A Collection of Retro Flicks That Bear Mentioning

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Frock Flicks has a nominal cutoff date of 1969, so any film set after is something we won’t typically cover (we have broken this rule a couple of times, though). But there are an increasing number of films and television shows coming out that are based in the retro nostalgic period of 1970-1990 that are actually pretty interesting with convincingly good costuming. We do get a lot of requests to cover some of these shows, which usually results in us having to invoke the “pre-1969” rule and point them towards Tom + Lorenzo or other sites that discuss more contemporary “historical” fashion in film and TV. However, I figured I could at least throw out some mentions of some of the better crop of post-1969 “historical” flicks to grace my TV screen.

 

The Get Down (2016)

The Get Down (directed by Baz Lurhmann) is based on a graphic novel series called Hip Hop Family Tree, which outlines the origins of hip hop in New York City during the 1970s and 1980s. It follows the fictional teenager Zeke and his group of friends as they set out to become part of the burgeoning hip hop scene in inner-city New York. The costumes are fairly cringe-worthy as you’d expect anything set in the late-1970s to be, but also breathtakingly gorgeous and elegant. I was ready to die for any of the disco dresses worn by Myele and her friends. It’s a shame it didn’t get picked up for another season.

 

Stranger Things (2016-)

Paranormal stuff is totally my jam. I haven’t yet watched the subsequent seasons, but Season One was cited repeatedly as being realistically 1980s without being too campy about it.

I have a lot of unresolved emotions about that telephone.

Every kid I hung out with in the early 1980s is in this photo.

 

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

I’d say this is more of an example of campy 1980s, even if the vast majority of costumes in the film are suits. As for the movie itself, I enjoyed it but I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to watch it again. For all the years that Leonardo di Caprio has annoyed me, I did actually enjoy him quite a bit in this OTT role.

 

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) & Rocketman (2019)

Director Dexter Fletcher directed both of these biopics that were released within a year of one another, so I’m just going to deal with them together. While I am a bigger Queen fan in real life, I thought Bohemian Rhapsody was the weaker of the two films, as it went more for a sanitized “family friendly” vibe when retelling the story of Freddie Mercury’s life as the Queen frontman.

Contrasting that with Rocketman, the highly stylized and surreal biopic of Elton John’s life and career, which was just pure joy to watch. The costumes in both were great, but Rocketman had more opportunities to go off-the-charts bonkers with recreations of some of Elton’s most iconic stage costumes.

I thought Rami Malek was pretty good as Freddie, honestly.

Also, I thought Gwilym Lee was a dead ringer for Brian May.

The iconic devil costume in the film is not a direct copy of any of the costumes actually worn by Elton (which were famously designed by Bob Mackie). It is pretty spectacular, though.

The “everyday” costumes in the film are ostentatious but believably rooted in the 1970s. It was a very ostentatious era on it’s own.

Another “classic” Elton John look captured by costume designer Julian Day.

 

Do you have a favorite film or TV show that’s set 1970-1990? Share it with us in the comments (though we probably won’t cover it on the blog)…

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

35 Responses

  1. ctrent29

    Why limit yourself in that manner? Why not date any movie or television production set 45 to 50 years before the current year or older as “period”?

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Honestly, I’m willing to consider any flick set >25 years before now and Trystan does allow us some leeway in covering stuff that’s post-1969, like I mentioned in the post. It’s just like T said, there’s a lot of sites out there that already focus on more recent historical films and it’s just less interesting overall for us to talk about stuff that we remember wearing (the three of us were born between 1969 and 1978). When a film comes out with really exceptional costuming like Rocketman or (the vastly underrated) The Get Down (seriously, go watch it) then it bears mentioning on Frock Flicks. Otherwise, we are all just kind of meh on covering the decades we lived through.

      Reply
  2. LadySlippers

    Rocketman was out of this world good. Absolutely adored it.

    Wolf of Wallstreet was too long. I didn’t care for it at all. But that’s just me.

    Reply
  3. Karen K.

    I completely agree that Rocketman was the superior film. Bohemian Rhapsody felt like a checklist. I loved Rocketman and I was outraged when the costume designer was overlooked for an Oscar nomination, they were amazing. There was a crossover episode with Project Runway Season 17. It’s definitely worth watching just to see the young designers’ visions of Elton John costumes.

    And Stranger Things is worth it for the 80s nostalgia alone — there’s a shopping mall set in season 3 which was filmed in an actual mall circa 1985. It’s a dead ringer for the mall of my youth so it was really joyful for me to watch those scenes. They did an amazing job recreating the 1980s (and season 3 is superior to season 2, definitely worth watching.)

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I tried watching it when it came out and I just couldn’t get into it, despite being a fan of gritty police procedurals. Probably was just too gritty for me, LOL.

      Reply
  4. Kimberly Andert

    American Hustle did a great job with the 70s vibe. The women’s clothing was glitzy as well as funky. If for no other reason, watch it for Jennifer Lawrence’s intense but wacky performance.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I was trying to remember the name of American Hustle to include it on this list, but I just couldn’t get my brain to cough it up! But you’re right, it had great 1970s costumes.

      Reply
  5. Heather

    FX’s Pose (set in the late 80s in the first season and progressing into the 90s in season 2) is another one worth a look. The writing and acting is top notch.

