Setting: New York, 1930s
Synopsis: A bored society girl (Katharine Hepburn) ensnares a nerdy paleontologist (Cary Grant) and the two have a series of misadventures with her pet leopard, Baby.
Watch for: The movie in which Katherine debuted her signature pants, never before seen on a woman in the movies. When the studio heads insisted she wear a skirt, she strolled around the set in her underwear until they gave her pants back.
2. Sabrina (1954)
Setting: Long Island, 1950s
Synopsis: After two years in Paris, Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn), the shy chauffeur's daughter, returns home as a sophisticated, stylish woman, and suddenly draws the attention of both Larrabee brothers (Humphrey Bogart and William Holden).
Style: Givenchy glam. This is the film that brought Hepburn and Givenchy together.
Watch for: The A-line gowns and the "décolleté Sabrina," a bare-shouldered black cocktail dress with a high neckline to hide Audrey’s collarbones. All the Givenchy dresses.
3. To Catch a Thief (1955)
Setting: French Riviera, 1950s
Synopsis: A former thief (Cary Grant) is suspected of a series of jewel thefts; to prove his innocence he tries to find the copycat with the help of an American heiress (Grace Kelly).
Style: Glistening extravagance
Watch for: The jewels! Grace Kelly in that white strapless dress with an over-the-top diamond necklace. Her ball gowns, shimmering gold, blue chiffon, etc.
4. And God Created Women (1956)
Setting: Saint Tropez, 1950s
Synopsis: A vampy sexpot (Brigitte Bardot) loves one brother, but marries another.
Style: Rampant female sensuality
Watch for: This is the movie that put Brigitte Bardot on the scene, and she became the instant symbol of the "sex kitten." That gingham bikini, the pouty lips, the ultimate "beach hair," and how the (near-naked) Bardot carries herself throughout the film.
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5. Funny Face (1957)
Setting: New York and Paris, 1950s
Synopsis: Jo (Audrey Hepburn), a shy bookstore clerk, is discovered by a famous fashion photographer (Fred Astaire), who takes her to Paris and makes her a top model.
Style: Simple, chic, casual, and then extravagant and over-the-top
Watch for: Audrey Hepburn in her black capris, black turtleneck, and black flats (which made a comeback in the 2006/2007 Gap ads where Audrey is seen doing her Funny Face dance, set to AC/DC's "Back in Black." A prime example of how style persists after 50 years; there is just different music in the background). And the resplendent Givenchy gowns. The scene when Audrey descends the stairs in that stunning red Givenchy is unforgettable.
6. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Setting: New York, 1960s
Synopsis: Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn), a socialite/call girl, becomes interested in Paul (George Peppard), a struggling writer who moves into her apartment building.
Style: Accessorizing the LBD 101
Watch for: The LBD, the oversize sunglasses, the giant pearl necklace, and the gloves. Often considered the fashion film. It solidified Audrey Hepburn as a style icon.
7. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Setting: Russia, 1914-1917
Synopsis: A Russian physician-poet (Omar Sharif) falls in love with a political activist's wife (Julie Christie) during the Bolshevik Revolution.
Style: Russian Revolution
Watch for: The images of Julie Christie surviving Siberia and Stalin in style largely influenced fashion in the late sixties. Mid-length officer-style coats, opulently collared and cuffed shirts, and fur on anything became popular. Lots of fur. Fur bonnets, muffs, etc. PETA's nightmare film.
8. Belle de Jour (1967)
Setting: Paris, 1960s
Synopsis: Séverine (Catherine Deneuve), a beautiful young woman dissatisfied with her marriage, takes an afternoon job at a brothel.
Style: Perfectly timeless
Watch for: Everything she wears could work today: the coats, the shift dresses, etc. Roger Vivier designed his piece de résistance, the Pilgrim-style buckled pump, for this film. 120,000 pairs were sold immediately after the movie hit the big screen. And that same shoe is still modern today.
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9. The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
Setting: Geneva, 1960s
Synopsis: When Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) pulls off the perfect crime, Viki Anderson (Faye Dunaway) is called in to investigate.
Style: Smart and seductive.
Watch for: Her nails, her (inch-long) eyelashes, her skirts, the perfectly structured, perfectly accessorized mini-suits, and that white pleated halter-neck mini in the "chess seduction scene." Every scene could make a magazine layout.
