Sofia Coppola: Hyper-feminine fashion in film

5 Mins read

How have Sofia Coppola’s pastel-coloured aesthetics shaped feminine fashion trends today?

Sofia Coppola’s films are known for their distinctive use of aesthetics. Pastel colour palettes, hazy, dream-like lighting and killer soundtracks are her signature style, consistently depicting themes of womanhood and femininity.

Costume design is one of the main ways Coppola conveys themes on screen, leading her to become an inspiration for the popular ‘girlhood’ aesthetic trending on TikTok.

Coppola has always been involved in fashion, creating her clothing line ‘Milk Fed’ in 1994, so it is no wonder she is centring style icon Priscilla Presley in her new film, Priscilla.

Throughout her career, Sofia Coppola has amassed a cult following, but what is it about her costume design that has influenced a new generation’s style?

The four Lisbon sisters' homecoming dresses in The Virgin Suicides.
The Lisbon sisters’ homecoming dresses. [Flickr: David Zellaby]

The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola’s 1999 feature film debut, follows the five Lisbon sisters as seen through the eyes of a group of neighbourhood boys. Set in a suburban town in the 1970s, the film depicts teenage girlhood — homecoming dances, crushes on boys, strict parents — and the girls’ eventual suicides.

Costume designer Nancy Steiner told Criterion: “The Lisbon sisters are sheltered, so their look — even down to their hair — had to be more natural compared to some of the more fashionable styles at that point in the era.

Sofia also wanted to approach the aesthetic elements of the film more subtly, which was a desire I really connected with.” This can be seen in their boxy, plain school uniforms and homecoming dresses described as “four identical sacks.”

“I looked at a lot of old sewing patterns because we knew their frugal mother would be making the dresses in the world of the film. I found the fabric in three different colors, though you may not be able to tell unless you look closely: one has pink flowers, one has blue, and one has yellow,” Steiner continued. “The dresses aren’t sexy. Kirsten Dunst’s character, Lux, has a more form-fitting one, but it isn’t deep-cut — everything is covered.”

As the neighbourhood boys say, we see “the imprisonment of being girls” through their stifling outfits and bedrooms. Themes of isolation, femininity, sexuality and coming-of-age still resonate with young women today which has endowed the film with cult status.

Tweet with the caption: "Sandy Liang SS24 Sandy Liang brings back her sweetness to the runway now taking inspiration from “The virgin suicides” from Sofia Coppola, specially from one of the characters, when she wears her mother’s old lace dress." and two photos of dresses from the collection.
Sandy Liang Spring/Summer ’24 [X: @SOFIssticated]

Designer Sandy Liang was directly inspired by The Virgin Suicides while creating her Spring/Summer ’24 collection of the same name. Liang explains in a video that she was inspired by an image of Cecelia Lisbon wearing a hand-me-down lace dress “which is more beautiful because it’s ill-fitting.”

This can be seen in the oversized, lacy, white dresses in the collection, adorned with delicate ribbon bows which are Liang’s signature accessory. The colour pink is also very present in the collection, a traditionally feminine colour which is integral to the ‘girlhood’ and ‘coquette’ aesthetic trends.

The ‘girlhood’ trend, beginning on TikTok, is a celebration of female childhood experiences. Disillusioned with adulthood, women are finding happiness in the Barbie movie, collecting Sylvanian Families and wearing traditionally feminine styles and pleated skirts reminiscent of their school uniforms. The trend is fuelled by a nostalgia for teenagedom and returning to simpler times.

Heaven — Marc Jacobs’ cool sister brand — also released a collection celebrating The Virgin Suicides. The Fall ’21 collection was heavily Y2k inspired, with mesh tops, silk skirts and handbags all bearing Kirsten Dunst as Lux Lisbon. This time the collection was grungier, evoking the teenage angst present throughout the film.

The Lisbon sisters are a precursor to the more free, rebellious women of Sofia Coppola’s other works, who have escaped the male gaze through which The Virgin Suicides is told.

