We go to the movies to get lost in other worlds, to become fully immersed in the glamorous, illusion and costumes are a part of that effect. Whether it’s the full skirts and floral hairstyles showcased in Frida, or the sparkly disco dresses featured in El Cantante, these are the movies that inspired us to get dressed.
This dreamy, fantastic biopic of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is as stylish as it is complicated. While Kahlo may be considered a style icon today, with her braided updos, flowers pinned in her hair, and rebozos – a look that landed her on the cover of Vogue – it was revolutionary at the time. The 2002 movie shines a light on the artist’s radical approach to life and how her sartorial choices were an outlet for her expression.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
It’s nearly impossible to choose the most stylish Pedro Almodovar film (Kika? Volver?), but I’d argue it’s this one. Almodovar’s ode to women with frayed nerves is an 80s fashion extravaganza. Severe dresses, shoulder-padded skirt suits, pantyhose, and Antonio Banderas in pleated trousers and circle-framed glasses are enough reason to watch. The fact that it’s a modern classic, is just a bonus.
While El Cantante is ultimately a tragedy, the movie is as glittery and stylish as 1970s New York got. The stretchy jump suits, shimmery makeup, and feathered hair take us right into the Spanish Harlem clubs where Hector Lavoe, el cantante, became a star. Lavoe’s wife, Puchi, played by Jennifer Lopez brings all the glamour of the era with her head scarves and tight, sparkly club dresses.
Fashion trends are often born from social movements. The zoot suit is one such style. The exaggerated jacket and full, billowy pants topped with a wide-brimmed hat were popular among pachucos in 1940s California. This 1981 film adaptation of the Broadway play focuses on the true story of the Sleepy Lagoon Murder trial where young Mexican Americans were falsely accused of the murders. At the time, racial tensions were high and chicano youths were unfairly targeted by white servicemen, which led to the Zoot Suit Riots.
The Lost City
In the 1950s, Cuba was changing quickly, and no family is spared from its effects. The Lost City tells the story of nightclub owner, Fico, who operates in a world of wealth, glamour, and style. At his club, men are dapper in impeccable suits and women are stunning in fitted dresses and diamonds. Soon, however, the world he knows begins to crumble, and he must rethink his values and his future.
The movie that introduced the world to Michelle Rodriguez isn’t necessarily a fashion-forward film. Instead of elaborate, glamorous or elegant garb, Rodriguez dons hoodies, sweats, boxing shorts, bra tops and a fearless attitude. The look might not have been the beginning of the athleisure movement, but rest assured that many Latinas were inspired to get their hair braided and try on a tough girl exterior.
Another movie that begins with the Cuban music scene in the 1950s, The Mambo Kings revolves around the Castillo brothers who leave their island for New York City. While we get plenty of looks at the full skirts and sweetheart neckline dresses that swirled around the dance floor in the U.S., we also see the sleek suits and glittery costumes that made the Latin performers stand out.
Mi Vida Loca
Even though it was made some 23 years ago, Mi Vida Loca is still influencing fashion. Indeed, this movie brought the backcombed bangs, brown lipstick and baggy, more masculine silhouettes that so many Latinas wore to the big screen. The look, in some form, has persisted and informed designers large and small. When you add the fantastic soundtrack and endlessly quotable dialogue has made this iconic film one that we want to watch time and time again.
La Niña de Tus Ojos
This stunning film is inspired by actress Imperio Argentina’s true story. The beautiful actress was part of a company that were forced to make their movies in Germany to find artistic freedom not available in Spain. La Niña de Tus Ojos not only puts the glamour and elaborate costumes of the 1930s fim world front and center, but also showcase the polished, tailored everyday European styles of the era.
Love in the Time of Cholera
Sometimes the most stunning fashions can be found in not-so-great-movies. This is certainly the case with the 2007 adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s classic novel. The love story between Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza spans 50 years, and finally transcends class, status and time. But the world is a different place than it was in 1880s Colombia where the lovers first met.
La Bamba was one of the first high-profile movies to dive deep into Mexican American culture and experience. The 1987 movie focused on the brief life of Ritchie Valens, a California rock musician’s whose blossoming career was cut short by a tragic plane crash when he was just 17. In 1950s California, the pompadour, rolled sleeves and impeccably pressed trousers made the man, and Valens was every bit as influential in his look as in his music.
There’s so much to love about Selena – the touching look into our favorite Tejana’s family life, her love story, her determination and big heart. The list is endless. One of the reasons Selena (the star, not the movie) still resonates so strongly with Latinas everywhere is that she was one of the first celebrities who looked like so many of us, and celebrated it with her unforgettable fashion. What’s more, the movie showcases all the trends we embraced in the 90s, the hoops, the brown-based red lipstick, and all the bejeweled bustiers.
So, maybe Evita wasn’t the most accurate movie ever made about the famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) first lady of Argentina, but it just might be the most stylish. The 1996 film interpretation, like the original Broadway show, told Eva’s story, in part, through fashion. As a young girl, Eva Duarte’s simple dresses were typical among those who grew up with her in poorer, rural areas. But, as she climbed up, becoming an actress and later, the wife to powerful colonel Juan Perón, she grew more and more fashionable, ultimately becoming the unattainably glamorous first lady.
Chico and Rita
The only full-length animated feature on this list, Chico and Rita is a gorgeous, bittersweet, love story set to the sounds of Cuban big band jazz. Pianist Chico falls in love with the beautiful songbird, Rita in 1940s Havana. Opportunity soon arises for Rita, whisking her away to New York, where Chico would soon follow. As they perform for increasingly wealthy, and prejudiced, audiences in ever more prestigious venues, their crisp white tuxedos and elaborate gowns grow even more glamorous. Over the years, they continue to long for each other even as their lives take them to Paris, Las Vegas and, for Chico, back to Cuba.
Like Water for Chocolate
The early 90s film adaptation of the beloved novel by Laura Esquivel is at once a supernatural love story and an exploration of women’s rights among three sisters. The oldest sister Rosaura is just as buttoned up and rigid as the unyielding fashions of early 20th century Mexico. High collars, corseted waists and heavy fabrics feel as punishing as her judgments in the brutal heat. Middle sister Gertrudis rejects her upbringing and joins the revolution, donning looser fabrics, few frills and bullets strapped across her chest. Tita, the youngest, is all innocence in ribbons and lace, until she tries to take charge of her destiny.