The Style Essentials

The Style Essentials is my list of 50 films with the most iconic costume design that made an immediate and lasting impact on fashion. It started as a massive list with the most iconic costume design I could think of - everything from period costumes like Gone With The Wind to contemporary costumes like The Seven Year Itch. Then I narrowed it down to the films I saw impacted fashion at the time they premiered; they are historically relevant because they are largely responsible for what we now know of as 1920s style, 1930s style, and so on. Then I narrowed the list even further to the classic films I see continuing to influence design today.

These movies show some of the best examples of costume as an art form, but they also represent design that crossed over and changed our lives. These films made an impact from the first time they were seen onscreen and, as you can see through my Cinema Connection series, they continue to act as inspiration for many modern designers today.

This list was the foundation of the college course I taught on the HISTORY OF FASHION IN FILM as well as the public speaking series I do. Of course it is only the beginning - there is much more influential costume design knocking on the door, especially from the prolific 1940s and 1950s. But there are reasons behind each of these selections, which I share in essays and photoessays you can see through the links below. Together these movies are exceptionally good at tracing the evolution of fashion and proving the ongoing relevance of classic cinema.

Though the list of The Style Essentials is focused on women's style, some men - Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, among others - make their own strong showing in these films as well. I have noted those with an asterisk (*) below and included a few more mentions of movies that really showcase iconic Men's Style.

I've also included a few articles here and there from the Cinema Connection series to show how certain films have influenced fashion.  But there are many many more like these on the site, so I encourage you to do a quick search to find others you might enjoy. Here's to timeless style!

ABOVE: Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box (1929)

The Jazz Age

Our Dancing Daughters (1928) 

Woman of Affairs (1928)

Art Deco Elegance

The Women (1939)

* Other iconic 1930s Men's Style:  The Thin Man (1934)

Film Noir and Fantasy

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) 
Cinema Connection

* Other iconic 1940s Men's Style: Casablanca (1942), The Big Sleep (1946)

Opposites Attract

Funny Face (1957)

Pillow Talk (1959) *

* Other iconic 1950s Men's Style: An American in Paris (1951), The Wild One (1953),
Rebel Without a Cause (1955), North by Northwest (1959)


Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

* Other iconic 1960s Men's Style: Ocean's 11 (1960), Dr. No (1962),
Blow Up (1965), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Everybody’s All American

Shampoo (1975) *

Annie Hall (1977) 
Cinema Connection

 * Other iconic 1970s Men's Style: Chinatown (1974),
Three Days of the Condor (1975), Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Cinema Connection

Body Heat (1981)

Scarface (1983)
including Cinema Connection

Out of Africa (1985) *

Pretty in Pink (1986)

* More iconic 1980s Men's Style:  American Gigolo (1980), Wall Street (1987)

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