From Christine Baranski to Nicole Kidman, cinema has reimagined the yuletide as something it will never be: raunchy, dangerous, and laced with glamour
CHRISTINE BARANSKI IN THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS
Little wonder why the Grinch had such strong feelings towards Martha May Whovier when her wardrobe comprised, almost exclusively, cascading, fur-trimmed gowns. Though she first appears as a Stepford Wife with an ungodly drive to win the town’s annual christmas lights competition (in a fab, chunky-belted Mrs Claus look) Christine Baranski’s character proves herself to be made of little more than pigs in blankets when she falls for the Grinch towards the end of the film. Originally classmates at school, the mini-monster gifted Martha May with a handmade angel made from bicycle horns, forks, and crushed gemstones from antique jewelry. Decades later, while the Grinch has sequestered himself in a mountain cave, an unhappily married Martha is seen wearing jewels in her hair, salvaged from the tree topper. Now that’s storytelling.
DOLLY PARTON IN A SMOKY CHRISTMAS MOUNTAIN
First broadcast in 1986, A Smoky Mountain Christmas was a made for television film about a famous singer overburdened by her career and loneliness. Playing Lorna Davies, Dolly Parton takes refuge in a quiet cabin only to find the place has been taken over by seven kids fleeing their orphanage. The movie traces Lorna’s battle to keep the pseudo-family together and follows the songstress as she flits from gloriously camp Christmas costume to angelic, lace-trimmed, petal-shouldered gowns reminiscent of her more recent Netflix offering Christmas on the Square. Undeniable sartorial highlights include a bottle-green, buxom elf vest which Parton finishes with a jauntily-angled striped hat and a snowy, all-white, fur-trimmed, corseted jacket dress.
KIERA KNIGHTLEY IN LOVE ACTUALLY
A controversial choice, perhaps, but those low-slung jeans, denim baker boy cap – which the actor allegedly wore to cover a spot – and cropped, off-the-shoulder, knitted vest would do numbers on Depop. Knightley was only 17 when Love Actually was filmed, which does seem too young given the film’s content, and unfortunately, twenty years later, her inclusion has been reduced to meme fodder. If nothing but for her tragi-fab early 00s fashion choices, Kiera Knightley is overdue for a comeback. Stupid little scarves included.
CATE BLANCHETT IN CAROL
Carol is the kind of movie which became instantly canonised among film buffs and has acquired a somewhat exhausting reputation for those that like their Christmas watches to be a little chin strokey. Todd Haynes’ 2015 classic, based on the book The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, is a 1950s story of a curious department store worker and the wealthy divorced woman she meets one afternoon. Romance and sex, of course, ensue, but one of the most enduring aspects of Haynes’ storytelling was the costuming. Blanchett’s swollen fur coats, tailored pyjama sets, and brooding headscarves are a sapphic sensation.
NICOLE KIDMAN IN EYES WIDE SHUT
It’s not so much what Nicole Kidman wears in Eyes Wide Shut but the emission of a vibe. Skimpy vests, sheer dresses, and bookish little spectacles speak to the tense eroticism which cuts through Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 psychodrama. Kidman stars opposite her then-husband Tom Cruise, to whom she admits to having sexual fantasies about another man. He, feeling enraged, becomes obsessed with having a sexual encounter of his own. It’s oppressive, moneyed, and high-octane, the ultimate alt-Christmas movie.
JOHNNY DEPP IN EDWARD SCISSORHANDS
Leather bodysuits are festive, actually. Also quite Balenciaga. By way of gothic straps, eyelets, and clunking metal studs, that is. Though the film is often appropriated at Halloween, Tim Burton’s 1990 classic is a festive movie at heart, framed around a grandmother telling her grandchild why it snows on Christmas. It’s melancholy and just a little heartwarming, centering feelings of alienation and loneliness, which do often chime with the holiday season. A special mention goes to Winona Ryder’s look, too, another all-white corset confection, which is topped with a belt-like neckline and descends into a tulle skirt.
NATALIE WOOD IN GYPSY
There are, of course, so many iconic style moments from canonical Christmas films. There’s Judy Garland in Meet Me in Saint Louis, Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut, and James Stewart in It’s aWonderful Life. There’s Bing Crosby in White Christmas, who perfectly embodies the masculine urge to dress up in a little jewel-encrusted red suit, scalloped with thick trims of bulky fur on Christmas day. It’s Natalie Wood in 1962’s Gyspy – which has literally not one mention of the festive season – who takes the crown. When it comes to Christmas mass, or say, a boxing day walk, gorgeous, gorgeous girls wear sultry, corset gowns, slit at the hip and bulked at the bosom with bristling mink, topped with a tiny little red bow.
WILSON JERMAINE HEREDIA IN RENT
The role of Angel Dumott Schunard scored actor Wilson Jermaine Heredia a Tony back in 1996 – a character he would later reprise in 2005 for the film adaptation of the musical Rent. Angel’s a drag queen and street performer, living with AIDS, who delivers a rambunctious rendition of “Today 4 U” on the 25th December while wearing a Mrs Claus two piece, fastened with a wide zebra-print belt and matching tights. Through the medium of music, Angel tells the story of how a rich woman paid her to murder her neighbour’s dog (a Christmas miracle) while stomping about a draughty New York flat in patent stiletto boots. Though the character eventually succumbs to the illness, she’s forever remembered for her sleek black bob and jungle-indebted get-up.
JENNIFER COOLIDGE IN SINGLE ALL THE WAY
A truly terrible film where Jennifer Coolidge is made into a walking, talking gay meme, one of the only redeeming features of Netflix’s 2021 Christmas offering comes via the costume department who decided to dress Coolidge in some so-dreadful-they’re-actually-art fashions. There’s a head-to-toe leopard print look – a spotted faux-fur jacket and bodycon – worn with a festive rouge bolero, there’s a Jennifer Lopez meets Matalan snakeskin wraparound dress, and then there’s the overblown Angel Gabriel gown that the actor dons in a nativity scene. With the protagonist played by the same actor who plays Marc in Ugly Betty, squint and this dreadful movie could almost be fashion fanfiction. Sleigh, queen! Etc.
WHITNEY HOUSTON IN THE PREACHER’S WIFE
Starring opposite Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston plays the preacher’s wife in The Preacher’s Wife, a nightclub singer turned choir lead. By day Houston’s looks are so stern and shapeless they could almost be from The Row – not to mention the punishing choir robes – but by night, she transforms herself into a star chanteuse, performing at low-lit jazz cafés where she unleashes her sweeping vocals in low-cut Princess Di revenge dresses. Consider it a quasi-religious warm-up for belting hymns at midnight mass or stumbling through “The Fairytale of New York” in your local pub.