Fashion & Film - Sequins, lamé and plunging necklines in American Hustle
From now until the end of March I’ll be posting a series of guest blogs written by students from Central Saint Martins Fashion History and Theory course. They’ve taken the theme behind our upcoming Spring Festival event Puttin’ on the Glitz – Fashion and Film in the Jazz Age to spotlight fashion in films from the recent American Hustle to classics like Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Today’s guest blog is from Osman Ahmed on the Bafta-winning American Hustle.
Sequins, lamé, plunging necklines – if you’ve seen American Hustle, the mere thought of Oscar-nominated actors Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Cooper, and Jeremy Renner in glamorous ‘70s getups is enough to re-consider your hair curlers and towering heels.
Set in New York City and New Jersey, the film is laden with the sexed-up silhouettes and unapologetic glamour that emerged as a reaction to the counter-cultural hippie styles of the previous decade. A distinct whiff of aspiration is achieved by the furs, gowns, gold chains and velvet suits worn by the con men attempting to convince the world of their success and sophistication.
“We wanted the actors to use their costumes as a part of their hustle,” the film’s costume designer Michael Wilkinson told The New York Times. “They dress as the person they aspire to be. Characters playing characters.”
There’s a clear dialogue in the costume that contributes as much to the characterisation as the stellar acting performances. Bradley Cooper’s F.B.I. officer, Richie DiMaso, starts the film in ill-fitting polyester suits and nylon shirts but shifts to three-piece wool suits and silk shirts when he becomes accustomed to the luxurious lifestyles of New York City fraud duo Sydney Prosser, played by Amy Adams, and Irving Rosenfeld, played by Christian Bale.
As for the girls, the inspiration varied from mail-order catalogues and Helmut Newton’s Vogue editorials to Playboy and Cosmopolitan covers and documentary photographs taken at Studio 54 by Allan Tannenbaum. It seemed fitting that Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dress featured prominently as the film’s release coincides with the 40th anniversary of the iconic design. The streamlined quality of the dress with the bold prints embodies a moment that continues to hold significance for countless women and an era in New York that will forever be embedded in history.
As Wilkinson puts it, “American women at that time were enjoying new freedoms in fashion: less underpinnings, less structure and bold, streamlined shapes. It was an era for clothes when ideas were big, people lived large, took risks and didn't give a damn.”
Lots of plunging necklines in the American Vogue archive - available digitally in our British Library Reading Rooms. It features every issue from 1892 to the present day, spanning over 400,000 pages.