Costume is character. An underrated part of the magic of moviemaking is how clothing defines our heroes and villains, contextualizes the setting, pushes the narrative forward, and even fills in the backstory. This year’s pickings were anything but slim, with many of the best fashion films revisiting the style of a bygone era: whether the late ’60s vibes of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the ’70s flamboyance of Elton John in Rocketman, or even the late-aughts ensembles of Hustlers, in which we all vicariously crawled into J.Lo’s fur coat. In 2019 we also gained a new, unexpected fashion icon in Adam Sandler, whose status as style king is only rivaled by Matthew McConaughey in The Beach Bum. Here, the 11 movies this year with the very best fashion moments.
Uncut Gems (Josh and Benny Safdie)
It’s schmuck season, baby—and no one is doing it in flashier style than Adam Sandler. Ditching his usual loose basketball shorts for tailored slacks adorned with Ferragamo belts, Sandler quickly became a style god when set photos of the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems hit the internet. As a Diamond District jeweler with a penchant for gambling, Sandler’s Howie is all about polo shirts and leather jackets accessorized with buckles and pinky rings. His eyewear combines two painfully uncool things (rimless and transition) in a way that actually kind of works. Howie’s most memorable look, though, is the punch-drunk pink dress shirt he wears to the club: flamboyant and romantic, but surprisingly machismo—especially when it gets untucked after a brawl with The Weeknd.
Queen & Slim (Melina Matsoukas)
Director Melina Matsoukas was best known for helming music videos for Beyoncé and Rihanna (no big deal) before dropping her first feature film this year. Given her previous work with these fashion icons, it’s no wonder she carved out time for a makeover montage in her lovers-on-the-run drama, then, though in a way we’ve never seen before. With cops hot on their tails, Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) hop out of bed in the middle of the night, raid the closets of Queen’s uncle and his girlfriend closets, and transform into—surprise!—music video-ready looks, with Slim in a velvet tracksuit and Queen in a zebra-print slip and snakeskin boots. (How she manages to pull off mixing animal prints during a distressing situation is a particular point of envy.) A few more hat-tips go out to Queen’s pre-makeover outfit of chic white turtleneck and pants with a suede coat, and Queen’s uncle’s Gucci tracksuit.
Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria)
We’re swiftly approaching the 20th anniversary of the 2000s, which means aughts nostalgia will soon be in full swing. The true story-based Hustlers, about a band of grifting strippers, viscerally brought back memories of 2007, when we were collectively suffering from a financial and fashion crisis. Aside from the stripper staples—big hoop earrings and platform heels—the movie reminded us, for better or worse, of cropped denim jackets, velour tracksuits, fringed purses, and those thin elastic headbands hipsters wore across their foreheads (guilty). All those sartorial mistakes are forgiven because of J.Lo’s fur coat, which perfectly signifies her mama bear status from her first moments on screen. “Come on, climb in my fur,” she tells the newcomer Destiny (Constance Wu), in what has to be the most coveted invite of the year. But an even better fashion moment happened off-screen, right after Hustlers’ release: J.Lo closed Versace’s spring 2020 show with a reinvented reprisal of the iconic Grammys green dress, two decades later.
Ash Is Purest White (Jia Zhangke)
In this 16-year-spanning Chinese epic from Jia Zhangke, the director’s longtime collaborator (and real-life partner) Zhao Tao plays Qiao, a woman scorned by her gangster boyfriend. After saving his life, then taking the fall for him and spending five years in prison for it, she cons her way back to the boyfriend, who doesn’t want to be found, in this doomed, confrontational love story. But before the fantasy-shattering reality sets in, we get a glimpse of their whirlwind romance in the early days of the 21st century. It’s in both a euphoric club scene (where “YMCA” drops twice), and the film’s pivotal moment, that Qiao wears one of the most unforgettable costumes of the year: a black cocktail dress adorned with a large butterfly, and a sheer pink bedazzled blouse on top.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
This past summer marked the 50th anniversary of the summer of 1969, the eventful season that brought about the moon landing, Woodstock, Stonewall, and the Manson murders. Tarantino’s newest feature is, as its title suggests, an ode to Hollywood that includes a revisionist take on the last item on that list. The film features the Manson family in hippie-dippie California garments, while Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate as a beaming girl next door: bright smile, bouncy hair, and, of course, plenty of go-go boots. Robbie doesn’t have very many lines (a big point of contention during the Tarantino discourse this past summer), but she embodies California sunshine in a way that infiltrates the seedier crevices of this film. But judging from this year’s Halloween costumes, the most iconic sartorial number did not come from Sharon Tate but from Brad Pitt’s stuntman character: namely, the casual Champion shirt he wears under an open Hawaiian one. Arguably, the actual best fashion moment, however, is when Brad takes off both those shirts while fixing an antenna on the roof. He really didn’t have to do that, but he did...and we are eternally grateful.
