Woody Allen is consistently praised for creating challenging roles for women. His ability to score with a great many of them (either as himself or through Virgil, Sandy, Gabe, Boris…) must be reward for this happy fact. Woody’s women are an inimitable breed: often brilliant, self-sufficient, and nervous, with similar sartorial traits. This is most obviously exemplified by Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. (True story, Annie’s Ralph Lauren duds are based on Keaton’s own wardrobe. The costume designer, Ruth Morley, wasn’t having it. It was the first and last time she worked with Allen.)
Though sometimes frumpy (remember Scarlett’s heinous brown linen pants in Scoop?), Woody gives his leading ladies a certain puissance through their wardrobe that is both in line with his satirical depictions of bourgeois intellectual life and quite useful in matters of the heart (particularly broken hearts).
In Manhattan, 42-year-old Isaac Davis (Allen) is dating 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). When he falls for that Radcliffe Tootsie (Diane Keaton) halfway through the film, he picks Tracy up at Dalton, takes her to an ice cream parlour, and breaks it off with her. Tracy, in her cardigan and flawless French twist, summons an emotional maturity far beyond Isaac’s capability and sheds a single tear over her milkshake.
Their clothing holds everything together – even when they’re not able to. When Joan (Kirstie Alley) discovers that Harry (Allen) has been cheating on her in Deconstructing Harry, she loses it in a hilarious scene where she tears through their apartment, screaming at him within earshot of her therapy patient. Her black knit sweater never bunches, her necklace remains flat on her grey turtleneck, and her black cotton, elastic headband doesn’t move; there is not a hair out of place (and those headbands are notorious for sliding around).
In the famous “spider in the bathroom” scene in Annie Hall, Annie doesn’t exactly appear the broken-hearted woman. She is terse, dressed in olive cargo pants, grey tee-shirt (sans bra), and hair piled ridiculously on top of her head.
You could say Woody’s women, with their oversized blazers and dresses buttoned up to the neck, wear clothing like armour. You could say that. Or you could just put in that DVD, have a laugh, and try not to think so much.
Either way, you probably all want to look as good as Charlotte Rampling in a white oxford.
Text by Sara Forsyth