Part of the job of a fashion editor is being keenly aware of cultural references, both past and present. At Marie Claire, we've had shoots inspired by old and current must-watch films: Pretty in Pink, Belle de Jour, Picnic at Hanging Rock—the list goes on. Fashion movies combine the best things in life: drama, romance, and beautiful clothes. They're why we love, and fear, the great Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep's cinematic embodiment of Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour); that's why we bought our first pair of Manolo Blahniks (thanks, Carrie Bradshaw). While The Devil Wears Prada and Clueless will always be classics, there are many more excellent fashion films and documentaries out there.
Below, Marie Claire editors past and present hand-picked a list of not only our favorite fashion films and documentaries—but also the films that, while not strictly fashion-centric, have inspired designers to the point that it would be a disservice not to include them.
Fantastical fashion at its finest. This 2006 film, directed by Sophia Coppola, gave us a whimsical and emotional look into the life of Marie Antoinette and high fashion in the 18th century. Costume designer Milena Canonero dressed countless extras as well, and The Times reports that the pastel color palette was inspired by not only 18th-century fashion but also by the color of macarons.
This quirky documentary, which quickly became a cult classic, follows two estranged relatives of Jackie Kennedy and their unkempt Long Island estate. The film shows their everyday lives, details stories of their past, and explores how they rarely leave the house. Most significantly, it made Little Edie a fashion icon. A staunch fashion icon, as she would say.
In the Mood For Love
This 2001 film is set in 1960s Hong Kong and tells the story of a doomed love affair. Costume designer William Chang custom-made 46 dresses for the film, although only two dozen were actually used. Actress Maggie Cheung wears a new qipao in every scene. All the dresses were silk and featured beautiful floral patterns.
This 1977 Woody Allen film explores the romantic relationship between Allen and a struggling nightclub singer Annie Hall (played by Diane Keaton). The movie became synonymous with chic menswear dressing, from pantsuits and high-waisted trousers to ties. The iconic look of relaxed slacks and a white button-down still provides serious tailored-dressing inspo.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
This movie gives a comedic take on Hollywood in the late '60s. The story follows Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who is struggling to find work in Hollywood while goofing off with Cliff Booth, Brad Pitt, his stunt double. (Pitt makes a serious case for moccasin boots in the Quentin Tarantino flick.) Dalton lives next to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, who are also featured in the film. Aside from the storylines, the fashion was on point. Costume designer Arianne Phillips, who was also Madonna's stylist, said that they made most of the characters' costumes, but also sourced from vintage shops and flea markets in Los Angeles. She also tried to stay true to classic brands of the late '60s, mainly Levi's. In an interview with Esquire, Phillips noted that they "did have some fabulous sunglasses for Margot [Robbie] from Ray-Ban. And also Oliver Goldsmith. Both of which recreated 1960s styles for us."
Belle de Jour
In one of Catherine Deneuve's most iconic roles, this movie is the epitome of Parisian sex appeal. It's about a married woman who seeks outside sexual adventures and dabbles in prostitution. Not only does this film make a case for chic lingerie, but it also makes a serious case for both a military coat and patent trench.
In this tale of Andy Warhol (played by Guy Pearce) and Edie Sedgwick (played by Sienna Miller), costume designer John Dunn transforms the cast into mod '60s characters. Miller sports thick black eyeliner, bold brows, and statement earrings in an effort to become the character. Fun fact: About 90 percent of the film's wardrobe were vintage pieces sourced from Los Angeles and New York to make the fashion feel authentic.
Who doesn't want to be Penny Lane? Bright ray of light, Kate Hudson plays the role of a 16-year-old groupie to a rock band in the '70s. One of the most iconic looks to come out of this movie is Lane's fabulous shearling coat. Costume designer Betsy Heimann revealed in Dazed that the outerwear was actually made out of a rug and some upholstered fabric for the collar.