Midsommar (Ari Aster)
My favorite part about Midsommar is that Florence Pugh becomes progressively more fashionable as the movie becomes more horrifying. American college student Dani (Pugh), shaken from her sister’s suicide, follows her shitty boyfriend to Sweden, unaware that her time there would be anything but relaxing. Though, to be fair, Dani doesn’t seem prepared for much; in her grief, she barely packs for a European getaway and initially wears a rotation of worn-out T-shirts and sweats in 50 shades of grey. (Booooring.) She eventually gets roped into the pagan rituals of the Swedes during their Midsommar festivities—bad news for her generally, but good news for her wardrobe. Dani starts leaning into the prairie-core trend of last year, culminating into that massive floral May Queen number that rivals even Balenciaga’s dramatic parachute gown from spring 2020.
Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher)
It’s more a credit to real-life Elton John’s sense of style than anyone involved in the film, but the singer’s show-stopping outfits brought this musical biopic to life. Some are tonally awkward—like the horned devil costume he sports when stomping into an AA meeting in the opening scene—but Elton certainly didn’t give a damn about dressing appropriately. There are few movies this year where the costumes are so superior to its other elements; it’s through them that we can fully understand what a natural-born, spotlight-stealing performer the singer born Reginald Dwight really is. Taron Egerton plays the rocket man and gets to don every iconic rhinestone and sequin-encrusted piece from Elton’s heyday, including the infamous Dodgers uniform, and the star-spangled garb he wore at a seminal performance at the Troubadour.
The Beach Bum (Harmony Korine)
What a great year for Hawaiian shirts. Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum may rival Uncut Gems as the defining fashion film of the year; forgoing Diamond District “schmuck style” for something a bit more nomadic and hypebeast-y, the stoner poet Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) romps around the Florida Keys in tie-dyed, flame-printed, tropical motifs of all kinds, usually with a fanny pack strapped over his waist. Like Uncut Gems, The Beach Bum’s fashion was hyped by set photos of McConaughey in the most spectacularly wacky outfits (lest we forget Zac Efron with his panini-inspired facial hair). Moondog makes a case for beach Uggs, as well as the bong as an accessory on par with a purse. But his most carefree, ethereal ensemble is the pink marabou feather robe. There are many robes like it out there to emulate his, but McConaughey’s feathery, beachy hair and the brilliantly baked mind underneath it are inimitable.
The Hustle (Chris Addison)
Not to be confused with Hustlers, this far inferior film is a flopped remake of the 1988 buddy comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine. In the gender-flipped modern version, Anne Hathaway plays a glamorous British con artist named Josephine whose swindling streak is thrown off when she meets a brash Australian woman named Penny (Rebel Wilson), whose game is the same, but whose style is...a bit off-kilter. It’s ripe with bad jokes, but it’s not a complete eyesore thanks to the turned-out, elegant looks Josephine sports to carry out her hustles: high-slit black gowns and form-fitting white bondage dresses, and one white-suit-and-floppy-hat combo that screams leisurely con wealth. The cherry on top that becomes a repeat accessory? Her Marni sunglasses.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan)
Good luck deciphering this mesmerizing, mysterious sophomore feature from the Chinese director Bi Gan, who takes the English title from Eugene O’Neill’s play, but not much else. This is film noir by way of Wong Kar-Wai, but with a ghostly search for a lover. It’s an atmosphere film steeped in memory—moody, smoky—that takes an even sharper turn into dream world in the second half, with an hour-long, single-take, 3-D segment. The elusive figure that appears in and out of the frame, perpetually haunting our lonely protagonist, is his former lover, always in a green dress, often asking for a light. This green dress flows and shimmers, emulating ripples in a pond, and becomes even more illuminating by cigarette light.
Glass (M. Night Shyamalan)
The biggest, most Shyamalan-esque plot twist of the year is the fact that a Shyamalan film is gracing a best fashion films list. It’s frankly unexpected, but I couldn’t not notice it either. The third in the horror director’s Unbreakable series, following 2017’s Split, brings together three superheroes/villains—Bruce Willis’s David Dunn, James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, and Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass—in a mental institute. They are examined by a psychiatrist, Dr. Ellie Staple, who is convinced they all share delusions of grandeur instead of possessing actual supernatural abilities. Sarah Paulson plays Dr. Staple, who has no reason to dress so well but shows up in the most Grown-Ass Woman outfits anyway: cashmere sweaters, A-line skirts, and heels.
Originally Appeared on Vogue