10. Love Story (1970)
Setting: Cambridge and New York, 1970s
Synopsis: After graduation, a rich Harvard law jock (Ryan O’Neal) marries a poor Radcliffe music student (Ali MacGraw).
Style: Preppy collegiate.
Watch for: The coats, cosy sweaters, and the notable hat and scarf sets – Ali MacGraw's knit stocking cap became an instant craze.
11. The Great Gatsby (1974)
Setting: Long Island, summer 1922
Synopsis: A film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic, in which Jay Gatsby (Robert Redford) falls for the flighty Daisy Buchanan (Mia Farrow).
Style: WASP American style and the return of the twenties flapper.
Watch for: Mia Farrow's cream and white flapper dresses, her long beads, wide-brim hats, the pin-curl bob. Redford's Ralph Lauren-designed three-piece suits, driving caps, and gloves.
12. Mahogany (1975)
Setting: Chicago, 1970s
Synopsis: Tracy (Diana Ross) tries to leave the ghetto and become a fashion designer and a top model.
Style: Outlandishly retro. Diana Ross designed some of the costumes herself. Marc Jacobs based his fall 2007 collection on this film.
Watch for: The retro designs, the colour, and the glitter. The ombre evening dress. White pantsuits. Seventies turtlenecks. The hair.
13. Annie Hall (1977)
Setting: New York, 1970s
Synopsis: A neurotic comedian (Woody Allen) falls in love with the neurotic and ditzy Annie Hall (Diane Keaton).
Style: Androgynous chic. The masculine/feminine. Tutorial in how to wear our boyfriend's clothes.
Watch for: Keaton’s hat, man's tie, shirts, waistcoats, and wide-leg pants.
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14. American Gigolo (1980)
Setting: Beverly Hills, 1980s
Synopsis: Julian Kaye (Richard Gere) is the highest-paid male prostitute in LA (naturally). He falls in love with the wife of a local politician (Lauren Hutton) and is framed for the murder of one of his clients.
Style: American chic at its best. This is the film that put Armani on the style map. Lauren Hutton epitomizes effortless American sportswear. And Richard Gere becomes the first Hollywood actor to appear full-frontal nude on screen (just FYI).
15. Scarface (1983)
Setting: Miami, 1980
Synopsis: Tony Montana (Al Pacino), a young Cuban refugee, is drawn into Miami’s underworld of crime, cocaine and Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Style: The look of unadulterated debauchery. Long before the rebirth of South Beach, there was the glamazonian beauty of Elvira. Gucci’s spring/summer 2006 advertising campaign was based on Elvira's look.
Watch for: The slinky, shiny dresses, the huge coke-head sunglasses, the blond hair.
16. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Setting: Los Angeles, early 1990s
Synopsis: The lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster's wife (Uma Thurman), and a pair of diner bandits intertwine.
Style: Hip simplicity. Uma Thurman in the dancing scene is amazing. Her capri pants, her crisp white shirt with the black bra underneath, her severe bangs, and black hair. Amazing.
Watch for: The black capri pants, the white shirt, and the hair.
17. In the Mood for Love (2000)
Setting: Hong Kong, 1962
Synopsis: Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) form a close friendship when they discover their spouses are each having an affair.
Style: Everything in the movie is styled to perfection.
Watch for: The colour of her dresses, the 1950s heels, the quiet sexiness of the fit. A prime example of the international women.
18. Sex and the City (2008)
Setting: New York City, 2008
Synopsis: Mr. Big (Chris Noth) and Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) finally decide to have an intimate wedding. Disaster follows when the couple's plan for quiet nuptials spiral out-of-control as Carrie receives a larger-than-life, couture wedding gown that requires an equally big wedding.
Style: Pat Fields' wardrobe stylings had Samantha wearing nothing but sushi rolls for an entire scene, Charlotte in chic maternity wear, Miranda in a modern and edgy wardrobe and Carrie strutting her signature feminine looks.
Watch for: Carrie's wedding photo shoot for Vogue magazine: the original designs shown from famous fashion houses are a dream for all brides-to-be.
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Excerpted from The Little Black Book of Style. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Copyright 2007 by Nina Garcia. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.