Fashion is cyclical, with new trends popping up and old ones reinventing themselves every decade. But one thing has and always will be in style, no matter the decade: fashion on screen. The integration of fashion and entertainment can define an entire show or movie, whether it’s elaborate period costumes or stylish characters whose wardrobes you want to raid. When the integration is done well, the clothes you see on screen become just as important as the cinematography, lighting, or even acting — because they become silent characters themselves. At Topic, we love shows and films from all time periods, which means the added bonus of showcasing the fashion of each era. Here are five of our favorite titles that showcase the defining apparel of five distinct periods, from petticoats to ripped jeans.
One of the most recognizable and swoon-worthy decades for fashion is the Victorian era. With those tiny corseted waists and full, blooming skirts and bustles, topped with those dainty bonnets, you’d be able to recognize a Victorian woman just by her silhouette. In Andrea Arnold’s 2011 adaptation of Emily Brontë’s classic, “Wuthering Heights,” protagonist Cathy makes a simple burgundy dress look strikingly regal as she stands poetically on the side of a hill, staring into the fog among wildflowers. And can we talk about Heathcliffe’s khaki waistcoat and blue jacket? He looks so effortlessly stylish with his hands in his pockets, slightly slouched, and looking into the distance. Wait a minute, is this a period piece or an editorial?
As witnessed by the “Mad Men” craze, people love ‘60s fashion. The style of the Swinging Sixties has reemerged time and again, influencing the fashion of every decade since. If you’re a fan of shift dresses, pillbox hats, and bouffants, then you’ll love “State of Happiness,” which critics have called “Norwegian Mad Men.” Set in the late ‘60s, the drama follows a group of people in the small fishing town of Stavanger whose lives are about to change forever when oil is discovered offshore. At the center of the story are Anna, a young and ambitious secretary with a penchant for pastel colors and matching skirt suits, Jonathan, who accessorizes his business suits with bolo ties and big cowboy belt buckles, and Toril, whose demure look always includes a soft cardigan and blonde bangs.
Nodding to the “Made in Italy” label signifying quality and authenticity in Italian-made clothing, this show is a celebration of just that: 100% genuine Italian fashion. Set in 1970s Milan, the series follows Irene, a young girl who takes a leap by applying to a fashion magazine. Through her growth and evolution at work, viewers also see Milam taking shape as a fashion capital rivaling Paris. The story weaves in history lessons on Italy’s most prominent designers, like Giorgio Armani, Gianni Versace, and Miuccia Prada, and the costumes include real archival pieces by these designers. For fans of Italian designers or ‘70s fashion — or both! — “Made in Italy” is a veritable feast for the eyes, with frame after frame of leather boots, pleated skirts, mustard yellow sweaters, and velvet blazers. Bellissimo!
Button-dotted leather motorcycle jackets, ripped jeans, messy hair — the ‘90s was almost a decade of non-fashion, when looking as grungy as you can was très chic. Though “Vernon Subutex” takes place in present-day Paris, the titular character is permanently stuck in his glory days of the ‘90s, when he owned the most bumpin’ record shop in the city. With his trusty headphones as his accessory of choice, Vernon wanders through Paris with a soundtrack of Sonic Youth, Jesus and Mary Chain, and the Ramones following him as he finds a place to sleep for the night (hey, fashion and music have always been intertwined). Couch surfing, but make it fashion!
With director Bertrand Bonello at the helm, is it any surprise that this 2016 French thriller is as stylish as it is suspenseful? The “Saint Laurent” director brings the same gloss and sheen to “Nocturama,” about a group of young Parisians who pull off a series of carefully planned bombings throughout the city. After the bombs go off, the group holes up in a luxury shopping mall, surrounded by designer brands like Fendi, Isabel Marant, and La Perla. It’s a wonderland of high-end temptation. In one scene, they test out expensive Bang & Olufsen speakers by blasting Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” while watching their handiwork — news footage of Paris burning — on high-end flatscreen TVs, utterly expressionless. This indifference, coupled with their mysterious backgrounds and unclear motivations is a pretty chilling comment on the cold apathy of a consumerist society.