The 1990s Movie Providing Lessons in How to Dress for a New York Summer

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Breaking Up, 1997(Film still)

The couple at the heart of 1997’s Breaking Up may prove infuriating – but they provide some welcome tips for surviving a hot city summer

“You’re not listening,” Salma Hayek tells Russell Crowe when trying to respond to his proposal. His response? “Stop talking and say yes.” Who says romance is dead?

The truth is Crowe never really listens or hears Hayek’s character in Robert Greenwald’s Breaking Up. In the 1997 screen adaptation of Michael Cristofer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a deteriorating relationship, Crowe’s Steve lets Hayek’s Monica rant about philosophy and Einstein, relativity and Freud, as she picks at leftovers in the fridge in a blue silk kimono. He doesn’t engage, he smiles glassily and simply redirects her to the real estate section of the newspaper. “Are you saying you don’t want to get married?” he suddenly shoots at one point, seeing her dejected face. “I’m saying what I’m saying,” Hayek retorts. Although the characters constantly reference their love and tenderness towards each other, little of this connection from their two-year relationship is ever shown on screen, it’s all split screen telephone calls, shouting matches, and one-night stands. The outlook from the start is bleak: “When it starts that good there’s no place to go except bad,” Monica says prophetically at the beginning. “I used to get so excited I would shake every time I was going to see him,” she says. “It was like electricity coming out of me”. There are few things that remain as emotionally complex in this life as a break up. After intertwining your feelings with another, to unpick the life you’ve made together hurts. Despite the infuriating nature of both protagonists, the youthful Crowe and Hayek provide a sartorial savviness that has to be admired. We take some tips on surviving New York city life in heat.

1. Dine alfresco as much as possible

Before he critiques her wine and then her cooking skills, in the aftermath of one of the more tender scenes of the film, Steve and Monica eat outside on a small patio just by her window. Post-sex, wrapped in a blush towel dressing gown with flushed cheeks and bed hair, Hayek lights candles to set the mood as the two curl up on garden furniture on her small balcony, the kind of outdoor space any Londoner would give a leg for. Follow suit on hot summer evenings if you can, and find time and space to dine outside. The fresh air will do you good, especially if you need to scream at your other half later.

2. Don’t disregard layers

Summer has a reputation for being a fickle beast. Navigating the subtle shifts of temperature, sudden thunderstorms and sticky heat can be a sartorial nightmare. Take inspiration from Hayek’s cunning layers, and slip a light lilac T-shirt under a spaghetti-strap dress and you’re good to go. Not only is it foolproof against unfaithful weather reports, it can also provide a welcome wardrobe mix-up to bring new life to more traditional pieces: Hayek’s little black dress never looked so good.

3. Get adventurous with accessories

Any Instagram girl worth her salt knows the importance of a piece of fruit to make a picture sing. In his double-denim and corduroy ensembles, Steve works as a food photographer. His days are spent seductively handling celery, making out in piles of grapes with models, and filming piles of bananas from a camera crane. Although his career choice is questionable, getting your five-a-day is a no brainer, and who can complain about edible accessories? Then again fruit can come in many forms: alternatively, follow Monica’s example and use strawberry-coloured accessories like a silk hairband to boost your mood if carrying around a kiwi seems taxing.

4. Give each other space

A recurring motif throughout the film sees the young couple in bed vying for space to sleep, a scene which rapidly reveals itself as a metaphor for their relationship. Whether fighting over the covers or suffocating each other (at times literally – long hair and slumber can be a deadly combination), in a relationship of any kind giving people space is important. On hot summer nights even more so. Give the people you love room – in life you have to share the covers.

5. Basics rule

When did basic become a dirty word? At her day job as a primary school teacher Monica wears (ironically) a boyfriend-style oversized white shirt as she calls to reconnect with Steve. Her upturned cuffs and unbuttoned collar hint at the kind of ease we crave on hot office days. Follow suit and strip back down to the simple things. Indulge in crisp white shirts unbuttoned just the right amount, embrace the luxury of a rayon floral dress on bare legs or the allure of pale-washed high-waisted denim. Summer shouldn’t be complicated. Stick to the necessities.