We’ve gone on the record over the years about the reason we so rarely cover any war films from World War I to the Vietnam War. Mainly, it’s because there’s not a lot of costume content there that is 1) interesting (as in, not a lot of pretty dresses), and 2) we aren’t remotely experts on military uniforms and despite attempting to get people who do know a thing or two to write us something on the topic, we’ve had no takers.
That doesn’t mean the films themselves aren’t good or worth watching nor does it mean that there aren’t occasionally interesting women’s costumes popping up. So, here’s a brief list of films set that have one or two costumes worth discussing, but not enough to devote an entire post to.
SAS Rogue Heroes (2022-)
I’m thoroughly enjoying this miniseries about the formation of the Special Air Services in World War II, but there’s not a lot of costume content to discuss. There is (so far) only one female character who is a glamorous Algerian spy working on behalf of France, and a commanding officer who likes to cross-dress, and other than that, not a whole lot in the show that isn’t sweaty khaki. That said, I heartily recommend watching it. It’s so good!
Band of Brothers (2001)
Contrast the above with Band of Brothers, which everyone agrees is pretty much the most perfect World War II series ever filmed (at least according to the two people I polled here in my household. The cats abstained). That said, there are almost no female characters in the show, which of course isn’t surprising considering it’s entirely focused on the exploits of Easy Company. Of the two women in the cast that I was able to find images of, both are very, very minor characters and not exactly dressing glamorously due to, well, having a lot things on their plate at the time.
Pearl Harbor (2001)
Now, to be fair, there is actually a decent amount of interesting female costumes in this film, so maybe I’m being a bit disingenuous when I include it on this list. The reality is, however, that the women are all secondary characters and spend most of the film in uniform with only a few scenes of them wearing civilian clothing.
JoJo Rabbit (2019)
This film is one of my favorites, but there’s not a whole lot of womenswear in it. What little there is, however, is actually really good. Scarlett Johansson has some of the best cardigans I’ve seen on film! (Ed note: The cardigan is recycled from 1981’s Brideshead Revisited.)
Schindler’s List (1993)
It’s been almost 30 years since I watched this film, so forgive me if my memory is really hazy … But this is definitely one of those films that most of us can go through once, and that’s good enough. It’s devastatingly powerful, filmed in black and white, and while the overall costuming is meticulous, there’s just not a lot of civilian clothing to comment on (for obvious reasons). The iconic shot of the little girl in the red coat is seared into my brain.
Do you have a WWII film you’d like to recommend because it has that one really good costume? Share it with us in the comments!
Hope and Glory
Agreed with Hope and Glory, though the “clothing” I remember most is the big sister’s improvised stockings.
I absolutley LOVE this site.
Tora! Tora! Tora! Is much better than Pearl Harbor. It’s the definitive movie on the Pearl Harbor attack.
At the very end of Midway, Many Moore wears a coral shirtwaist dress with a scalloped front. It looks to be true vintage, and I must sew myself a replica before I die.
Also, while none of the costumes stuck out to me, ‘A Call To Spy’ is a GREAT female-focused WWII story, and it’s based on a true story to boot.
Definitely an “A” for the costumes in Pearl Harbor (I really like Jennifer Garner’s look TBH), but I can only look at stills, because the film itself was terrible and mucks up history too much. I didn’t expect much when Michael Bay said the reason he made it was because of a dream he had with the camera-following-the-bomb shot.
Do documentaries with inserts from TV series count? Then Nancy Wake is my favourite, aside from Schindler’s, and Wish Me Luck.
I really liked the early 90s BBC series Wish Me Luck, about two women who go undercover for the French Resistance.
Ditto. So good.
I’m so glad you brought up Rogue Heroes!!! Sofia Boutella is the most glamorous thing ever! I did giggle when she popped in on Dominic West in the church wearing a daring halter crop top thingy – sexy as hell, but questionable to wear in a desert clime and into a church at that! She also smokes in an interestingly vintage way. The way she holds her cigarette reminds me of my Great Aunt Isabel who was a fashionable globe trotter herself.
Also, Connor Swindells can really act, and man, o man, is he gorgeous.
Empire of the Sun, although minimal costume content. Baby Christian Bale!
Ok, I can’t believe that I have to mention this movie: EVERYTHING Kristin Scott Thomas wore in The English Patient was beautiful. Also, the movie was incomparable. Also, Ralph Fiennes. The British TV Home Fires was about women and their clothes were VERY interesting. Another British TV show, Land Girls, had interesting costumes, though most of the ones I remember were “farm life” related, because you know, Land Girls. I don’t know how much we can consider The Man Who Cried as a WWII-film, but the costumes were definitely beautiful!!
Atonement has maybe 2 costumes worth mentioning. The rest are mostly uniforms!
Atlantic Crossing had good hats! That’s about it!
Interesting note: When I joined the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps in 1976, we were still wearing the white WWII nurse’s uniform. It buttoned from neck to hem with little two-pronged buttons that had to be pushed through little holes on one side and buttoned on the other. There was a detachable belt with more buttons. It was the devil to iron.
White shoes with the correct number of holes for the laces (four?).
The beautiful nurse’s cap had the black velvet and gold braid that showed our rank as officers.
Alas, that uniform is no more.
I laughed at the depiction of the Navy nurses in “Pearl Harbor”, showing them sitting on an empty patient bed, already made up with sheets…WHILE IN UNIFORM! NO! NO! NEVER!.
AND…the hairstyles on the nurses in the top picture here is clearly not “off their collar”, another violation. Tsk, tsk.
Need go no further than Foyle’s war, TV I know but what the hell
In the 70’s there was a BBC/Belgium TV series Secret Army. Set in Belgium about an underground network to get allied soldiers out. Was also the basis for the British comedy series Allo Allo. From what I remember of Secret Army the costumes were OK
I’ll have to be on the look out for this SAS. There’s a documentary, drawn from the book, which are both likely the inspiration for this series. It has interview footage from the real people in the group. I look forward to seeing the miniseries!
List always makes me cry. It’s a gut punch. Band of Brothers is amazing.
The ladies costumes in Inglorious Basterds are pretty good, imo. Not sure if it’s period exactly, but I want the red dress Melanie Laurent wears when she burns down her movie theater.
I just watched ‘Devotion,’ which is set in 1950 (the Korean War). The main female character wears a ton of cotton house dresses that look to be true vintage, and she wears them really well!