othing puts me in the mood to thrift shop like watching films with fantastic female characters. When I was 12 years old, I came across my first fictional style icon: Penny Lane. After renting the Almost Famous VHS from my local Blockbuster and popping it into my family’s television set in rural Canada, I sat in my living room, wide-eyed with envy. Penny Lane was barely 16 when she decided to hit the road and become a “Band Aid” (her term for groupie). She left her hometown with a vintage suitcase full of gauzy crop tops, platform shoes and a Polaroid camera, and then proceeded to rule the music scene of 1973, all from the wings of concert halls across America.
I wanted the ability to command a room full of rock stars at the Continental Hyatt House just by impersonating a flight attendant. I wanted to twirl alone in an empty auditorium littered with paper napkins and beer cans. I wanted Penny Lane’s suede skirts, her embroidered boots, her shearling coat — but most of all, I wanted her confidence.
I credit characters like Penny for making me fall in love with vintage clothing. The outfits I saw in films set in other decades were unlike any of the trends I saw in fashion magazines or store windows. It made me crave a wardrobe full of history. Although an outfit doesn’t have the ability to magically change who I am, getting dressed in the morning gives me the chance to reflect on the reasons why I admire the women (both fictional and not) who have helped shape my style. I recreated five of my favorites below.
Penny Lane – Almost Famous
After watching Almost Famous, I gained an affinity for bell-bottom jeans and embroidered crop tops, but it took years of searching to find Penny Lane’s most iconic wardrobe piece: her coat. Penny Lane lived on the road, spending nights in the tour bus or a smoke-filled hotel room. Her iconic shearling coat was her only real home. Betsy Heimann, the costume designer for Almost Famous, made Penny’s coat out of a cut-up carpet. I spent years browsing eBay and Etsy in search of a unique statement coat warm enough to combat Canadian winters and cool enough to convince strangers I was “with the band.”
Last year, while sitting in House of Small Wonder cafe in Berlin with my college roommate, a fellow patron of the cafe walked up the spiral staircase mid-brunch wearing a coat made of embroidered fabric with a shearling lining. I rushed over to her, asked if she spoke English, and barely waited for an answer before gushing about her coat. As luck would have it, she happened to work for the seller, a company called Zazi Vintage. She explained that the coat was made with 100% vintage materials and that each coat sold supports a year of education for a girl in India.
Side note: If this coat quest leaves any room for doubt about my Penny Lane obsession, my sister and I also turned our family’s decrepit 1959 bus into a mobile vintage clothing shop that we named Stillwater Vintage, a tribute to the band that only travels by bus in Almost Famous.
Suzy Bishop – Moonrise Kingdom
I was 17 when Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom arrived in theaters. Though watching the childhood love story on screen made me nostalgic for my young daydreams of an innocent romance born from a pen-pal exchange, pink berets, Peter Pan collars and vintage suitcases were more immediately attainable. Thanks to Suzy Bishop, 10% of my bedroom’s square footage is occupied by my ever-growing collection of second-hand luggage. I also credit her for introducing me to saddle shoes, which just so happen to exist at the intersection of comfort and cuteness.
Katherine Johnson – Hidden Figures
The 2016 film Hidden Figures tells the true story of three black women mathematicians whose contributions at NASA brought John Glenn around the moon. The costumes Taraji P. Henson wears in her portrayal of Katherine Johnson feature a satisfying rotation of big collars, A-line dresses and blazers (accessorized with her NASA ID badge and the chalk she waves across the office blackboard as she conducts a grand orchestra of numbers). On the poster for the film, Katherine Johnson wears a 60s-style dress and matching crop jacket. The only thing better than a great vintage dress is one that comes with a matching cap-sleeve shawl, which is why I went hunting for one shortly after seeing the film in theaters.
Isabel Graysmark – The Light Between Oceans
Whenever my family can’t agree on a movie to watch together, The Light Between Oceans is the default answer. Although viewings of this film are a regular occurrence, I have yet to get through one without shedding at least a couple tears. Alicia Vikander portrays Isabel, the wife of a lighthouse keeper in the 20s whose wardrobe consists of white linens, creamy sweaters, fur-collared coats and breezy pants. Her outfits are charming yet realistically practical for days spent farming on a sea-breezy island with her husband. I’m especially inspired by her cozy, creamy aesthetic during New York’s colder months when the subways are filled with navy and black ensembles.
Chloe – The Big Chill
The Big Chill is a 1983 classic that tells the story of a group of college friends who reunite after the death of one of their friends 15 years after graduation. It’s charming, has a killer soundtrack and a ton of unabashed 80s attire. Chloe, the younger girlfriend of the deceased, joins in on the friend group’s post-funeral festivities despite not knowing any of them. While the other characters dress to impress their old friends, Chloe dresses for optimal comfort. When she isn’t wearing oversize T-shirts tucked into wide-leg pants, she dons patterned leotards over plain white tights (naturally).
What iconic movie characters have inspired your sense of style? Meet me in the comments to discuss.
Photos by Henry Quinson. Film stills via Everett Collection.