Over a decade ago, I interviewed Molly Ringwald for an article in the Los Angeles Times. We sat down at a bohemian garden café in Venice and crossed our legs in tandem to chat about her prodigal return to acting—and to the city itself. Or so she thought. Me? Sure, I had questions about her long absence from Hollywood and her arc from Brat Pack ingenue to middle-aged TV mom. But secretly and selfishly, I wanted to know one thing: Who made those unbelievably bitchin’ brown equestrian boots she wore in The Breakfast Club?
Film has always been my North Star when it comes to style. Please don’t ask me about the hot pink shoelace I wore as a headband throughout most of 1983, thanks to Valley Girl. Or about how I dressed like Faye Dunaway from Bonnie and Clyde, in a camel-hued beret, a tight knit sweater, and a swishy pencil skirt, for more than a few magazine interviews in New York during my mid-20s. “We rob banks,” I would say to myself in my head to self-soothe as I sat in the sleek and intimidating lobbies.
I’m hardly alone. In 1934, when Clark Gable eschewed an undershirt in the classic romp It Happened One Night, men took note. Sales of undershirts reportedly tumbled. Audrey Hepburn’s sleeveless black sheath in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961 made the little black dress a wardrobe staple. Three or so decades later, women like me feverishly sought out the perfect crisp white button-down shirt and cropped black pants—finally, a corporate femme-fatale look for the workplace!—that Uma Thurman popularized in Pulp Fiction.
This article appears in the Winter 2022 issue of Alta Journal.
Fashion designers, too, often name-check genre films as inspirations for collections and runway shows. Jeremy Scott, the creative director of Moschino, once told me that Blade Runner had a “profound” influence on his aesthetic. Five years ago, Parisian designer Olympia Le-Tan showed a collegiate sweater emblazoned with the word “Psycho” and a belt buckle inspired by a shower nozzle at her fall runway show. Feeling Hitchcock, anyone?
But a recent confluence of forces—both unforeseen and unstoppable—is now blunting the big screen’s impact on what’s de rigueur. “Film is not as influential as it used to be and not just because of the pandemic,” says costume designer Janie Bryant, sighing. Bryant upended the style of the times from 2007 to 2015 with her work on Mad Men. (FYI: my husband started wearing a goddamn fedora to his poker night.) Comic book franchises own the multiplex, Bryant points out. At least 10 superhero movies are slated to come our way in 2022. And look, who wouldn’t want the power of invisibility at a tense family reunion or the ability to fly away from their sullen tween? But that doesn’t mean we want to dress like Batman at Thanksgiving dinner or show up on a first date in a star-spangled bustier and red hot pants like Wonder Woman. “These movies are mostly targeted to teenage boys,” says Bryant. “Where are the epic costume dramas?”
On demand, that’s where. If video killed the radio star, the streamers are decapitating the movie studios and playing Parcheesi with their eyeballs. Take the Netflix hit period drama Bridgerton, for instance. Its effect on fashion was undeniable, right out of the gate. Vogue announced, “Bridgerton-Worthy Runway Looks to Inspire Your Own ‘Coming Out’ Style.” Indeed, the spring 2021 runway shows were rife with the type of frock that should come with a set of china and a side of clotted cream. London-based designer label Erdem showed puff-sleeved floral gowns redolent of the early-1800s Regency era, while Simone Rocha highlighted throwback flourishes like tulle, Empire waists, and big bows. And with some 7,500 period pieces created by Bridgerton costume designer Ellen Mirojnick for the premiere season, there was no shortage of frilly inspiration to glean.
Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight probably took a cue from the Mad Men fashion craze when he started a clothing line called Garrison Tailors in 2016 to peddle the haberdashery seen on his period crime drama, another streamer hit. Want to access the look? Knight’s tweed baker-boy cap sells for about $95 on the Garrison Tailors website, while a properly lined tweed suit and waistcoat run to around $900. “Lots of people seem to admire the way the Peaky boys look and it’s hard to find clothes that are of the same quality and cut in conventional shops and outlets,” notes Knight on the website. He’s pointing out just one of the reasons TV is eclipsing film when it comes to influencing our style: the characters come into our homes and live with us week to week. They’re like family.
THE TIKTOK EFFECT
But fashion, much like Hollywood, considers the younger folks to be its most valuable consumers. Teen girls are actually credited with leading the recent recovery in spending. (Did anyone else hear that mic drop?) And that dewy demo isn’t munching on movie theater popcorn. It’s hanging out on TikTok. For the uninitiated, the video app is overachieving Instagram’s relatable cousin who shows up at the party with a messy chignon and a stain on her jumpsuit. According to industry analyst Business of Apps, 69 percent of U.S. teenagers currently use TikTok. There are over 42 million youths aged 10 to 19 in the United States.
Big fashion houses like Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent have done the math. They now stream their runway shows on the platform; designers even encourage social media users to re-create their looks with tutorials. TikTok stars are launching their own fashion brands or collaborating on capsule collections, too—and becoming our next movie stars. (More on that later.)
Speaking of the power of adolescence, we need to talk about streamer HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot and how this TV show has also hijacked the fashion headlines. The original 2007 melodrama about New York City private school kids named Blair and Serena who had the disposable incomes of hedge fund managers made preppy headbands a thing—and the trend is still alive, thanks to the show. (I just typed in “Blair Waldorf headbands” on Amazon and found 297 options.) That Gossip Girl leaned hard into fashion and sent teens scurrying to the mall in a way no other show had in a generation. This time around, however, the style hype crested before the debut, thanks, in part, to the return of the show’s OG costume designer, Eric Daman. Today’s teens may have to dissolve their college funds to dress the part, though. Characters on the new Gossip Girl wear $950 Balenciaga sneakers and carry $3,500 Louis Vuitton totes.
No doubt, TV’s influence on fashion is also fueled by big budgets to showcase expensive labels that will make an impression on teens. “These high-profile shows have so much money to spend on wardrobe,” says Denise Wingate, the costume designer who oversaw the looks of the teen Pygmalion flick She’s All That in 1999 and its recent Netflix reboot, He’s All That. In the new version, the teen protagonist is a social media influencer who happens to be played by one of TikTok’s biggest breakout stars, Addison Rae. (The performer’s style status was cemented last September when she sat front row at the Versace runway show in Milan.) Rae has roughly 85 million followers on the platform, and after He’s All That, she signed a multipicture deal with Netflix to develop and star in future projects. Meaning, our new movie stars really are the girls next door—if they’re making style videos in their bedrooms, that is.
“I didn’t even know who Addison was,” confides Wingate, with a laugh. Nevertheless, she sourced outfits for He’s All That from affordable brands beloved on TikTok, like American Eagle, Alo, and L.A.’s own reworked-vintage label iamkoko.la, which collaborated with Rae on a capsule collection of clothes. The TikTok influencer’s own line of hoodies ($45) and crop tops ($25) that read simply “Obsessed” is sold out on her website. For the looks in He’s All That, accessible brands trumped aspirational labels—which is TikTok’s raison d’être, right?
So, would Molly Ringwald’s riding boots be so covetable if she shimmied to “Iko Iko” on TikTok wearing them? Not for me. When I watched The Breakfast Club, I bought into an image—not an accessory. I wanted to be the girl who could apply lipstick with her cleavage and give one of her precious diamond-stud earrings to the high school bad boy. I still do.
By the way, the boots were designed by Ralph Lauren.•