I Watch a Lot of Films—These 40 On-Screen Outfits Are the Most Iconic

Elinor Block
·8-min read

Hands up, who's lost count of the number of films they've watched over the past 10 months? I'd be lying if I said I could even attempt to work it out, such is the amount of time I've spent in front of the TV. While puzzles lose their novelty after a while and you can only bake so much sourdough before you realise you could open up your own branch of Greggs, films never stop being fun. But being a fashion journalist, I've also spent a long time making a mental note of the outfits that I love the most that have appeared on-screen.

Fashion, or rather costume design, in film is vital to making a character stand out. Whether it's a barely-there green satin dress that's actually pivotal to a pair of lovers' story or a pair of Chanel boots demonstrating the protagonist's changing personality, clothes can make the character. Of course, it can be that the fashion we're watching on the big screen (or small screen right now) is just really great to look at, too. (Hello, Holly Golightly.)

Over the past few months, I've watched old films as well as a load of new films and have decided that these are my favourite 40 outfits in movies. While some titles might surprise you (especially the newer ones), try to think of them as future classics. Keep scrolling for the best on-screen movie looks. You might even find some Netflix recommendations on the way.

Style Notes: Look, we probably don't need to tell you that Clueless has many great outfits. But this is still the winner.

Style Notes: Anorange bikini has never looked so chic. It's now still our swimsuit colour of preference (when we can actually use it, mind you).

Style Notes: The ultimate outfit from Pretty Woman? This polka-dots dress in brown with white, of course.

Style Notes: If you ever want a template for how to look chic while on the arm of a gangster, then Elvira Hancock, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, is it. There are plenty of chic outfits to choose from, but this one, in my opinion, is one I'd want to re-create the most.

Style Notes: Chic, terrifying, and seriously sassy—a lethal combo.

Style Notes: At this point when talking about fashion and films, I think Breakfast at Tiffany's needs no introduction. Of course, most will discuss at length the black gown created by Givenchy, but personally, I was always drawn to this more dressed-down look of a double-buttoned orange coat. The fluffy hat is so au courant, n'est pas?

Style Notes: I love Barbra Streisand. I would happily watch any film she's in. Here in the 1976 version of A Star Is Born, we see her in this boho outfit, which is very spring/summer 2021 to be honest.

Style Notes: There's not a Who What Wear editor who doesn't reference this look every Christmas when Home Alone viewing becomes mandatory. The white open-collar jumper is one thing, but it's the Max Mara–style coat that we really love.

Style Notes: Look, Julia Roberts never looks bad in anything. That should be obvious by now. This oversize pinstripe jacket in My Best Friend's Wedding is so wonderfully '90s, but it would still look great today.

Style Notes: Pick any one of Dolly Parton's looks in 9 to 5, and you won't be disappointed. But the one that does it for me right now? This peach knitted dress.

Style Notes: Cher in a movie is always going to promise great things when it comes to fashion, but does anything beat this great mermaid costume in Mermaids?

Style Notes: The Chanel boots? Yes, of course, that's the outfit we went for. What else?

Style Notes: Classic and elegant, Whitney Houston's Vannah never gets it wrong with her wardrobe.

Style Notes: It's not the outfit I'll choose to meet friends for brunch in (once the pandemic is over, of course), but it's definitely a fancy-dress costume I'll be considering.

Style Notes: You might have had eyes for Nancy's grunge get-up, but I was all about Rochelle's petit cardi with rolled-up shirt sleeves.

Style Notes: Legend has it that Olivia Newton-John had to be sewn into these ludicrously tight trousers.

Style Notes: Unsurprisingly, in a film about fashion, it's hard to pick just one look. But perhaps it's this simple, expensive-looking (and probably actually expensive) outfit that wins it. The matching maroon heels offset by the emerald ring makes it appear super rich.

Style Notes: Just finished Industry and want to see how people dressed for work in the '80s? It's all about those big shoulders and big collars.

Style Notes: It's hard to pick, but this pink bodysuit just cinches it.

Style Notes: No, there is no one cooler than Pam Grier as Foxy Brown. This leather jacket with the wide collar is such a great '70s look.

Style Notes: Mrs. Robinson is just so chic. From the fluffy coats to the leopard-print jackets, there's no end to her great looks.

Style Notes: This yellow dress from 2003 (yes, the film is that old), is an outfit I still think about and is one I'd like to actually wear.

Style Notes: A white shirt and a pair of black trousers surely can't look that good. Uma Thurman begs to differ.

Style Notes: If I was being pedantic, I'd say that this Dolce & Gabbana outfit doesn't actually belong to Marisa (played by Jennifer Lopez) in Maid in Manhattan. She actually borrows it from a guest at the hotel where she works. However, it helps her nab the guy.

Style Notes: Liz Taylor in any film and in any outfit is always a knockout. This slip dress from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is quite something, however.

Style Notes: Is it the hair clip, the coat, or the Hermès bag that really makes this whole look? Whatever it is, Gwyneth Paltrow playing this role is still one that fashion editors continue to reference and love.

Style Notes: In one of the ultimate films for fashion lovers, Diana Ross, playing a model and fashion designer, showcases some incredible outfits. This orange dress is the moment she walks the runway in one of her own creations.

Style Notes: Nothing says Coco Chanel more than a tweed suit, pearls, and two-tone shoes.

Style Notes: Ever just wanted to see someone who dressed like you on-screen? Kristen Stewart in Adventureland is that for me. Lou Reed T-shirts for the win.

Style Notes: Dreamgirls, featuring Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé, was a big hit back in 2006, and while the sparkly onstage costumes were fun, a favourite look comes when Beyoncé rejects her manager/husband's demands and sings "Listen." The headscarf and the halterneck are perfection.

Style Notes: The pink gloves with a strapless pink gown, topped off with lashings of diamonds? Only Marilyn Monroe could pull this off.

Style Notes: I could have chosen the gorgeous high-neck, long-sleeve satin wedding gown, as seen on Maria when she marries the Captain, but I've gone for this Laura Ashley-esque frock, which I'd actually wear today.

Style Notes: This isn't a look I'll be jumping to re-create, but I do love how much the purple jumps out from the screen. From the hat to the lapels as well as the tie, the belt, and the umbrella, Rose's whole look makes you realise that she's someone important.

Style Notes: Most might immediately think about Carrie's Vivienne Westwood wedding dress, but I also think about this look in the first Sex and the City movie. It's the clashing green shades and clashing prints that do it for me, but the added touch of Carrie? It's the studded black belt contrasted against the florals that is the final flourish.

Style Notes: This is the sort of dress that you don't forget in a hurry. Despite the fact that it's over 10 years old, costume designer Jacqueline Durran, who created this for Keira Knightley to wear in Atonement, revealed that it's surprised her that people still talk about it.

Style Notes: The dress that had so many people wanting to wear yellow.

Style Notes: The reason why I especially love this dress is that it reminds me of Cinderella. In Crazy Rich Asians, Constance Wu's character, Rachel, wears this Marchesa frock to the wedding of Nick's friend Colin, and it's easily one of the most romantic moments in the film.

Style Notes: The knotted tee, the chain belt, the skin-tight trousers, and even the shag-cut hair are very cliché rock 'n' roll, but it all totally works. If you haven't watched this version of A Star Is Born yet, I urge you to do so immediately.

Style Notes: There's something wonderfully scruffy about Jo March's look here. The open waistcoat open with the ruffled blazer and the slightly skewed red tie all make the outfit signify her rebellious nature.

Next up, The biggest spring/summer 2021 fashion trends to know.

This article originally appeared on Who What Wear

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