You can learn just as much about a character based on the clothes they wear as you can on what they say and do. A brilliant director, talented actors, and expensive equipment mean nothing if the costumes aren’t also fabulous. When picturing some of the most iconic movie characters in history, their outfits often come to mind. The Wizard of Oz is automatically accompanied by an image of Dorothy’s gingham farm dress and ruby red slippers. Clueless and Pulp Fiction would look very different in our minds without Cher’s yellow plaid suit or without Mia Wallace’s white collared shirt. Even though costume design is essential for a movie’s visual value, it is often a thankless part of film production. Because of this, I’ve decided to compile a list of five movies with fabulous fashion. Not all of these movies were award winners, historically accurate, or overly expensive, but without their intricate and thoughtful costumes, the movies wouldn’t be nearly as impactful. 

Pictured: Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians (1996)

  1. 101 Dalmatians (1996) – Designed by Anthony Powell

Cruella De Vil with her two-tone hair, long red gloves, and overwhelming fur coat can be hailed as one of the most fashionable and camp Disney villains to ever grace the big screen. The 1996 live-action adaptation of 101 Dalmatians reimagined Cruella as a fur-obsessed head of a fashion house which allowed designer Anthony Powell to create some truly magnificent costumes. Powell outfits Cruella in pointed shoulder pads, waist-cinching gowns, and extravagant hats. Influences from Chanel and Thierry Mugler are prevalent throughout the film, creating avant-garde and over the top outfits perfect for a modern interpretation of Cruella De Vil while still honouring the design of the original character. The impeccable and innovative design of Cruella’s wardrobe makes the costumes the best part of this live-action remake of a Disney classic. 

Fun Fact: Glenn Close, who played Cruella De Vil, has it written into her contracts that she gets to keep the costumes after filming.

Pictured: Shirley MacLaine as Louisa May Foster in What a Way to Go! (1964)

2. What a Way to Go! (1964) – Designed by Edith Head

The 1964 film What a Way to Go! follows Louisa, played by Shirley MacLaine, through a series of financial and romantic ups and downs. Each situation leads to a different style of fashion with each one being more extravagant than the last. Louisa’s outfits in the film include a cotton candy pink fur gown, a barely there bikini, and a ton of feathers. Each outfit worn throughout the film gives insight into Louisa’s life: her adaptation to new environments, how her fashion sense matures, and how she develops as she steps outside of her isolated upbringing. While talking about her designs, Edith Head said that “If you ran the picture without sound, [Shirley MacLaine’s] clothes would tell you the story.” This statement definitely rings true for What A Way to Go! The film is a perfect example of camp and among Head’s best work. 

Fun Fact: Edith Head was the inspiration behind the character Edna Mode in the 2004 Disney movie The Incredibles.

Pictured: Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket in the iconic fuchsia suit in The Hunger Games (2012)

3. The Hunger Games (2012) – Designed by Judianna Makovsky

The adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling dystopian novel follows Katniss Everdeen as she competes in the annual Hunger Games. The film is set in the fictional country of Panem, where society is broken into two parts; the wealthy citizens of the Capitol and the poor, working class of the Districts. Because of this divide, fashion (and subsequently costume design) plays an important part in the storytelling of The Hunger Games. Makovsky dresses the citizens of the Capitol in ornate and colourful outfits while the citizens of the Districts are dressed in drab, dirty hand me downs. This juxtaposition also illustrates the social and economic differences between the two classes of society. Those who live in the Capitol are rich, privileged, and live in excess at the rest of the country’s expense while the people who live in the Districts are poor, hard-working, and exploited by the country’s wealthiest citizens. Two of the most iconic costumes in the 2012 are Effie Trinket’s fuchsia suit and Katniss’s fire dress, the latter of which propels the plot as she’s dubbed “The Girl on Fire”. Costume design in The Hunger Games helps showcase the themes and commentary of the movie.

Fun Fact: Makovsky designed over 1000 costumes for extras who played citizens of The Capitol and District 12. 

Pictured: Kirsten Dunst as the titular role in Marie Antoinette (2006)

4. Marie Antoinette (2006)- Designed by Milena Canonero 

It’s no surprise that a movie about the life of Marie Antoniette would feature a cast of characters dressed to the nines. The costumes of the film showcased the extravagant dresses, elaborate wigs, and fabulous shoes that Marie Antoinette became known for during her reign as queen. The costumes help make a clear distinction between the four major parts of Antoinette’s life: naïve youth, the party years, motherhood, and mourning. The garments in the movie immerse those watching into the time period in which the film takes place. The ornate and decadent designs exaggerate the fashion of the Rococo era which was known for pannier dresses, high hairstyles, and very artificial makeup. The fashion design perfectly showcases the love of artifice during the era and Marie Antoinette’s love of spending money on outfits.  

Fun Fact: Many of the costumes worn in the film were also used in Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 movie “Barry Lyndon,” another film with fabulous fashion designed by Milena Canonero. 

Pictured: Milla Jovovich as Leeloo wearing Jean Paul Gaultier in The Fifth Element (1997)

5. The Fifth Element (1997)- Designed by Jean Paul Gaultier 

Jean Paul Gaultier is a designer often known for his unconventional designs and frequent use of corsets, marnieres, and tin cans in his garments. With him at the helm of the costume design for the 1997 sci-fi epic, the costumes were guaranteed to be spectacular. The pieces worn throughout the film are a perfect blend of fantasy and futuristic. Gaultier created over 1000 ostentatious, bright, and detailed costumes for the film. Perhaps the most memorable would be the clothing worn by Leeloo, the main character, which includes a thin, white bandage dress paired with a bright orange bob. However, the costumes worn by the working class in the film such as the flight attendant and McDonald’s workers are also quite notable. Although the movie itself was polarizing in terms of acting and plot, the visuals and design of the movie make it worth watching. Gaultier created colourful, fun, and creative costumes that help tie the entire aesthetic of the movie together. 

Fun Fact: Jean Paul Gaultier designed Madonna’s iconic cone bra outfit worn during her 1990 Blonde Ambition tour. 

Costume design is as important to a movie’s success as the direction, visual effects, and actors’ performances. The fashion that the actors wear is as important to their character as the performance they give is. For the films that you enjoy, whether they feature superheroes saving the day, a whimsical journey to another land, a commentary on social and economic class, or a portrayal of an outlandish, disgraced queen, costume design is crucial to the making of the film. Costumes amplify and immerse you in the illusion of the film and without great fashion, many movies simply wouldn’t be as great as they are.


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