Quentin Tarantino claims to “steal from every single movie ever made.” The director built his career on mastering what some call homage and what others (including himself) call thievery, packing his work with so many references — from spaghetti westerns to kung-fu flicks, gangster, slasher, and exploitation films — that he could be called a collage artist if not for the nuance he uses to tell old stories in refreshing ways.
Like fashion designers who root through history to re-imagine old styles for a modern wardrobe, Tarantino takes images from cinema’s past and gives them new life in our present. Or, maybe, he just recognizes the immortal appeal of a good roundhouse kick in the same way that Coco Chanel knew the immortal charm of a high-quality suit. Building an empire on subliminal referencing may seem manipulative, but Tarantino might be doing us a favor. With a mind like a Rolodex for film and style, he filters through cinematic obscurity, so that viewers can enjoy the highlight reel. Somebody has to do the dirty work. In an homage to the king of homage, here is a style breakdown of three Quentin Tarantino films.
The title of this Tarantino neo-noir refers to a type of magazine full of violent detective stories and characters with punchy black-humor printed on cheap, wood pulp paper. Similarly, the characters in “Pulp Fiction” hit a perfect, junk food-esque balance between being entertaining and being over-the-top, from their hyper-violent escapades to their comic-book clothing.
Each character’s style is a noir archetype with some Tarantino quirk: Marsellus Wallace, a mob boss who wears kingpin uniforms in a gold turtleneck, a brown suit, and gold hoop earrings, gives orders to the black suit-wearing hitman duo of Jules and Vincent (played by Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta). Vincent and Marsellus Wallace’s wife, Mia (played by Uma Thurman), share a symbol of recklessness in both of their costumes, with Vincent sporting a bolo tie and Mia wearing a black bandana-print bustier under her crisp white button-down. The rest of Mia’s outfit is the kind of clean, minimal look that shows off an overall expensive appearance, down to her gold Chanel slippers. Boxer Butch Coolidge (played by Bruce Willis) wears a brown bomber jacket inspired by Nick Nolte’s in “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” a plain white t-shirt, light wash blue jeans, and dirty white sneakers, a uniform just anti-fashion enough to show his all-American grit.
“Death Proof,” Quentin Tarantino’s half of the double-feature “Grindhouse,” is a sweeping homage to the 70s slasher film. This subgenre of horror film centers around a psychopathic killer who stalks and murders their victims, usually with an iconic tool — famous examples include the chainsaw in (you guessed it) “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and the knife used by Michael Myers in “Halloween.” In “Death Proof,” psycho killer Stuntman Mike’s weapon is a 70s muscle car — further tribute to the decade. Stuntman Mike (played by Kurt Russell) wears a silver satin Icy-Hot jacket in a direct nod to the jackets of 70s racecar drivers. Its flamboyance marks him as a narcissist and villain. The two acts of “Death Proof” feature two different groups of girls (first Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, and Sydney Tamiia Poitier; then Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Tracie Thoms, and real stuntwoman Zoë Bell) each of whom represent different variations of slasher victim style: short shorts and skirts, t-shirts galore (almost all of which reference some part of 70s pop culture), and low-rise jeans. The second group of girls who turn the tables on Stuntman Mike are based off the women in Russ Meyer’s “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” and have a slightly tougher style, with heavy belt buckles, leather wrist cuffs, and cowboy boots—all the better to get their revenge in.
As a period piece, “Inglourious Basterds” delivers historical accuracy while bringing the most glamorous elements of 1940s fashion to the screen. Set in the thick of World War II, the visible friction between the effortless style of the Parisian people and the sharp cuts of German SS uniforms reinforces the raw tension of occupied France. Costume designer Anna B. Sheppard had the majority of the costumes made according to her own designs, and unlike the typical war film aesthetic, Tarantino allowed her to create character wardrobes with swagger that tied into their individual motivations (many of the costumes, like the cat hat worn by Julie Dreyfus, were inspired by Schiaparelli designs). With a character like Bridget von Hammersmark (played by Diane Kruger) meant to look like a glamorous actress of the decade, her wardrobe evokes Marlene Dietrich in a luxurious brown suit, sparkling black evening gown, and infamous (if you know the plot) taupe high heels. The two main German SS officers, played by Christoph Waltz and August Diehl, often sport ankle-brushing black leather jackets that are both ominous looking and sounding (the materials creak audibly in their sinisterly hushed scenes). Meanwhile, the Basterds sport rag-tag uniforms of knitwear, wool, and corduroy that reflect their versatility and toughness. The most dynamic wardrobe belongs to Shosanna Dreyfus (played by Mélanie Laurent), who wears loose and tomboyish clothing for the majority of the film to symbolize her desire to go unnoticed as a Jew hiding in plain sight. Her outfit changes with her narrative arc when she decides to take revenge against the Germans. To match the triumphant wrath of the film’s final scenes, she appears in a figure-hugging dress of brilliant red.
— Gabriella Lacombe, wunderfiend.com