August 2002

Undressing Cinema: Clothing And Identity In The Movies


  • 11 New Fetter Lane
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What’s Underneath Clothing Design in Contemporary Films...

In abc Undressing Cinema xyz Bruzzi asks if clothing contributes meaning to movies or if films define their characters through the fashion design. How is sexuality expressed or repressed by the costumes designed for a film? Examples cited include gangster cinema like abc Pulp Fiction xyz and abc Casino xyz , the understated sexuality of the costume dramas abc The Age of Innocence xyz and abc The Piano xyz , and femme fatale flicks such as abc Basic Instinct xyz and abc Single White Female xyz . Bruzzi also ventures "Beyond Gender," into cross-dressing and androgyny, from Marlene Dietrich clad in a tuxedo to Robin Williams dressed in female attire with hilarious results in abc Mrs. Doubtfire xyz .

Haute couture in the movies is also explored. Some designers accommodate "their styles to the narratives and characters" (specifically Ralph Lauren’s menswear for abc The Great Gatsby xyz ), while others specially design "wildly eclectic" pieces (such as Jean Paul Gaultier for abc The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover xyz ) that become as important to the story as dialogue or other forms of character development. Bruzzi is at her best with updated examples of femme fatales that adeptly challenge the prevailing notion that women’s fashions in films are directed at male eyes exclusively.

The arguments and references in abc Undressing Cinema xyz are sound and the examples (including more than 40 still frames from the featured films) are well chosen. The emphasis on fashion and traditional gender roles in film is clarified for anyone who has seen some of these popular films and thought about the meanings of their costumes.

Reviewer: Jon Worona, FIDM Library Staff Member, S.F.