x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Katie Trotter: classics of costume

It's a shame that the dramatic function of costume has been largely forgotten in a world of celebrity endorsement.

The love affair between film and fashion has been long documented, and the marriage deemed a successful one – certainly in the past the two absolutely needed each other before bloggers, extensive media exposure and the introduction of the “celebrity”.

But what is it that makes a fashionable film character last? Well, first, he or she needs to offer up a piece of healthy escapism, something that makes us wonder why we are wearing the same old tripe as everyone else when we could look magnificent. Second, we have to like the person, or at least want to be like him or her. Take Faye Dunaway, the leggy blonde in Bonnie and Clyde in 1967, or Anne Bancroft, who played Mrs Robinson in The Graduate the same year. They both had every housewife in the audience dreaming of swapping the twin-sets and cookie-cutter dresses for berets, trench coats and vixen pencil skirts. Then there was Diane Keaton’s lovable if slightly neurotic Annie in Annie Hall (1977), who made us yearn for her cool, offbeat nonchalance as much as we did for the hat, the braces and the wide-leg trousers.

And, of course, who could forget John Travolta’s performance in Saturday Night Fever (1977), when disco was in full swing and pop culture was beginning to explode? This was no easy look, with platform shoes, blow-dried hair and white suit – but it was the perfect mix of style and character; men wanted to be like him and woman wanted to be liked by him.

The 1980s also had a few film favourites, such as Jennifer Beals in Flashdance (1983), who seemingly overnight turned activewear into street wear, or Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), who, with rhinestone boots and poodle perm, had every teenage girl attempting to wear underwear as outerwear and every father on high alert.

Yet it’s not always the theatrics that stick. Take my favourite, Uma Thurman’s portrayal of Mia Wallace in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). While admittedly her character – a drug-taking, washed-out celebrity – was no wallflower, her clothing beautifully executed the power of simple styling. It was all in the detail: the crisp white shirt worn with a black bra and blunt black fringe, and that scene when Thurman dances with Travolta in a slightly flared pair of black pedal pushers that left their mark on cinematic style for more than a decade.

It is a truism that fashion passes but style remains; even so, it is sad to admit we have reached a stage where some of the most wonderful stylistic referencing, once taken from clever characterisation in film, is all but lost in the flurry of celebrity endorsement.

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