How to Wear Feathers, Inspired By Our Favourite Films

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Legally Blonde, 2001(Film still)

From Mia Farrow’s Daisy Buchanan to Cher's fluff-trimmed stationery in 90s classic Clueless

Be it a marabou trim on the edge of a robe, or a fluffy down-covered accessory, there is something inherently opulent (and happily impractical) about wearing feathers – which makes doing so feel like the height of luxury. It’s a look that’s lasted throughout the ages but has had a resurgence of late in both couture and ready-to-wear collections: ostrich feathers lined the cuffs and hems of jackets and trousers at Prada Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter 2017, and JW Anderson’s latest collection featured dresses finished with long lengths of them; Balenciaga involved them in abundance this season, and Raf Simons incorporated them into his debut collection for Calvin Klein. Of course, perfect plumage has enjoyed the spotlight on the big screen too. To honour the trend, we’ve picked ten of the best feathered outfits on film.

1. Legally Blonde (2001)

In a moment of intense frustration, Elle Woods of Legally Blonde turns to a failsafe outfit in order to show her ex-boyfriend what he’s missing: a pink sequined bikini (the very pink swimwear that got her into Harvard Law School), teamed with a fuchsia marabou-covered jacket. If that’s not a move of pure genius, we’re not sure what is. And, of course, it works – she commands the attention of the whole football team in minutes and the game grinds to a halt. Job done.

2. Top Hat (1935)

Perhaps their best-known film, Top Hat stars Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire as Dale Tremont and Jerry Travers. In the midst of Jerry’s myriad attempts to win Dale over is Cheek to Cheek, a dance in which Rogers wears a gown covered almost entirely in ostrich feathers that float serenely across the floor with her. This was a dress that caused drama: Rogers was insistent upon wearing it and went against most of the cast and crew to do so. Astaire was particularly adamant that the gown be scrapped because of the volume of feathers shed during the routine. (“It was like a chicken attacked by a coyote, I never saw so many feathers in my life,” he said.) Rogers prevailed and the dress stayed; she even gained a new nickname from Astaire in the furore: ‘Feathers’.

3. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” are the immortal words sung by Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Starring alongside Jane Russell, the two showgirls don matching feathered headwear in an earlier number, Two Little Girls From Little Rock. Rather than fluffy and floating, these white feathers fan out across their heads to create a look which, coupled with their embellished scarlet dresses, oozes brazen glamour.  

4. What a Way to Go! (1964)

We’ve already detailed just how much we adore What a Way to Go!, but it would be criminal not to return to the above scene when considering feathery fashion. The clip contains no less than 15 outfits (and every single one is completely divine, due to the mastery of costume designer Edith Head), but right now we’re interested in the first: an orange ensemble featuring ostrich feathers aplenty, not least covering the entirety of a huge billowing hat – millinery at its finest. Marvel at the spectacular plumage and then enjoy the remaining five minutes of heavenly costumes.

5. Clueless (1995)

We already knew that Cher prides herself on her ahead-of-the-curve sartorial choices (though admittedly she’s not as avant-garde as best friend Dionne, what with her penchant for experimental headwear) so it’s no surprise that feathers feature repeatedly in her ensembles. Take the above still: that fluffy pen in the palest of pinks is the ideal accessory for her moment of contemplation (and attempted seduction). Cher also pairs a feather-trimmed jacket with the famous Alaïa dress that the inconsiderate gun-wielding thief forced her to ruin: “You don’t understand,” she weeps. “This is an Alaïa!”

6. The Great Gatsby (1974)

Thanks in large part to Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version of The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio, much of the world knows about the F. Scott Fitzgerald-penned story of the infinitely enigmatic Jay Gatsby. But before Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, there was Mia Farrow’s pitch-perfect portrayal in 1974 opposite Robert Redford. The film’s setting in the Roaring 20s lends itself well to the sartorial incorporation of feathers – Daisy’s character is revealed through her lavish and flamboyant outfits, full of sparkling embellishment, strings of pearls and soft, wavering feathers in pastel shades.

7. Stage Fright (1950)

Marlene Dietrich singing about being the laziest gal in town while slinking down the stage wearing a floor-length marabou-trimmed robe is something we can all aspire to emulate. Dietrich is playing suspected murderess Charlotte Inwood in the 1950 Hitchcock film Stage Fright. Charlotte Inwood is a sultry, flamboyant actress who is impossible to trust; a femme fatale in the truest sense of the phrase. Her exact opposite is Jane Wyman’s endearing Eve Gill (seen above worriedly observing Inwood’s performance), a charming aspiring actress-cum-investigator who, it’s important to note, wears exactly zero feathers throughout the film.  

8. The Duchess (2008)

If there’s one thing we know about the 18th century, it’s that accoutrements made of feathers were all the rage (though evidently this trend extends far beyond the 1700s). So it’s no surprise to see much plumage on the hats and fans of Keira Knightley in The Duchess, the 2008 film in which she played notorious noblewoman Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. Georgiana was known in society for many reasons: she gambled, was a political campaigner, took lovers and allowed her husband’s mistress (who was also her best friend) to live in her house. All this, plus she was a risk-taker and trend-setter when it came to clothes, and the feathers she wears throughout only enhance the luxurious pomp of her lifestyle.

9. Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

Meryl Streep’s turn as amateur opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress – her 20th. Florence Foster Jenkins was described as the “world’s worst opera singer” and famed for the flamboyance and effervescence she injected into her performances. The above clip is demonstrative not only of the utter tragedy of Foster Jenkins’ singing voice, but also the deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Costume – many of which were the epitome of feather-trimmed opulence. Watch Foster Jenkins make practical use of her glorious feathered fan, while in another scene she dons an unbelievable pair of perfectly white angel wings.

10. Dinner at Eight (1933)

Jean Harlow’s character in Dinner at Eight, Kitty Packard, will wear ostrich feathers whenever and wherever she likes. And she especially likes to surround herself with them in bed, or perhaps while arguing with her husband – though in the latter scenario it is, admittedly, hard to focus on the dispute because of the shedding feathers that fly off Kitty’s billowing sleeves and drift to the floor. The plethora of feathers that Kitty makes use of is indicative of the lavish lifestyle she maintains and relishes.