Fashion has always played a paramount role in film. On-set stylists use dress as a visual technique to inform their audience on the character’s personality and socio-economic status.
Without fashion, it will be practically impossible for a movie to effectively narrate their character’s identity in a well-rounded manner.
Some of the more notable costume and fashion designers that have made a mark in history are Edith Head (won eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design), Patricia Field (the brainchild behind the spectacular outfits in TV series Sex and the City and film The Devil Wears Prada) and Elsa Schiaparelli (known for her work on Moulin Rouge, The Tunnel and Love in Exile).
Here, we have compiled a list of the best seven designer dresses that have successfully captured the notion of female empowerment, strength and confidence in film.
1. Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dress on Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Photo: Jonathan Wenk/Focus Features
Movie: On the Basis of Sex (2018)
An American biographical legal film directed by Mimi Leder, On the Basis of Sex revolves around the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Played by Felicity Jones, Ruth appeared in a ’70s inspired printed wrap dress when she held a moot court in her living room to prepare for her courtroom debut on a tax case that discriminated based on gender.
Designed by Belgian-American fashion superstar Diane von Furstenberg, this number emphasised the character’s independence and strength — after all, the wrap dress was seen as a symbol of sexual freedom and liberation during the Seventies.
2. Marchesa’s ruffled gown on Rachel Chu
Photo: Crazy Rich Asians’ website
Movie: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Despite facing rejection from her boyfriend’s mother, Eleanor Sung-Young, due to her Asian-American bourgeoisie status, Rachel Chu (played by Constance Wu) brazenly showed up at Colin Khoo and Araminta Lee’s wedding in a jaw-dropping baby blue ruffled gown.
Although this stunning number from high-end brand Marchesa is whimsical and feminine, it allowed Rachel to exude confidence in an attempt to prove to Eleanor that she’s no pushover. Ballsy.
3. Raf Simons for Jil Sander’s red dress on Emma Recchi
Photo: Magnolia Pictures
Movie: I Am Love (2009)
In this Luca Guadagnino film, Tilda Swinton’s character, Emma Recchi, is married to a wealthy husband who only saw her as an object that belonged to him, and nothing more.
She was often dressed in dull colours, and was only given bright hues (particularly vermilion red) after committing an extra-marital affair with Antonio Biscaglia.
Created by Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons during his tenure at Jil Sander, what we love about this red midi number is its representation of Emma’s comprehension on true happiness.
It was a symbol of how she finally mustered the courage to break herself free from her husband’s control.
4. Givenchy’s black dress on Holly Golightly
Photo: Screen grab from Youtube
Movie: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Sophisticated and sensual, we need no further introduction as to why this iconic black sleeveless maxi dress that Audrey Hepburn’s character, Holly Golightly, wore at the opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s made it into our list.
Designed by one of the pioneering fashion moguls, Hubert de Givenchy, this fitted obsidian black number, which features a flattering bateau neckline, is no basic LBD.
It represented Holly Golightly’s personality in a nutshell: Glamourous and confident, yet reckless and rebellious at the same time.
5. Tex Saverio’s wedding dress on Katniss Everdeen
Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate
Movie: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
It’s not just a wedding dress. It’s the wedding dress that truly displayed Katniss Everdeen’s (portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence) fearless attitude towards the totalitarian leadership by the Capitol.
When Katniss started spinning, this multi-tiered alabaster chiffon number, which was designed by Indonesian fashion designer Tex Saverio, transformed into a navy blue gown fashioned with wings that resembled a Mockingjay — a bird that symbolises free will and independence in the fictional series.
In other words, this gown was a prelude that ingeniously portrayed the idea of rebellion and defiance.
6. Monique Lhuillier’s silver gown on Anastasia Steele
Photo: Universal Pictures
Movie: Fifty Shades Darker (2017)
Dakota Johnson’s character, Anastasia Steele, in the Fifty Shades trilogy was once a conservative English literature major. As the series progressed, she explored her sexuality and ideas of eroticism and romance, with the help of Christian Grey.
We believe that this custom-designed Monique Lhuillier slinky silver gown, which made an appearance in the second series, was that bridge between her former self and her current courageous personality.
Featuring a satin sheath material with a draped neckline and cross back, this ball gown displayed the newly found confidence that Anastasia acquired (possibly because she managed to “tame” the almighty Christian Grey), which was later explored in the sequel, Fifty Shades Freed.
7. Céline’s black dress on Elle Woods
Photo: Screen grab from movie
Movie: Legally Blonde (2001)
As a well-loved fashion merchandising student, Elle Woods (played by Reese Witherspoon) left us bewildered when she decided to enroll into Harvard Law school for the sole purpose of winning her ex-boyfriend, Warner Huntington III, back.
However, as the series progressed, we learned that she is a serious and fastidious individual.
She eventually secured a prestigious internship at Professor Callahan’s law firm (despite Warner being sour grapes), and this dress proves it all.
Designed by Michael Kors when he was serving as the creative director for Céline, she ditched her iconic pinks for an elegant black midi number that showcased her brilliance, determination and perseverance. We’re truly impressed.