Recently, M.I.S.S was invited to catch a press screening of the new Sony Pictures Classics release An Education. Directed by Lone Scherfig, the film is based on a memoir by Lynn Barber and is the story of a British teenage girl’s coming-of-age in the early 1960s. Starring relative newcomer Carey Mulligan as Jenny, a studious teen whose studies are derailed when she’s charmed by an older man, David (played by veteran actor Peter Sarsgaard), An Education is set in the era before the 60s really got swinging, but the buttoned-up conventionalism of the 50s was fading fast. We’ll debut a review of the film in full tomorrow right here on M.I.S.S., but we were so taken by Jenny’s transition from dowdy uniformed school-girl to posh London girl-on-the-town that we decided to devote this week’s Fashion Meets Film to the Sundance Film Festival Official Selection, An Education.
In the earlier parts of An Education, we’re introduced to Jenny, an obsessively studious 16 year old who spends her days pining for Latin dictionaries and scheming to get into Oxford. Sure, she’s had an innocent crush here, a band-practice flirtation there, but there is no mistaking Jenny for anything other than a mousy schoolgirl. She’s most confident when her hand is raised in class, not when scoping out the hallways for cute boys. Go figure. The costuming captures Jenny in her day-to-day school ensembles, namely her uniform. A far cry from the plaid American standards we’re used to, costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux recreated a uniform that matched Jenny’s monotone, monochromatic school days life. Knee-length A-line wool skirts in a drab grey were paired with a crisp white button-up, simple matching grey wool v-neck and a smart striped tie. The traditional knee socks in burgundy matched the official school crest on her blazer, which was also–shockingly!–grey. The few things which one would expect a teen girl to find fashion opportunities in, such as hair and makeup, were also kept very minimal to emphasize Jenny’s child-like qualities. As a student, she does little with her hair, instead opting for straight-forward forehead-covering bangs. Her accessories are limited to a practical oxford-style shoulder slung book bag and a striped scarf. Dull, yes, but Jenny’s uniform is endearing and gives her character a much-needed sense of physical immaturity. Even though she is being showered with affections from an older man, her outfit changes back into her uniform are what reminds the audience that she still is nothing more than young and impressionable, a silly schoolgirl.
David, whose sleek early 60s tailored suits with skinny Mod-style ties, is the epitome of stylish cool, at least in Jenny’s naive eyes. Dicks-Mireaux modeled much of David’s wardrobe after Sean Connery’s 1962 starring turn as James Bond in Dr. No. Menswear was very much in transition coming out of the 50s and into the 60s. Conservative suits were still popular with the older set (most noted in the wardrobing of Jenny’s father Jack, played excellently by vet actor Alfred Molina), but the younger crowd favored sharper statement making colors such as black and rich navys. The wide tie was out, replaced by the trendy skinny tie that would gain popularity with icons like The Beatles as the 60s became a more swinging era. David is able to seduce Jenny because he provides her with access into a changing time, someone to lead her out of the 50s and into the 60s, out of the austerity of the war and into a changing cultural landscape. His perfectly perched fedora hats, shining silver tie clips, and slim cut suits makes him the perfect guide –and tempting figure– to lead Jenny away from her past and her traditional roots.
While the gentlemen in the film can certainly be described as a pair of “stylish cats” that zoom her out of the 50s and into the 60s, her true guide on the transition from innocent teen to full-blown womanhood is the beautiful Helen, played by Rosamond Pike. The girlfriend of David’s business parter Danny, Helen is all woman in a pillbox hat and satin cocktail dresses. A voracious shopper and follower of all the latest ladies’ mags, Helen becomes Jenny’s obvious role model as she tries to match David’s maturity. Although Jenny’s confident that her intelligence is part of her charm, Helen is her first real exposure to pretty dresses and fine fashions. Pike’s character becomes Jenny’s compass through the awkwardness that is adolescence. Helen was immaculately made up, with winged liquid liner crowning her lids. Her hair was swept up into a bouffant of glorious height, or otherwise held back with a brightly colored or patterned silk scarf (some with Pucci-inspired designs). She wore glamorous calf skimming trenches and leopard print coats over slim shift dresses in creamy hues and sexy blacks. Heels were a must, some kitten but most high, as were a matching pair of gloves. Her elegance shined, but subtle Mod 60s influences gave her look a fun, hip edge.
Jenny quickly learns to recreate Helen’s look, adopting pillbox hats, pretty a-line and shift party dresses, and pearl earrings. Her look, a bit more timeless and less funky than Helen’s, was reminiscent of lovely ladies of the day such as Audrey Hepburn. In fact, much like Hepburn, Jenny chose to experiment with her accessories. Her gloves often had interesting piping or dual tones, she wore silly leopard print hats, and threw on a brightly colored chiffon scarf just to spice things up. While vacationing in Paris with David, Jenny slips on a pair of bubble-like sunglasses and for a split second, we’re reminded just how youthful she really is. Even though she is decked out from head to toe in a dress far too fancy for a 16-year-old, underneath it all she’s just a kid who’s still just as excited by a cool pair of shades (isn’t that pretty much the kid in all of us, though?) as she is by her first sexual experience or her first trip away from home.
An Education is fashionably brilliant, mostly because it captures that transition that every female can identify with herself. Even if you aren’t the most ladylike adult, most women can pinpoint their adolescent years as the period that birthed their own personal style and identity. From first dress, first heels, to first kisses, An Education reminds us what it’s like to become a “lady” in practice and in theory, even though I’m personally still working on that one…
Check back tomorrow for a full review on the film, which will hit theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, October 9th.
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