The Virgin Suicides
Set in the '70s in the Midwest, this movie tells the tale of five sisters living with very strict Catholic parents when a tragedy happens. One of the many highlights in this film are the outfits. Costume designer Nancy Steiner selected vintage pieces, from "'70s stripes and button-down skirts to virginal Catholic prom dresses" to paint a vivid picture of the styles back then. In an interview with Fashionista, Steiner elaborated on the prom dresses, saying, that when planning the looks, she recognized that the "mom was very frugal, so there was hand-me-downs I thought about and, for instance, the girls' prom dresses, I made those with the thought that her mom bought a single pattern at the fabric store and made those four dresses out of the same pattern."
In case you somehow forgot why Veruschka is one of the greatest supermodels of all time, this movie will remind you. This Michelangelo Antonioni film chronicles a fashion photographer who one day photographs something that he thinks could be part of a murder. The movie takes place in London and captures the essence of the swinging '60s.
The Great Gatsby
In this glitzy 2013 take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, The Great Gastby, director Baz Luhrmann recreates 1920s flapper glamour. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, costume designer Catherine Martin said she was "in charge of creating 1,700 vintage designs for the cast. To depict the wealthy East Coast characters, [she] enlisted the help of designer Miuccia Prada, who reinterpreted 40 classic styles that were a mixture of European glamour and New York sophistication." Watch for the clothes, stay for Leonardo DiCaprio's spectacular performance.
A Single Man
This film, directed by celebrated designer Tom Ford, takes place in Santa Monica in the '60s and chronicles a man who's mourning the death of his long-time partner. Ford called upon costume designer Arianne Phillips and together they focused largely on men's tailoring. In an interview with AnOther magazine, Ford stated the the importance of undergarments, saying that "a great deal is owed to period undergarments which many period films forget to employ. They give the actors the posture, stance, movement of the time and make period clothing look 'period.'"
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover
In this 1989 film, a mobster acquires an upscale restaurant and begins to dine there nightly. His wife then begins an affair with a patron and the mobster focuses on revenge. The costumes, designed by none other than Jean Paul Gaultier, focus on fetishism, opulence, and are testaments to the fascinator.
Travels With My Aunt
This film, known for its over-the-top glamour and lavish outfits, won Best Costume Design at the Academy Awards in 1973. At his mother's funeral, a buttoned-up banker meets an eccentric woman claiming to be his aunt. Together, they go on an adventure to Europe and North Africa to rescue an old lover of hers. Featuring fabulous gowns, fur-trimmed frocks, and a mix of dramatic hats, this movie showcases flamboyant fashion at its finest.
In this 2002 coming-of-age story, Brittany Murphy plays an heiress to a rockstar who soon looses her fortune and is forced to become the nanny to a type-A eight year old, played delightfully by Dakota Fanning. Costume designer Sarah Edwards dresses Murphy in fabulous cocktail dresses, which she wears at 8 a.m. no less, and there is never a flat shoe in sight.
This 1958 comedy by Jacques Tati is about a French family that lives in an ultra-modern home in a modest neighborhood. The home itself pokes fun at modernism and has been a source of inspiration for several fashion designers. Fashion shows like Jil Sander spring 2012 and Jacquemus fall 2019 both had the house's as part of their mood boards.
This 1982 sci-fi cult classic has been an inspiration for designers for more than 30 years. From runway looks to even beauty moments—like the eye-mask makeup—we've seen the movie's influence at shows such as Dries Van Noten spring 2020, Raf Simons spring 2018, and Yohji Yamamoto’s 2017 fall show.
Instead of pressing play on Breakfast at Tiffany's again, dive into this other Audrey Hepburn classic. While on assignment, fashion photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) meets Jo Stockton (Hepburn), a shy bookstore employee whom he takes a photo of by accident. Avery thinks she could become a model; the two travel to France and romance ensues, but it won't be long before they encounter obstacles and chic styling. This movie is best paired with macarons and coffee.
Sex and the City
By now, you've probably seen Sex and the City (the TV show) at least a handful of times. All I have to say is: Thank you, Patricia Field. Thank you. The legendary costume designer responsible for Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte's looks on the television series returned to outfit the ladies once more for the 2008 film. From the wedding dress photo shoot to the final scene when Carrie returns to the closet of every woman's dreams to collect her blue Manolo Blahniks, there's more than enough fashion glam to enjoy in between the tears and laughter.
