothes, monogrammed linens, furs, and even her lace underwear (made by nuns!) are kept as shrines to her perfection by the obsessed housekeeper.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:16 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Coco Avant Chanel - it's a dramatisation about Coco Chanel's early years, and the effects of clothing on politics, social standing, and gender relationships.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:23 PM on January 12, 2013

Catherine Deneuve in Belle Du Jour and Sharon Stone in Casino are two great examples of wardrobe as character device/plot element.

When I hear the words Hollywood and clothes I think Edith Head.
posted by lowest east side at 12:16 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Based on a John LeCarre novel, "The Tailor of Panama" is a kind of spy movie, or maybe a satire of one, but it has a good cast, including Geoffrey Rush as the title's Tailor. There's a cool scene where he chalks a bolt of wool cloth and cuts out pieces of a suit-- it's sped up because it probably took a good while, but that's the beauty-- it's a very long take with a static camera, just a man concentrating on his work.

In addition to showing a bit of the tailor's craft, it's clear that Rush had to do some studying with the real article in order to make the scene possible.

Further on the topic of spies wearing suits, here's a short video, released under the Bond license, about dressing James Bond.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:58 AM on January 13, 2013

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is another film in which clothes are portrayed as an important way for characters to establish their place in society. Plus it's gorgeous to look at, the clothes are beautiful and Amy Adams is simply luminous.
posted by RubyScarlet at 2:10 AM on January 13, 2013

This photography museum exhibit on fashion (NSFW) has a movie series along with it, including The Dreamers, Factory Girl, Una Giornata Particolare, and Les Valseuses.

Are you interested in films that explore the relationship between clothing and gender? If so, you've got Ma Vie en Rose, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, and many many others.
posted by knile at 4:37 AM on January 13, 2013

In Enchanted, the princess Giselle is ripped from a fantasy world and dumped into a city in her over-the-top wedding gown, which could hardly be more different than the sleek smoky purple gown she wears in the end. (Everyone else at the dance she is attending is wearing some sort of masquerade outfit, which also serves to throw her unadorned gown into relief, and make the true love's previous girlfriend look a little silly.) She also sews her own clothes, which are all traditionally hyper-feminine, though in the end she makes that a business creating children's clothes and is herself wearing something more subdued. The progression of her clothes and how she learns to dress to fit in but still display her taste says a lot about what's commonly considered in American culture to be tacky, childish and overly feminine versus what's seen as sophisticated, appropriate and modern.
posted by shirobara at 6:54 AM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

As a man with a fetish, I like women who wear certain clothing, so I can really relate to the scenes in Vertigo where Scottie insists that Judy dress up like Madeline. But maybe that's not what you're looking for here.
posted by Rash at 8:59 AM on January 13, 2013

Clothes are a seminal focus in nearly all of Audrey Hepburn's films. The costume designer for Sabrina won an Oscar even though much of the wardrobe were AH's personal Givenchy gowns.
posted by bookshop at 12:57 PM on January 13, 2013

Hedwig & The Angry Inch has a few good scenes like that.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:04 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

A Simple Man also had some nice clothing details in it, and if you can find an interview with Tom Ford on it, even more interesting.
posted by misformargaret at 5:58 AM on February 1, 2013

Two that pop into my head are Working Girl and Sabrina.
posted by annsunny at 9:08 PM on February 3, 2013

The Other Boleyn Girl
posted by karan at 1:18 PM on February 4, 2013

Marie Antoinette
posted by knile at 1:52 PM on February 4, 2013

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