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Seven-Plus Films to Watch For the Vintage

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By Scott Daniels


The film industry doesn't always get vintage right—and this doesn’t just apply to twentieth century set pieces. If you’ve seen the 1963 Cleopatra, which star Elizabeth Taylor found particularly embarrassing, you’ve seen some of the worst damage Hollywood can do, with 1960s hairdos and clothing styles all the rage in ancient Egypt.

When a film misses the mark completely, coming up with costumes, settings and hairstyles which in no way reflect the period they are attempting to portray, it can overtake an otherwise interesting picture. At times, this is intentional, as with Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby (2013), in which some of the music, costumes, etc., were moved into the 21st century to achieve a specific effect. At other times, it’s just a charging bull of a mess. In staying with the Fitzgerald novel, the 1974 Great Gatsby comes to mind. Or away from Fitzgerald, see 1967's Bonnie and Clyde.

But when they get it right, it’s a magnificent thing to see. There’s always a small mistake to be spotted, but here are some good examples of movies or streaming series showing off vintage fashions in an authentic way, whether using originals or well-curated new work.

Peaky Blinders (BBC 2013-) / Boardwalk Empire (HBO, 2010-2014)

We lump these two together because they are similar in style and general storyline, Set in 1920s Birmingham, England and 1920s Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA, respectively, they follow the stories of crime families staking out territory and grabbing power in the post World War One era. Both expensively lavish, they are worth catching for the stylish and reasonably accurate costumes, sets, and great storytelling.

The Cotton Club (1984)

Starring Richard Gere, Diane Lane and Nicholas Cage, The Cotton Club was filmed when there were still racks upon racks of late 20s-early 30s clothing available at the local Goodwill, and the movie’s costume designers make full use of excellent, original pieces. Though a little dated to watch now, it’s still one of the best examples of proper use of vintage styles on the screen.

Mad Men (AMC 2007-2015)

Following the story of the rise and inglorious dissemination of second-tier Madison Avenue ad agency Sterling-Cooper, Mad Men begins on the eve of the 1960 U.S. presidential election and takes us through the many social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s. The series nails the vibe of the time, not just in clothes, but every tiny set detail from office equipment to social norms. Stay with it to get past early blatant sexism and it’s worth binging from Don Draper’s early musings on cigarette smoking through Peggy Olson’s… trust us, just watch it.

Dunkirk (2017)

There are several excellent movies and series set on and off the battlefields of World War Two which get things mostly right, including Saving Private Ryan (1998), Band of Brothers (HBO 2001), and Hacksaw Ridge (2016) to name a very few. Dunkirk, one of the most recent, has been widely acclaimed for accuracy across the board.

The Artist (2011)

The Artist proved so much to vintage watchers. Hollywood can, when it wants to, do things with remarkable style and accuracy. It also proved that silent films can still tell a story more than 80 years after their demise with the coming of sound.

Babylon Berlin (Netflix, 2017)

You can almost smell the unbathed bodies while watching Babylon Berlin. The film is set in 1930's Berlin, Germany, as Communism, the NSDAP and others struggle to take control of the Weimar Republic. Drugs, sex, music and debauchery are all on hand, in a well presented and researched Netflix series.

Jeeves and Wooster (BBC 1990)

Starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, fans of Television's House will hardly believe the latter is the same fellow. The series is based on the stories by P.G. Wodehouse, and the sets, costumes, and notably, hats, are pretty much all to die for. See Bertie Wooster's apartment for serious art deco furnishings and accessories. See Jeeves for everything else.

Feel free to leave other suggestions--or films with glaring flaws--in the comments.
About author
Aside from helping manage things around The Fedora Lounge, I'm a freelance writer and award winning food columnist. The foodie Insta is @weatewellandcheaply.


One of my favorite period films is George Roy Hill's THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER (1975), which recreates the era of barnstorming with meticulous accuracy. (Two of my uncles barnstormed in the 1920s, so it's a subject close to my heart. That, and several of the film's stunt pilots were people whom I met at air shows.) Worth your time.
Tried to watch Dunkirk, but although the set, costumes, location, cinematography and actors were great, the movie was awful. I fast-forwarded it many times as the pacing was horrible for so long a film. I understand they didn't want it to be a documentary, but there wasn't enough character development to make it a personal story either. It was no Lawrence of Arabia, that's for sure.
Greatly enjoyed 'Hail Ceasar', but cannot vouch for the accuracy of the wardrobe.
I am so irritated that "The Cotton Club" isn't in Blu-Ray so we can really see detail in the costumes. It should be a release in the Criterion Collection with 4K remastering and a ton of extras.
I have Direct TV for now so I record most movies from the 20s-early 40s. Not good if your on a budget. Its like feeding an addiction looking at everyone wearing beautiful suits, tuxes and sport clothing. I've been watching Clark Gable, Cary Grant, William Powell etc... These fellow could dress as well as Buster Keaton.
You're Right. Getting a period piece right is a challenge.
I find some of the best are from the BBC.
Pick any of the Mysteries. be it Poirot, my favorite, Miss Marple, or Mariaget or Sherlock Holmes. All well-done period pieces.
And the stories are great too.
Of course, nothing beats watching the original period piece, such as any Bogart film of the 1940s The entire Thin Man series, to just name a couple.
A well-done period piece is a pleasure to watch.
Thoroughly enjoyed 'Babylon Berlin'. I thought it gave fascinating insights into an otherwise often overlooked yet important transitional period. Also was happy to see the absinthe accoutrements interspersed throughout the series, as I enjoy the occassional glass of La Fee Verte during l'heure verte. (Albeit AFTER I discovered absinthe was legal in the U.S.A.! Absinthe antiques are now also another guilty pleasure!)

'Jeeves and Wooster' seems very interesting, but I couldn't find it on any of the streaming channels, and the price on Amazon was well over $200. Since some of my favorite television series are from the U.K., however, I'd purchased a multi-region DVD player some years back and found that Amazon.co.uk sells the 'Jeeves and Wooster' series as about $130 under the U.S. price- so naturally I splurged. I highly recommend checking Amazon.co.uk when it comes to outlandish prices here in the States for British television series or books.

One movie I'd add to this vintage collection is Netflix's 'The Highwaymen' about the Texas Rangers who took down Bonnie and Clyde. It felt authentic and truth be told I enjoyed it because 1. it's about Texas and 2. it shows in some detail the transition of the Texas Rangers from a force engaged against desperadoes of every ilk using horse sense, tracking, and grit into a technology reliant 'modern' policing force. That was striking, especially when one considers the world of 'Lonesome Dove' was a mere 50 years prior. For me it was also about the power of character opposed to reliance on the ease of technology - a struggle which stills goes on today.
I think Peaky Blinders could fit into the same category as The Great Gatsby (2013), much of the costume, is just that costume- they've played with what was available and worn at the time and made things more extreme. It's not really a period show, just one with a period theme and modern dynamics.

I really enjoyed Mad Men as a series, from the point of view of the acting and the comic irony. However the costume seemed to swing between period original and poor, modern substitutes? Roger who was a dandy millionaire, only seeming to have one or two pairs of shoes. Tiny collared, button downs on some of the 'college boys'. Then every so often, a clearly perfect original find. This lack of expense or effort in the first series is forgivable, the later ones less so. But The Ivy League Look, never quite disappeared from the American Dress sense after it started to become more common place during the 1950s. There is plenty easily available at vintage and there are manufactures still using patterns from the 50s and 60s today.

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