Mar 16, 2023
A history of fashion through media
Tracing the history of fashion, one can clearly see a distinct evolution from the Greco-Roman era up to modern day. However, with the expansion of technology and social media in the 21st century our perspective of style, freedom of expression and impact on trends has seen unprecedented growth. Yet despite this burst of forward thinking, 21st century designers seem to obsessively question how we express ourselves in history and how we can revive emotion through style.
Looking back at the initial expansion of the film industry in the 20th century, creative minds began to pitch films representing vibrant tones of history. In Joseph Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra (1963) the process of costuming for Elizabeth Taylor’s role of Cleopatra, was revealed to have a record-breaking budget of $194 800. Every penny was evidently used to explore the expression of 1960’s luxury projected onto Ancient Egypt.
In the latter half of the century Francis Ford Coppola’s film Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) offered a whole new take on period costuming by setting the film in the 18th century with heavy mythological undertones. This retelling of history pushed the costuming team to create a distinctly 1980’s avant-garde approach to Victorian clothing wear. High-waisted silhouettes with sloped necklines were adorned by women, and the illusion of hourglass figures inspired by Prince Albert for men. The costuming of the film transports one into a different world and period certainly, but the influence of 1980’s fashion trends remains undeniably imprinted on the screen.
In the 21st century technological advances were made and more about our history was discovered, and, in turn, the need to create authentic period films was in high demand. This century is dedicated to some of the most highly acclaimed cinematic historical fictions in history—especially those set in the 18th and 19th centuries. Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice (2005) is ultimately one of the most recognizable titles of this category, along with Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006). Wright’s film focuses more on the authenticity of fabrics worn by the middle class of late 19th century England, whereas Coppola’s takes advantage of the colours worn by aristocrats to symbolise the improper spending of wealth in 18th century France.
Regarding this subject, I talked with a First-Year costuming student Nadia Ross about their favourite period film from this decade and why. “A personal favourite of mine is The Duchess” she excitedly claimed about the wonderfully designed 18th century wardrobe by Michael O’Connor. “The designers did a wonderful job of making the costumes visually interesting [whilst] following the storyline.” Ross shared just how impactful costuming can be not only to the immersion into the film world but also the subconscious believability of the story. “Throughout the film the silhouettes even change subtly, showing the passage of time.” Ross added “They add to the story in a narrative sense, [but] they’re also beautiful.”
As we move through the 21st century, we have now put enough distance between ourselves and recent history to start creating period pieces in the 20th century. Hidden Figures (2016), Carol (2015), The Great Gatsby (2013), and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) are a select few that represent this shift in period films. This period seems to hold a peak interest in modern society. Presently, we are seeing a rather vast amount of fashion media retreating back to a nostalgic era. Perhaps the result of parental figures passing down vivid memories or perhaps an attempt to create a bond between generations that would otherwise be difficult.
In another few decades, we will find ourselves recreating our present day through cinema, with an emphasis on the future collective consciousness. This prediction begs one to question the multitude of our present different niches, aesthetics, and “-cores” that arise monthly. It will be hard to know just what is to be reflected in the future, what will be forgotten and what trends will be twisted to the benefit of future expression. However, fashion truly is an unspoken language that exists beyond a screen or runway. It is to be remembered—with this increasing noise of influence what remains as the real beauty of fashion is how it allows people to feel comfortable and confident in their own skin.