The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Movies for Inspiration

Movies have always inspired us, almost since their inception. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a movie has to be worth a million (at least!)  In just a few frames we can see how a garment moves and what it will do while wearing.

There’s no way a picture can show the flourish of this skirt in one shot.  With a movie or video we see so much more.

Probably the first definitive dress that broke through as an “it” dress was Elizabeth Taylor’s dress in A Place in the Sun.

For that spring prom, there wasn’t a girl out there that didn’t want this dress.  It was so huge it shocked retailers and believe it or not, most of the dresses that spring were made, because retailers were caught short and couldn’t supply the demand.

Then came color and high fashion which seemed to meld with movies into a major role in fashion.  Here are some of the more formative at the beginning of this influence of film on fashion.


1953 How To Marry A Millionaire
Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe
A romantic comic vehicle that was as much a fashion show as anything else, but notice the silhouette – a complete accentuation of the muffin top was totally fashionable.   This was the full-figured, voluptuous and extremely feminine figure after World War II.   This was the extension of “The Look” by Dior with the cinched waist and the very full skirt.


1953 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell
This is a major movie, another comedy/fashion show, only a lot more bling in this production.  These are two show girls, so there’s lots of stage costumes, but also glamor outfits as the movie is mostly shot on a ship cruise.  The part I love so much here is that these two gals had totally different figures, but Edith Head did such a great job of designing for each of them that it’s hard to tell the difference.  Jane Russell was a big girl with big bones, tall and broad-shouldered.  Marilyn Monroe was shorter, and much bustier for her size than Russell.  Russell’s shoulders were much broader so you saw her wear a lot different look, while Monroe’s bodice was smaller, but her bust was bigger.


1954 Sabrina
Audrey Hepburn
Another comedy/fashion show, but had a worthwhile plot.  Here again is the severely small waist with the large skirt making the hip look even larger than it might have been.  Hepburn was a dancer and had that dancer silhouette which was much more sleek.  This is the very beginning of the dance studio’s leggings and top used for street wear.  This was also the first combo of Givenchy/Hepburn even though Edit Head is given credit for the movie.  Givenchy was asked to do the costumes however he didn’t think he could commit the time, but he opened up his salon and she picked out some great dresses, including the white with black lace famous dress. The interesting thing here is that Ms. Head’s credits in the movie is the way the movie industry works.  If a movie costume designer gets fashions from here or there, the designer gets credit, not the source of the clothes (unless they pay as a means of advertising).  After this, Hepburn used Givenchy almost exclusively.


1957 Designing Woman
Lauren Bacall & Gregory Peck
This was one of those comic vehicles that was a fashion show as much as a movie.  The outfits Lauren Bacall wore (remember she was a model before becoming an actress).  The skinny waist and fuller skirt is part of “The Look” by Dior.  Part of what made Bacall’s waist look so small was that the skirts were so full right below the waist. This is when having a muffin top was VERY chic.


1957 – Funny Face
Audrey Hepburn
This whole movie was about fashion in a tongue-in-check sort of way and  there’s a lot of beautiful stuff in it.  This was the beginning of the Hepburn/Givenchy love affair and continued throughout her life.  In this movie you can see some of the finest styles of Givenchy as well as his first movie credit.

Breakfast at Tiffanys

1961 Breakfast at Tiffany
Audrey Hepburn
On EVERYONE’S list of fashionable movies is Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Truman Capote was such a student of style and trends, that to have the movie be even better than the book was beyond his wildest dreams.  This movie will forever, define this classic style, which is so timeless, there has hardly be a decade since that you couldn’t wear Holly Golightly’s dresses and not be in fashion!  THAT is the definition and final test of classic – can you wear it today?….in a year?….in a decade?…if yes, it’s classic.  Even during the Grungy 90’s when clients would come to me wanting formal wear – something pretty to wear during the 90’s, I would draw from these classic lines.  With this movie the highly creative Hepburn/Givenchy triumvirate was born. This was the consummate fashion show, but had a real plot and was lightly entertaining at the same time.



1963 Charade
Audrey Hepburn
This was probably at Givenchy’s height in his design career, and absolutely nothing takes away from the stellar designs he used for this movie.  Another example of classic styles that have endured through the decades.  This movie was made OVER FIFTY YEARS AGO!!! That’s half a century.  This is how classic these styles are.



1966 How To Steal A Million
Audrey Hepburn
Even though this was a Hepburn/Givenchy collaboration in costume, I thought it got a little jumping the sharkThis inevitably happens when a style has gone too long and the style keeps varying itself over and over.  There are only so many variations and then you must change.  The change turned to huge shoulder pads and the opulence of the 80’s.  Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Charade were the three most influential, but this movie can not be discarded, because it is a clear reflection of the time it was made.


Rear Window

1954 Rear Window
Grace Kelly
There are some movies that stand by themselves – either because of when they were made or a magic combination of fashion design and the costume designer.  This movie was one of Edith Head’s best movies – and then next one, but this one doesn’t get as much attention as the next one, and I think the fashions here are as influential as Breakfast at Tiffany and Charade.  This is pure American, where Hepburn’s had a European influence, not that one’s better or worse, just different.  What many consider frumpy and plain, is actually well-designed and fitted garments in a very classic mode.  That suit shell under the suit is classic.  The fit on the floral dress (which the design matches in front) is about as good a fit as you can get on a garment.  The full white skirt with the black basic bodice, is a blast to wear (I’ve worn something like this and it’s so much fun and you feel so girlie).



