As the world reopens, turn to these movies for post-pandemic style inspiration
It's time to get dressed again.
"This episode in human history will be reported on runways and in the pages of Vogue, and it's become a strange comfort to me to contemplate just how," I wrote, an innocent, a mere seven weeks into quarantine. "Will loungewear start to creep into our business and nightlife wardrobes? Or will we cry carpe diem and go avant-garde for casual brunch or drinks or book club, having learned to treasure the once-mediocre privilege of an audience?"
To give myself a little credit, a year later, I actually do still expect those opposing attitudes to become defining features of post-pandemic style. (I personally plan to fall into the latter category. ) But the point is, as I reflected then: "This moment in our lives will be written right into our clothes — it's only a question of how."
The time has come to answer that. But over the course of a long, strange, painful year, the question's meaning has twisted. The pandemic has changed the world, and living through it has changed every one of us. Who are we now? And how do our new selves dress?
In lockdown, I experienced style theoretically, through pop culture. Trend reports heralded the death of skinny jeans and the return of Y2K style, so I rewatched my (still-flawless) preteen obsession Lizzie McGuire to reacquaint myself with low-rise flares, as a concept. I binged The Queen's Gambit four times in two weeks and anxiously practiced applying winged eyeliner, envisioning myself traveling the world in little shift dresses and architectural coats. Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia gave me disco-glam fantasies; Taylor Swift's Folklore almost had me mentally dabbling in cottagecore, if you can imagine. (I stayed off TikTok. I did not engage with the strawberry dress.)
But all of that is beside the point now! It's time to actually get dressed again, for real this time! Entertainment got me through quarantine, but the real promise of dynamic, tangible style is going to get me out of it. And for weeks now, the only pop culture that has truly inspired me in that regard is fashion documentaries — movies that don't just happen to feature beautiful clothes, but depict style as an active, creative, meaningful endeavor.
My favorite doc about a designer is Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui's McQueen (2018, streaming on Hulu), which — spoiler? — ends tragically, but is as arresting as the work of its brilliant subject, and as profoundly empathetic a study as he deserves. There are few films of such delicate beauty as Frédéric Tcheng's haunting 2015 doc Dior and I (streaming on Hulu), about the work of making Raf Simons' first haute couture collection as creative director of the French label; and in last year's Martin Margiela: In His Own Words (available to rent or buy), director Reiner Holzemer gives the enigmatic, unconventional, and highly influential artist a platform to tell his own story in his own voice — without ever, of course, providing a glimpse of his face.
For more than one piece of current high-style pop culture, there are documentary counterparts, too: Ryan Murphy's Halston is now on Netflix, but Tcheng's 2019 doc of the same name (streaming on Amazon Prime) is a fascinating account of the icon's dark, dazzling history. Also worth a watch is Lorna Tucker's 2018 Sundance title Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist (streaming on Amazon Prime), which will fan the flames of rebellion that have smoldered within you through quarantine but also prepare you for Craig Gillespie's Cruella (out May 28), which envisions the Disney villainess' origin story as a talented young designer's emergence amid the '70s London punk scene, where Vivienne Westwood began her own career in real life. Gillespie told EW that the designer's early days served as a reference for his vision of Ms. de Vil's fictional world (though the similarities end there, as Westwood is very much not a puppy-killing psychopath, etc.).
These legends have been my quarantine companions in these recent weeks, inspiring me to redesign my own outside-world self not with the actual pieces they make, but the very act of making them. And though we can't all be designers at some storied atelier, that thrill of sartorial invention — or reinvention, perhaps more importantly — can resonate with anyone, especially in a moment like the one we're facing now. No documentary captures this quite so well as Albert Maysles' Iris (streaming on Magnolia Selects on Amazon Prime), a 2015 portrait of then-93-year-old Iris Apfel, the New York style icon famous for her big glasses, original taste, and incredible collection of costume jewelry. The film is a testament to the very real joy of dressing for oneself, and a celebration of its singular subject's own unique artistry.
"I think it was some very famous clotheshorse [who] said the best thing was getting dressed," Apfel recalls, early in the film. "She didn't give a damn about going to the party or being at the party, it was getting dressed for the party. And there's more truth and poetry in that."
Soon there will be parties again. I can't wait to get dressed for them.