    Reply
  6. Sharon Eckerling

    Check out “Mrs. America”. 70’s feminist icons vs. Phyllis Schlafly. The costumes definitely tell a story.

    Reply
  7. angharad

    I love “Derry Girls,” which is set in northern Ireland in the 1990s.

    Reply
  8. Jeremy Fletcher

    The only thing that would make Stranger Things better is some Trapper Keepers and peachy folders in the high school scenes.

    Reply
    • Boxermom

      TRAPPER KEEPERS! I thought I was sooo cool because I had one with a tiger on it (guess what? 30+ yrs. later, I’m still a nerd).

      Reply
      • Sarah Lorraine

        I pretty much exclusively rocked Lisa Frank binders throughout elementary and middle school. The more glitter rainbow unicorns on it, the better.

        Reply
        • Boxermom

          In that case, check out Nihilisa Frank on Tumblr for that existential angst…

          Reply
      • Jamie LaMoreaux

        I was born in 1962, so the ’70’s was my time. we had: trapper keepers, coloring Peter Max folders, cool lead pencils that were in cartridges you swapped out and came in funky colors, halter tops you made yourself because they were that easy to make. you NEVER ever EVER saw ripped Jeans or jeans with holes because you had seriously cool patches and embroidery all over them to cover the rips, tears and threadbare spots. you wore POW bracelets and PF Flyers. it was SO MUCH fun back then.

        Reply
  9. MrsC (Maryanne)

    I think Rocket Man was better because Elton John was involved and was behind it being more real and honest. With Freddie unable to contribute to BR, others got their stories told instead. I’ve not seen BR but LOVED Rocketman.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      That’s pretty much my take on Bohemian Rhapsody, too. And I do get why… pressure from the band and his family to not tarnish his legacy in any way, etc. led to the movie being really sanitized of any kind of humanity. I was introduced to Queen at almost the same moment that Freddie died, and I remember even then there was a real aversion to admitting he had AIDS, and I still feel like that aversion to the non-family friendly parts of his life (which he was SO unabashed about while he was alive) carries on today.

      But Rocketman had EJ on board, and it’s him telling his story on his own terms, warts and all. It’s such a marked difference in the way the movie treats a similar kind of subject matter, and it comes off more authentic and refreshing as a result.

      Reply
  10. Lily Lotus Rose

    I agree with others who’ve mentioned Pose, American Hustle, and the need for Trapper Keepers in Stranger Things. (I tried to spot Trapper Keepers in every season of the show!) Since you invoked so many music movies in the post, it made me think of Get On Up, the James Brown biopic. It was ridiculous and over the top, just the man himself. And of course, the soundtrack was killer! The costumes in the Sex and the City prequel series, The Carrie Diaries, seemed pretty good for its 80s New York niche. I still haven’t seen the TV series Halt and Catch Fire yet, but the costumes that I saw in various commercials looked about right for the time.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Thanks for the heads up on the James Brown biopic! I need to watch that!

      Reply
  11. Peacoclaur

    The two Ryan Murphy shows “The People vs OJ Simpson” and “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” both did mid 1990s fashion in a fairly realistic way, with most of the more stereotypical 90s Aesthetic being deliberate in particular the menswear (garish ties, polo shirts, beige slacks, bad Italian suits and double breasting everywhere! Oh my!).

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Ooooh, I haven’t seen The Assassination of Gianni Versace! I remember his murder vividly. (My other hobby is true crime.)

      Reply
  12. Saraquill

    Mylene’s fancy dresses from The Get Down intrigue me. I’m curious how many dresses from that time had the super high slit and matching briefs combo she sported more than once.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Hard to say, since there was such a huge variety in disco wear, historically speaking. But within the context of the show, a lot of the disco clothes Mylene and her girlfriends wear were supposed to be homemade, so that might account for it.

      Reply
  13. William Bailie

    I am no expert in fashion, but the HBO Chernobyl series was reported to be incredibly accurate in its portrayal of mid-80s USSR. When I watched it with my Russian wife, her main complaint was that the schoolchildren were wearing “special day” uniforms instead of “everyday” uniforms, but that the whole look and feel of the series was uncannily correct.

    Reply
  14. Constance Luciano Bryceland

    My interest pretty much is limited to pre-WWII, for the most part, maybe inc that second war era but not much later. Also not pre-15th century as a rule. My favorites are 17th century thru Edwardian era.

    Reply
  15. Karin

    Completely understand your choice of a cut-off date. I love the TV series Endeavour – not only for the stories, but also for recreating the 60s pretty well – and progressing through them from 1965 to 69 (so far). On a side, I could never get myself like Morse though…

    Reply
  16. Jamie LaMoreaux

    I enjoyed both Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody, but I was a tad disappointed in the Queen bio-pic. i wanted less Freddie Mercury and more about the band as a whole. Sure it covered up his bisexuality as well as a lot of other things. but it did a LOT better job than Cole Porter got. as for his family hiding his AIDS. that’s what it was like back then. his religion taught Homosexuality was demonic and he didn’t want his family to be humiliated. AIDS was also considered shameful back then and something to hide. remember Rock Hudson? times were different.

    Reply

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