I was recently watching the brilliant Slow West and was very taken with Ben Mendelsohn’s coat that his character wears. It almost threatened to steal the scenes from him. And then it got me thinking about the clothes of certain characters and in particular the coats that they wear. So as we continue to brave the wet and the cold of the winter and wrap ourselves in our own outerwear, here is a list of my favourite coats from the cinematic catwalk.
James Dean-Rebel without a Cause (1955)
Iconic looks don’t come more iconic than that of James Dean as Jim Stark in the 1955 teen angst classic Rebel without a Cause. Along with the white shirt and blue jeans, the red bomber jacket Dean wears as Stark became a beacon for a disillusioned generation, carrying with it a plethora of symbolism. From the danger that Stark represents to the authorities and to his elders ( that he cannot relate to), to an audience that were experiencing a wavering in puritanical values, the shift in post World War II America society is all encapsulated within that red jacket. Lit by the studio Technicolor of the time, Dean oozes sexuality and appealed to both women and men with an ambiguity that filtered onto the screen, as well as off screen, and which furthered his status as the role model for an ambivalent juvenile up rise in America. That Dean only completed three films in his blazingly short career before his death in 1955 meant we would forever associate Dean as the rebel in the red coat, creating hundreds of wannabes in his crimson wake.
Oscar Isaac- A Most Violent Year (2015)
If there was an award for best supporting outerwear, last year it may well have gone to Oscar Isaac’s full length camel hair coat in A Most Violent Year. In J C Chandor’s crime thriller Isaac plays Abel Morales, an immigrant businessman trying to keep his business afloat during New York in 1981, the city’s most lethal and violent 12 months in history. Throughout the film his coat becomes the ultimate symbol of the American Dream, a classy cover up that belies his status and also a nod to the Pacino era of gangster attire yet, while there is nefarious activity all around him, Abel tries to keep his moral compass abreast in his double breasted. In one scene, he witnesses first hand an attack on one of his trucks, sabotage on his business and a panicked chase on foot ensues. As Abel traverses waste land, the city’s back-streets and subways, his coat remains constant, the armour that keeps him from crumbling and which keeps him chasing his dream and also which stops him giving in to the worst fate of all-failure.
The Pink Ladies- Grease (1978)
It may now be the costume that has launched a thousand hen nights and which keeps fancy dress companies in business but there was a time when the pink lettered jacket was the coolest item a young impressionable girl could want. Yes I may be talking about myself (but also for many of other ladies) when I was a kid, the Pink Ladies were the girl gang to be in and to wear one of those jackets was a very enticing lure. Before The Spice Girls mania in the 90s where teenage girls decided if they were Scary, Baby, Sporty etc, we had already debated whether we were a Rizzo, Jan or Marty and coveted the accompanying jacket. Of course we have all grown up now and realised that perhaps girl gangs are not something to aspire to, that they may lead to exclusion and hierarchy akin to the mean girls who also are prone to the pink uniform. Yet every now and then the temptation to throw on the Pink Lady jacket and belt out a tune is something that can’t be denied.
Ryan Gosling- Drive (2011)
Before Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, Ryan Gosling had made some headway into shaking off his romantic lead title that had been bestowed to him after The Notebook. He was choosing leftfield and artistic turns in films such as (the underrated) Lars and the Real Girl, Half Nelson and Blue Valentine however Gosling cemented major cool points and an army of new admirers as the driver in Winding Refn’s contemporary classic. Gosling’s character instantly became iconic and part of this was down to the scorpion emblazed bomber jacket that he wears, a look that shouldn’t work but somehow did and which has now spawned a multitude of copycats. The look of the jacket was a collaboration between Winding Refn and Gosling who wanted a satin jacket that would be visible at night, this would be the driver’s armour and would help Gosling establish and become the character. They also wanted the jacket to feature an animal symbol but after Winding Refn watched Scorpio Rising with his costume designer, they realised that had to be the choice to adorn the driver’s back and so a star item of cinematic clothing was born. With his leather driving gloves and clad in his jacket, Gosling’s creates a neo noir superhero for the hip generation.
Gwyneth Paltrow- The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
We all know Wes Anderson loves a certain look and when it comes to what his characters wear his films are peppered with pastel hues and detailed costume design, each piece is thought through. The Royal Tenenbaums is no different with each member of this dysfunctional family clad in a certain uniform, from Ben Stiller’s tracksuited angry dad to Luke Wilson’s jaded former tennis pro Richie, but it is Gwyneth Paltrow as Margot Tenenbaum that makes the biggest fashion impression, no mean feat in an Anderson film. Margot is the adopted daughter of the Tenenbaums and her clothes are an extension of this, she has a non conformity to her look, a feeling of an outsider and a rebel which is topped off by her full length mink coat (which I really hope its faux, I don’t want to advocate the use of animal fur). By wearing simple striped dresses and layering the heavy coat over the top, it creates contradictions that are central to the character of Margot, she is distant but wants to be loved, a loner but part of the family, she looks like she has raided her mother’s dressing up box yet teams this with heavy eye make up and a chain smoking edgy past. She is a girl who wore the coat as a child and continued this through adulthood, it is the part of her identify that she can control. It’s hard not to want to be dress like many of Anderson’s characters but if I ever do (which I darn intend to) Margot would be my choice, albeit in a faux fur style.