Hollywood and the fashion world reflect and complement each other. Throughout the history of cinema, clothing trends and styles have influenced the wardrobe choices of many films and vice versa. Movies can sometimes inspire or bring to prominence a particular look or appeal that can define an era and stand the test of time. Here are a few of the most iconic:
***Article by Azral Hanan***
Rebel without a Cause (1955) James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo
When James Dean swaggered and smoldered in cinemas and drive by movie theaters across America, an entire generation of young girls swooned in breathless palpitations, while young men swore to copy the look, the attitude and the hair.
James Dean was attired in a white t-shirt, leather jacket and jeans. Back then, young men didn’t wear this sort of clothing. The white t-shirt was actually an undershirt, and functioned like underwear or wife beater shirts today. It was supposed to be worn underneath another shirt. Neither did they wear it with a leather jacket and jeans combo. The non-conventional style suited the rebellious nature of ‘Jim Stark’. His signature look would inspire a generation of 1950s teens.
James Dean plays 17 year old Jim Stark who comes from an unhappy family background and in the course of the film engages in public drunkenness, defends a younger boy from bullies, engages in a knife fight and even challenges the bully named Buzz to a ‘chicken run’ with stolen cars towards a cliff – the first person who stops before the cliff edge loses. Suffice to say Buzz dies. This leads to the tragic ending of the film. Along the way Jim reconciles with his father, falls in love and even cries like a baby. But it was more than just the style. Rebel was perhaps the pioneer film that explored issues of conflict, non-conformity and family strife between the younger generation and their parents.
It also figuratively and literally immortalized James Dean forever more as the cultural and fashion icon of 1950’s rebellious youth. Eerily, he died a month before the film opened in a car crash. So influential is the film (and the tragedy of Dean’s death) that even the ‘chicken run’ scenario has been countlessly copied, paid homage too and parodied – both in 50’s themed films like Grease II and horror films as well as other popular media.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, with Patricia Neal, Martin Balsam, Buddy Ebsen, and Mickey Rooney.
This was the origin of one of the most endearing and enduring fashion trends of all time: the little black dress. Although Coco Chanel designed it in the 1920s, it was still relatively unknown. But that all changed in 1961 when Audrey Hepburn dazzled across the screen wearing a black dress that was usually sleeveless and conforming to her body and was cut two inches or so above her knee, with a low sensual neckline to highlight the string of pearls that she wore.
This look has become the standard for sophisticated evening wear for years to come even till today. It’s no exaggeration that almost any style conscious woman in the Western hemisphere probably has their own little black dress in her closet.
Audrey Hepburn herself is brilliant as ‘Holly Golightly’, a 15 year old wife who absconds from her husband for the big city. And whose single minded pursuit of material happiness turns her into a conniving, naughty little minx who nevertheless charms moviegoers with her waifish appeal and her wide-eyed, childlike innocence. On the way she runs into an aspiring writer played by George Peppard and a series of potential wealthy suitors. Does true love conquer all or will her penchant for expensive shoes and trinkets win out?
There is probably no other fashion trend that took off just after one scene than when Ursula Andress comes ashore, proudly and without a care in the world in Dr. No wearing a two-piece white bikini. It is often regarded as heralding the birth of the sexual revolution and women’s empowerment, coming as it did at the end of the conservative 1950s and the beginning of the free-swinging 60s. Bikini sales skyrocketed after Dr.No came out.
Unlike today’s bikinis which are far more daring and skimpier (example string bikinis), the Dr.No bikini was wider and covered more of the breast and the pubic area. It also had a British belt with buckles and a side scabbard for sheathing a knife that Honey Ryder uses to pry shells from the reef.
Dr.No was the first of what was to be the most successful and longest running film franchise in history, the James Bond films. Based on the novels of Ian Fleming about the exploits of the womanizing, martini guzzling, licensed to kill MI6 agent 007 James Bond. In his maiden installment, Bond is sent to Jamaica to find out what happened to a murdered British intelligence agent. During the course of his investigation he finds himself facing the diabolical threat of Dr.Julius No and SPECTRE. But 007 is not alone. The suave sophisticated Bond has allies, most noticeably CIA agent Felix and a blonde bombshell girl who spends her days collecting shells, Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress). Bond must somehow foil Dr.No’s fiendish plot, save the world and get the girl.
Even now, 60 years after it first appeared on the silver screen, the Dr.No bikini is still regarded as one of the sexiest and most powerful fashion film icons of all time. Future generations of women view it as a dramatic affirmation of womanhood – sensual, powerful, liberated. Future generations of men are just as appreciative. We are in eternal debt to Ursula Andress for starting the white bikini trend and for making the bikini popular.
Tom Cruise has been good to the sunglasses or shades industry. He has been credited by many for at least two sunglasses styles becoming fashion trends that have lasted well into today. The iconic teardrop lens of the Aviator style from Ray Ban, which he wore in his seminal film Top Gun in 1986, drove sales of the brand through the roof. But earlier he had done a similar thing for the Wayfarer sunglasses as well.
Rewind a few years back. In Risky Business, young fresh-faced Tom Cruise would star in his break out role as Joel Goodson, the high school kid with wealthy parents who, despite his surname, hires a stunning blonde hooker played by Rebecca De Mornay when his parents are out of town. This leads to a chain of events and comic hijinks that culminate in the boy getting the girl…sorta. In the course of the film Tom wears a pair of Wayfarer sunglasses as he morphs from a serious, studious kid to a sexier self-confident teen who dances in his undies (not while wearing the shades of course). The sale of Wayfarers exploded after the film opened – from a low of 18,000 to about 360,000 and later to 1.5 million. Trendsetters and followers wanted to wear the iconic heavy framed shades.
In the course of the film Tom wears a pair of Wayfarer sunglasses as he morphs from a serious, studious kid to a sexier self-confident teen who dances in his undies (not while wearing the shades of course). The sale of Wayfarers exploded after the film opened – from a low of 18,000 to about 360,000 and later to 1.5 million. Trendsetters and followers wanted to wear the iconic heavy framed shades. Despite being a teen comedy, the film’s overt sexuality, and appeal to hedonism and material wealth were signifiers of the 80s era of decadence. Joel breaks a rule, has mind-blowing sex, and yet still gets the rewards and the girl, at the end.
Today the Wayfarer is enjoying a revival of sorts with young celebrities such as Chloe Sevigny, Robert Pattinson and Mary Kate Olsen sporting a pair. It also featured in the film Twilight, Edward Cullen wears it in school.
BY KENNETH LIM