The Reading List: Fashion in Film

Taking pride of place on my bedside table this week is Fashion in Film, a series of essays on (you guessed it) fashion in film.  Edited by Adrienne Munich, this compendium is a rich and diverse look into the world of film costuming and what it all means. Film buffs and  film studies dabblers will know that what a character wears in a film is always significant; a colour, a neckline, a style can all reflect that character’s personality thoughts and feelings in incredibly subtle ways.

The book is split into four sections; Fashioning Film (essays on fashion in genre/particular director’s films), Filming Fashion (how costume design has evolved in films), Fashioning National Identities (fashion in international – so, non-American films) and After Fashion (how older women are dressed in films).

Yes, it’s an academic textbook.  Most of the time, it doesn’t read like one.  This is a good thing.  While full of the informative, thoughtful discourse that a person would expect from a university text, most of the essays are engaging, entertaining and even funny (notably Mary Ann Caws piece, ‘What to Wear in a Vampire Film’ – lesbian vampires never looked so cool).  Requisite space is given to perennial fashion film pleaser, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, while other essays cover such diverse topics as film noir, french fashion film in the 1910 -20s and how the Victorian women are portrayed in film.

If I could offer a criticism of this book, it’s the usual one that crops up with ‘school’ books – not enough illustrations and none in colour.  Fashion isn’t in monochrome, so an insert of colour photographs would have been nice.  A lack of colour does the essays in this book a disservice.

One or two of the essays stray from talking about clothing to talking about the female body, which while relevant, is perhaps not as relevant as talking about the clothes.

I thought that I was reasonably well-informed about fashion and film before reading this book, but I was incredibly wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Now, on finishing, I have a list of movies to watch that will more than likely keep me going until mid 2012, from colour-saturated Sirk melodramas, to Adrian-costumed Madam Satan, to the ostentation of Fassbinder and the beautiful sleek lines of Wong Kar Wai.

That’s almost the point of a book like this – it makes you want to watch all the films mentioned and enjoy them all the more for having read it.

Fashion in Film is published by Indiana University Press.

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