Crazy Rich Asians
The clothes in CRA aren't just fancy, they're outright opulent. The film's costume designer, Mary Vogt, worked with director Jon M. Chu to create some unforgettable looks, including Araminta's wedding gown (which was really a bodysuit with a skirt attachment) and Rachel's Cinderella moment in a pastel blue Marchesa gown. Featured designers include global brands like Ralph Lauren and Dior, as well as local Asian designers like Carven Ong; accessories came from jewelry houses including Bulgari and Chopard, who brought their own security teams to set. The movie was history making—and not just for the costumes: It is the first to feature an all-Asian cast since the 1993 film The Joy Luck Club.
Confessions of a Shopaholic
From the title alone, you know this film is going to feature high amounts of fashion. This 2009 film, based on the book by Sophie Kinsella, is about journalist Rebecca Bloomwood (played by Isla Fisher), who's so addicted to shopping that she ends up drowning in debt. While trying to get her foot in the door at fashion magazines, Rebecca accepts a job at a financial publication as its advice columnist, and her writing turns into an instant hit. Meanwhile, Rebecca still has a mountain of bills to pay off—how will she do it?
Naming a Marvel movie as an essential fashion film would sound ridiculous... if the Black Panther films didn't exist. Costume designer Ruth Carter won a well-deserved Oscar for incorporating African cultural traditions into the futuristic fashions of Wakanda, while giving each of the film's five fictional tribes their own distinctive attire.
The Perfect Find
Years after Miranda Priestly, onscreen fashion editors got a colorful update in Gabrielle Union's Jenna. Costume designer Amit Gajwani avoided looking to previous fashion films while working on The Perfect Find; instead he found inspiration in European and African styling, building a wardrobe that aspired to be equal parts timeless and unique.
This 2017 action film placed Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) atop the throne of super-stylish secret agents (sorry, Bond). Iconic designers like John Galliano and Margiela contributed to many of the character's impeccable looks, which withstood the spy flick's stellar, brutal stunt choreography. Fans of Atomic Blonde know there's nothing more kick-ass than a perfectly tailored trench coat paired with stiletto boots.
This 2017 film follows a sort of obsessive love triangle, between renowned designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis), his new muse Alma (Vicky Krieps), and his true love, dressmaking. For the sumptuous film, Mark Bridges dove into the history of couture to create the works of the fictional designer, whose manic devotion to his work brought forth perfection but also got in the way of building a life with Alma.
Coco Before Chanel
This biographical drama focuses on the early life of French designer Coco Chanel, from her relationship with English businessman Arthur Capel to how she first launched her career as an exquisite hat maker. The designer reportedly closely guarded her private life from the press, and this movie attempts to reveal parts that not many know of. Coco Before Chanel was nominated for four BAFTA Awards and the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, so you know the fashion here will take your breath away.
Dior and I
When you want to take a break from rom-coms, transport yourself into the atelier of Dior with the documentary Dior and I, which takes viewers behind-the-scenes to reveal what goes on inside the acclaimed fashion house. You get to see Raf Simons’ first haute couture collection as the house's then artistic director, in addition to all the hardworking seamstresses and collaborators you don't hear enough about. Consider this documentary a mini history lesson.
The True Cost
Eco-conscious viewers interested in exploring fashion through the lens of sustainability will appreciate The True Cost. The documentary explores topics like who really makes our clothes and what environmental price is paid for that garment to end up in our closets. There are interviews featuring designer Stella McCartney, Italian film producer Livia Firth, and Indian activist Vandana Shiva. The movie might make you feel uncomfortable—even guilty—about shopping...and maybe that's a good thing?
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Marina Liao is the former fashion news editor at MarieClaire.com, where she covered celebrity style (from Meghan Markle to Katie Holmes), fashion trends, and shopping advice, plus conducted original interviews with industry insiders. She's also had many opportunities to write content in other areas such as beauty, food, tech, and even home. Her previous fashion stints include POPSUGAR and Cosmopolitan.
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