Ever since Olivia Newton John slithered into those sprayed on shiny trousers in the transormation scene in Grease, I have been suspended in a dreamy movie wardrobe of disbelief. Olivia was 29 and in great shape, I was yet to reach my teens. I had a child’s body but even if I had had the spider legs required, I lived in Kingston upon-Thames in the late ’70s and not L.A.; spray on shiny trousers weren’t exactly being sold for £14.99 in Hennes. I pleaded with my mum to buy me satiny trousers for Christmas and because she’s great like that, my mum found a pair of red shiny ones and I proudly wore those to parties. Make no mistake, these trousers were not skin tight and I did not wear them with a leather biker jacket and heels. I looked absolutely nothing like the sexy version of Sandy in Grease (and probably just as well), but I wouldn’t have looked out of place as a pantomime elf.
I was reminded of this when recently I developed a crush on the Amy Adams character in American Hustle. Aside from the obvious achievement in the art of tit-tape, hers was a study in all that was right about 1970’s fashion, rather than what was wrong as in the case of the male characters. I now have a wide brimmed claret coloured floppy hat, a leather skirt and a silky blouse to show for my fascination. I don’t have the boobs or the nerve for the ‘no bra, slashed to the waist necklines’ but oh if I could do that look too (and work out how to remain bolt upright all day ensuring boobs don’t move) then I’m sure I would. Note: Amy Adams does a lot of erect posing on the end of desks and strutting down streets in the film, we don’t see her, say, emptying the washing machine or trying to reach for something she’s dropped. It might be a very different film if we had. Suffice to say, film stars have stylists, wardrobe departments and costume designers to work with, and these people get awards for their efforts. I happened to discover in the run up to the BAFTAs (courtesy of my BAFTA mole) that a bid for a nomination was submitted for the costume designer on All is Lost. Have you seen that film? Robert Redford is the only character and he wears maybe three different pairs of chinos and t-shirts, admittedly mostly sopping wet. I’m sure the costume designer had to do her fair share of tumble drying but really, this was not one of the great feats of wardrobe creativity.Another two characters who are almost more identifiable than the actresses themselves are Bonnie Parker and Annie Hall. As gun-toting, cigarette smoking Bonnie in 1930’s berets and knits, Faye Dunaway was a sexy and glamorous killer and her look has stood the test of time, recognisable even by those who have never seen the film.
Diane Keaton and her character Annie Hall are less easy to distinguish from one another and given that Hall is Keaton’s real surname as well as Annie being her nickname, it’s not surprising to find out the role was written for her. The eccentric get-up of hat, tie, flat shoes and oversized masculine tailoring owes a lot to Keaton’s own personal style, indeed the actress chose to wear men’s black tie to this year’s Golden Globes, and not for the first time. (You see, Angelina, it’s so not a new idea). But then actresses, especially acclaimed ones, are not going to agree to costumes they can’t identify with, or that doesn’t resonate with a character who after all is ultimately their creation. Think about actress Meg Ryan. Far be it from me to suggest her screen characters tend to dress similarly, but they do. And that style coincidentally looks very much like the style this (talented) actress wears off-duty – kookie, casual and boyish.
And where would we be if Audrey Hepburn hadn’t hooked up with Hubert de Givenchy for Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Funny Face? Together they collaborated on the costumes for several of her films and in doing so inadvertently created a style that would be emulated for decades to come.
The silver screen at its best is intoxicating because it allows us to be transported to another world, if only for two hours. Rehashing some of the beautiful outfits for ourselves is a way of holding onto the fantasy. We may not all own skin tight shiny trousers and a plunging catsuit, but show me the woman who doesn’t have a little black dress and dark glasses in her closet.