A couple days ago Vanity Fair came out with their list of The 25 Most Fashionable Films of All Time, a collection that undoubtedly included some stylish films, but also raised a few questions about contemporary movies, because the list didn’t include a single film past 1988. I wish I could outright argue with Vanity Fair’s decision to focus on the classics, but I do have to agree with them that our most stylish cinematic days are probably behind us. Over the past twenty-four hours I’ve been racking my brain trying to com up with a recent movie that I feel could have made that list, and a few have come to mind, but they never really stand up against an “all time list.” It’s hard to find a film that matters in that context these days, mostly because I find style in recent movies to be too deliberate. There seems to be something forced about costumes, especially because most our contemporary films that are concerned with fashion are set in the past, or at least allude to it.
Yet, there is one film that comes to mind, Tom Ford’s A Single Man. While Ford did not do the costumes for the movie himself (a fact that I was pretty surprised about) he did work directly with costume designer Arianne Philips, in conceptualizing the style of the film. Set in California in the 1960’s, the film focuses on George Falconer (played by Colin Firth) a homosexual professor who is copping with the loss of his partner. The whole film is filled with the hard angles and strong hues of the mid-century modern period, a backdrop that only amplifies George’s already dramatic outfits that include little more than a form-fitting black suit, pressed white shirt, thick rimmed black glasses and a thin black tie.
There’s something haunting about his costumes, like a man dressed for his own funeral. He’s surrounded by few other characters but their clothes only seem designed to compliment his. There’s a young student in a fluffed out shaggy dog sweater and a lightly checked shirt-a plethora of textures against George’s flat black suit. A random acquaintance wearing a rolled white tee, cuffed selvedge denim, and work boots, sitting at the opposite end of the spectrum of simplicity. And then there’s the flashbacks to George meeting and spending time with his partner, the costumes are softer, the palate is more neutral, George wears light pants, and more relaxed shirts, painting a scene that is warmer all around. And then it’s back to normal, and George’s black suit feels all the more abrasive. With a film as small, and simultaneously as colossally important as A Single Man, the look of George and those around him exaggerates the effect of loss and guides the film to it’s completion.