Nostalgia, Hollywood Style: Costumes in Contemporary Films about American Cinema History
Over the course of the last two decades, the pursuit for retrospection relevant to contemporary mass culture has become more evident. Media, advertisement, design, fashion industry, television and cinema all deliberately borrow something from previous eras and play with transmitting these images from the past. Indeed, the nostalgic nature of contemporary culture is a peculiar trait of the time, a modern zeitgeist, which in fact contributes to the actualisation of key elements of culture of the past. It also aids better reflection on our present experience. Examination of these recursive images of the past in various contexts seems to be a promising area of research in the modern scientific field.
Referring to particular examples of nostalgic traits relevant to contemporary culture, it is worth noting the enhancement of tendencies related to nostalgic representation of the past in cinema, which has become even more evident over the last two decades.
One particular trend cannot go unnoticed – the emergence of retro style films that appeal to cinema history, and more specifically to a certain period in American cinema history, the Golden Age of Hollywood. However, little attention is payed to this phenomenon in academic research. Another understated issue is the prospect of examining various functions of costumes in contemporary nostalgia films.
Costumes in film aid to complement the visual images of characters. They also complete the psychological portraits of film characters on a non-verbal level by establishing a visual communication with the viewers. In the case of nostalgia films, costumes also function as part of a mechanism for constructing a nostalgic experience for the audience. When the object of nostalgia is a certain historical period as a cultural archetype, costumes take responsibility for representing this era visually. But when the film is nostalgic for specific cultural objects of the past, i.e. classic movies and related viewing experience, costume design is directly or indirectly influenced by aesthetic characteristics of these objects. Thus, when it comes to recreating a nostalgically sentimental image of the Golden Age of Hollywood, costumes naturally relate to the fashions seen in the old movies.
In its turn, designing costumes in the Golden Age was considered one of the most important stages of film production. Classical Hollywood films operated somewhat as fashion newsreels. Luxurious costumes were particularly extravagant and eye-catching. Moreover, in the 1930s and 1940s there used to be a practice of shooting whole scenes as if they were fashion shows. While haute couture garments in motion could only be seen in elite salons at the time, Hollywood cinema took the role in exhibiting fashionable styles to the masses. And although costumes in classical Hollywood films not always projected the latest couture fashions (as there never was such a task to directly project fashion), stylish clothing on screen promoted the Hollywood myth of a glamorous lifestyle and established Hollywood film stars as new style icons and trendsetters.
This article explores certain strategies of referring to visual images of classical Hollywood cinema though costume design that are relevant to contemporary nostalgia films.