1955 – To Catch a Thief
Grace Kelly
Probably the most famous of Edith Head’s movies, and got way more press than Rear Window, although this does have my fav design of all movie-dom….that glorious outfit to go swim in;  the hat, the over skirt, the deep-shoulder-sleeve cut bodice, even the shoes are totally classic espadrilles! In some ways Rear Window was a warm-up for this movie, and probably why it got so much more press than Rear Window is because of the scope – particularly the costume ball, in which there are numerous gowns created for a few seconds close-up in the movie – just imagine the expense for that.  Rear Window is more about clothes you would wear every day, where TCAT is more about how the rich live (or lived!)  But because we can sew, we can look like how the rich live(d)!!!


Tippi Hedren

1963-The Birds & 1964-Marnie
Tippi Hedren
She did these two classic movies with Hitchcock with Edith Head doing both movies.  This shows the classic nature of Head’s designs.  This is the typical way of the test of classic – would these styles be good today?  They definitely would and some even more fashionable today (lower left) gorgeous jacket.  And in Marnie, the classic suit with the flippy hem which is so totally chic today.  The top is Marnie and the bottom is The Birds.



1963 – Cleopatra
Elizabeth Taylor
There are so many classics that she made: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer, Giant, but she never topped Cleopatra.  Maybe it was the first time hype was out of the ballpark.  Today we are so jaded to all the spinning.  When this movie came out everyone wanted to look like Cleopatra and this movie on it’s own rejuvenating the cat eye makeup of the 60’s.  It was a huge effect on the fashion of the times.


Finally there are a few movies in my mind that were important but not on everyone’s list but should be.  As many of you know I was never a fan of Grunge.  I know why it had to be (as complete reverse of the opulence of the 80’s), but that didn’t mean I had to like it.  My fear was that the “children of Grunge” would never know beautiful clothing that we who had experienced those beautiful styles of the 80’s knew.  Hopefully they will grow to experience that in the future.  We are well due for a trend like that – a trend that searches for the beauty in the female figure.   But a few movies bucked that style and that period of fashion and are worth noting for that reason alone.



1995 Clueless
Alicia Silverstone
This movie was released deep in the middle of the Grunge fashion era, yet this main character had to look like she shopped at the most expensive, most fashionable and most exclusive shops.  Grunge may cost a lot, but it didn’t ever look like it.  That was the whole point of Grunge (sort of stupid to look like you didn’t spend a lot when you did – like ugly is beauty which was a saying during this era!)  This was more than just tartans and plaids, it really was about cheerful beautiful clothes – not the trend of the time.


1999 The Thomas Crown Affair
Rene Russo
As much as the original of this movie was a fashion statement, so was this version, only bigger.  The first version was a reflection of the styles of the 60’s, but this movie bucked the current fashion yet stayed within it’s boundaries.  The current trend was deep in Grunge filled with raw edges, ill-fitting clothes with a torn and worn look.  Not so with this film.  Trim and neat and clean and yet very much in fashion, this new Catherine Baning looked sharp smart and sassy.  This is the trademark for this character and she had to break the fashion trend to look that way.  For me this was a major break with fashion, and frankly I couldn’t wait to knock off everything I saw in this movie!


The Great Gatsby

2013 The Great Gatsby
Designers Catherine Martin and Miuccia Prada (from Prada)
Sometimes it’s the other way around.  That is, the movie reflects the styles of today in a historical context and as long as folks know that, it’s OK.  The trouble is most of the time folks don’t know this.  And this was the case with The Great Gatsby in 2013.  The designs in this movie were not historically correct, and they weren’t created to be.  The problem with that is that viewers think that these really were the fashions and think things haven’t changed much, when they have changed remarkably.  The fashions that were created for this movie were meant to reflect the shocking quality of the fashions that the flapper fashion reflected at the time it was worn.  Thus, these costumes were purposely scanty, revealing, sheer and otherwise shocking for the audience of today to reflect how shocking they were during the 20’s.

This is a case where the styles of today effect the historical styles of a movie.  For me, as I said before, if the viewer knows this, it’s OK, but most of the time they don’t, and this does a great disservice to the viewer as well as to the artistic product itself.  It’s really safer and much more classic to stay with the style of the historical period reflected in the movie – otherwise you start re-writing history and that gets into all sorts of problems!


Movie influence has moved into its own genre of Cosplay in which people purchase or make exquisitely detailed costumes based on characters of popular movies.  Mostly these are separate from the main stream of dressing, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be inspired by or otherwise encouraged to create our own designs based on the movies!

What are some of your favorite movies that have inspired you?


  1. This was fun to read, but I’m confused about your definition of “muffin top.” None of the photos here represent the definition of “muffin top” that I am familiar with.

    • Muffin top was/is an expression the young kids use to refer to the
      overflow of above those hipster usually jeans but can be any
      pants.  When hipsters and accentuation of the hip was at it’s
      height (during the late 90’s and early 2000’s), this referred to any
      bulge above the hip or waist on the body.  This trend also made
      out the tight waist with the resulting thicker hip  (right
      below the cinched waist) was also nicknamed the muffin top and even
      today when accentuation is turning away from the hip toward 
      the waist, it’s the raised waist that is the most desired, not the
      true waist.  The reason for this is that it is a much gentler
      and more flattering line, AND it avoids the muffin top overflow

      Of course all this could be avoided if the hipster pants/jeans fit
      correctly and weren’t too tight for the wearer. 

  2. I usually watch older movies and mostly for the costumes. Anything 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s, especially musicals. Dazzling!! I try to imagine fabrics and what techniques they used for construction. Love the costumes you chose for this wonderful article!

  3. Thanks so much for this I really enjoyed reading it, my favourite is probably Rear Window. Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn epitomise style for me.

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