Myrna Loy and William Powell in 'The Thin Man', 1934.
Clothes do not make the movie any more than they make the woman, but they certainly help.
If you are on this site it’s likely you have two kinds of favorite films: the ones you watch because they deliver the emotional satisfaction of great storytelling (“we tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion famously declared).
Or the ones you watch because they satisfy the eye (“fashion must be the most intoxicating release from the banality of the world” said Diana Vreeland, who likely never knew a banal day in her life). And really is there anything more intoxicating than, say, watching Myrna Loy spring out of bed in fur-trimmed peignoir. I think not.
Myrna Loy in 'A Thin Man', 1934.
These films are the sort you are likely to turn on simply to have the exquisite pleasure of watching the way the silk hangs, the gloves fit, the fur envelopes, the jeans rise, the hat tilts, the jacket cuts, the dress drapes. So what if the storyline doesn’t quite hold (though when it does, BOOM, as they say). So what if the character isn’t quite someone whose shoes you want to step into…it’s the shoes themselves you are lusting after, after all.
Think here of Atonement, which while not a bad film is not necessarily one that would bear endless repeat viewing were it not for the pure satisfaction of gazing upon Keira Knightley’s superb Thirties ensembles: the bathing suit, the blouse, that DRESS. Every year in the early spring, when summer seems as though it will never arrive I pull out that film and luxuriate in its humid glamour, cutting away somewhere in the second half once things get grisly (though, naturally, not before the appearance of this wedding dress, or this bathrobe).
Kiera Knightley in 'Atonement', 2007.
Zadie Smith once wrote that in terms of influence “it's whoever got to you first.” She was speaking about books but I think the theory applies to clothes as well. In my case there was Princess Leia and then there was everyone else. Suffice to say, there was no end of resentment on my part that no Star Wars figure existed for the ‘award ceremony’ costume Carrie Fisher appears in at the very end of the original the film. You know the one I’m talking about; the glorious scooped neck number that “skims the curves” in Shrimpton parlance, complete with a sheer capelet and a low-slung silver belt. Lifelong fascination with all things Halston explained.
Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer and Harrison Ford in 'Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope', 1977.
That said, my vote for greatest style ever to be recorded on film goes to The Thin Man. Some films have great sartorial moments - think Meryl Streep emerging from the hotel for her wedding ceremony in Out of Africa, or the red beaded number the Baroness Schraeder (a woman decades ahead of her time) appears in when she coolly breaks things off with the Captain in the ‘Sound of Music - Loy in The Thin Man, however, is simply style perfection from the moment she trips into the bar (literally) to final scene on the train car. Legendary Hollywood costume designer Dolly Tree was responsible for Loy’s cavalcade of magnificent outfits, and every one was truly a gem, but if I had to choose, I’d say the candy-caned striped number she wears at the Christmas party might barely eek out the fur-trimmed peignoir -- barely – of course, there’s the aforementioned fur.
(L) Meryl Streep in 'Out of Africa', 1985. (R) Eleanor Parker (as Baroness Schraeder) in 'The Sound of Music', 1965.
Myrna Loy in the final scene of 'The Thin Man', 1934.
Myrna Loy in 'The Thin Man', 1934.
I could go on about Myrna Loy – the second and third installments of The Thin Man series are equally as satisfying as the first on every level – but instead I asked some of the most fashionable people I know what their favorite fashion in films is. Celebrity Stylist * TV host Stacy London; Ruthie Friedlander, the Deputy Editor of Elle.com; Journalist and Author Lesley M. M. Blume; Verena von Pfetten, the Executive Digital Editor at Lucky Magazine; Fathom Travel blog and Guides Founder Pavia Rosati; and Lea Goldman, the Features & Special Projects Director at Marie Claire, all weigh in below.
Stacy London - Stylist:
"Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface, Rene Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair, Diana Rigg's swimsuit in Evil Under The Sun , Stockard Channing in Grease (and Olivia's last outfit, obviously.), Kristy McNichol in Little Darlings, Diane Keaton in Something's Gotta Give (wish she always dressed like that.), and all the school girls in Picnic At Hanging Rock."
Michelle Pheiffer in 'Scarface', 1983.
Rene Russo in 'The Thomas Crown Affair', 1999.
Diana Rigg in 'Evil Under the Sun', 1982.
(L) The Closing Scene of 'Grease', 1978. (R) Stockard Channing in 'Grease', 1978.
Kristy McNichol in 'Little Darlings', 1980.
Diane Keaton in 'Something's Gotta Give', 2003.
The School Girls in 'Picnic at Hanging Rock', 1975.
"Faye Dunaway's silk bow tie blouses in Network! The wardrobe still holds up today. The tweedish long skirts, silk blouses. All feminine, sophisticated. And even though her wardrobe consists of one outfit in the film, Molly Ringwald's outfit in Breakfast Club is killer. I remember even then thinking, wow, that is just COOL."
Faye Dunaway in 'Network', 1976.
'The Breakfast Club', 1985.
"A Perfect Murder! I would kill (pun most definitely intended) for Gwyneth Paltrow's wardrobe in this movie. It's classic '90s—if you're Carolyn Bessette or, at the very least, blessed with her bank account—which is to say: super luxe, and full of cashmere turtlenecks, dark, monochromatic coats and minimalist dresses. That said, my favorite look might be Gwyneth in a crisp white button down paired with nothing but a set of black thigh-high stockings."
Gwyneth Paltrow in 'A Perfect Murder', 1998.
"Charade. It's almost ridiculous to talk about Audrey Hepburn looking great in clothes, but this is a madcap comedy in which she tries to figure out why her double-identity husband was murdered. Her outfits -- from the fuzzy hat and tight ski pants in the Alps, the outfit she's wearing when she meets Cary Grant with the world's best pickup line (at 2:15), to the prim dresses she wears in Paris. Ironically and purposefully, she is shown eating CONSTANTLY in this movie."
Audrey Hepburn in 'Charade', 1963.
"Hands down: I AM LOVE. I practically fall on the floor every time I see Tilda Swinton's glorious wardrobe in that film. I mean: gaspingly sick stuff. Marlene Dietrich's SHANGHAI EXPRESS and THE SCARLET EMPRESS. God in heaven: those furs."
Tilda Swinton in 'I am Love', 2009.
Marlene Dietrich in (L) 'Shanghai Express', 1932 & (R) 'The Scarlet Empress', 1934.