A still from Marie Antoinette showing the Queen and her ladies holding fans.
Marie Antoinette wearing candy pink with lace and frills. [Flickr: Angela Thomas]

Marie Antoinette (2006) is another of Sofia Coppola’s films where girlhood is a central theme, shown through the costume design. The film follows the lavish life of the 18th-century queen from her arrival in France to her death, captured through extravagant gowns and a pop-punk soundtrack.

The film centres Marie Antoinette’s youth, becoming the Dauphine at 14 and the Queen of France at 18. In a now iconic scene, Bow Wow Wow’s I Want Candy plays as Marie tries on shoes and dresses in candy colours and in the background of one shot, a pair of lilac Converse can be seen. The use of the anachronistic sneakers reminds the audience that she is only a teenager, humanising her.

Costume designer Milena Canonero won an Academy Award in 2007 for her work on the film. She used a box of macarons from Laduree as a colour palette, seen in the candyfloss pinks, pistachio greens, champagnes and baby blues used throughout. Every dress has frills, ribbons, lace and feathers, and as is said by one gossiping member of the French court, “she looks like a piece of cake.”

This is a nod to Marie Antoinette’s famous quote, “Let them eat cake,” and her costumes certainly reflect the many French pastries and sweets shown throughout the film. Despite the film’s historical setting, Marie’s love of fashion and the coming-of-age plot is still relatable through her characterisation.

A coquette outfit from @diorrific's Instagram.
A coquette outfit including Marie Antoinette [Courtesy of @diorrific]

The coquette aesthetic, another trend from social media, emphasises femininity, flirtatiousness and vintage references. Lace blouses, pearl necklaces, ribbons and ballet flats are integral to the style, giving a romantic and soft look. These elements are reminiscent of the costume design in Marie Antoinette.

Rose, known as @diorrific on Instagram, is a creator with a coquette aesthetic and a love of Sofia Coppola films. “My favourite is Marie Antoinette,” she told us. “I think my style is a mix between Marie Antoinette, The Virgin Suicides and The Bling Ring.”

So what does she love about the coquette aesthetic? “I like the colour scheme, the vintage style and the femininity. Classic coquette I think is a more flirtatious look, a modern-day coquette look is feminine, soft pink and a lot of lace ribbons, dainty jewellery, an effortless makeup look, mini skirts and either a scoop neck or sweetheart neckline.”

Rose also thinks the coquette aesthetic takes inspiration from Marie Antoinette’s real-life style: “I really love the Rococo era, I think it’s my favourite historical era. I see a lot of it in modern-day clothing too, like most tank tops have a lace trim with a little bow in the middle. I do think a lot of these more girly clothes take aspects of Rococo fashion.”

One fashion brand that has pioneered this trend is Simone Rocha. Sheer fabric, pink roses, bows and lacy dresses are integral to their Spring/Summer ’24 collection. Sarah Mower wrote for Vogue: “Birthday or wedding cakes took over from roses. Swagged effects imitating old-fashioned icing sugar were prettily rendered across bouncy crinolines,” which is remarkably similar to the saccharine references to cake in Marie Antoinette.

Sofia Coppola’s newly released film, Priscilla, seems to continue many of the themes that define her filmography to date. Priscilla Beaulieu met Elvis Presley at the age of 14 and was only 21 when they married. The film is set to be Priscilla’s coming-of-age story, as she is similarly caged and isolated by her relationship as other Coppola characters are in their lives.

Elvis and Priscilla Presley on their wedding day.
Elvis and Priscilla Presley [Flickr: Tullio Saba]

Meg Walters reviewed the film for Glamour, saying: “Amongst the objects of teen girl-dom, we see glimpses of Elvis memorabilia. We are in Graceland — but while Elvis’s presence looms everywhere, this is Priscilla’s corner of his empire.”

Coppola uses the female gaze in many of her films, telling the story through the eyes of her female protagonists. It seems this will continue with Priscilla.

It would not be surprising if actress Cailee Spaeny’s depiction of Priscilla became another inspiration for current fashion trends. Priscilla Presley is a fashion icon in her own right, with her signature bouffant hairstyle, cat eyeliner and Mod style.

Perhaps the next aesthetic to make the rounds on TikTok will be a modern reimagining of the Queen of Rock and Roll’s 1960s glamour.

Featured image courtesy of @diorrific via Instagram.

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