Fashion has exploded in the last couple of decades to include the common woman, with everyone and their grandma weighing in on industry issues and dressing in the latest trends. Once a notoriously secretive industry, fashion has slowly seen itself democratize through the lens of social media, and through the camera lens. These documentaries not only peel back the glossy film that has always hidden fashion’s dirty laundry, but also highlight the pillars of an industry, which, let’s be honest, has a special place in all of our hearts — and closets.
“The True Cost” (2015)
This recent documentary explores some of the moral issues surrounding the global fashion industry — specifically environmental and human rights violations that come as costs of clothing production. After hearing about the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, which killed more than 1,000 workers, director Andrew Morgan started asking questions. (You may have seen news about the factory recently. The owner of the building and 42 others, including some government officials, were charged with murder in June.) Two years and a Kickstarter later, “The True Cost” was born. Morgan shines direct light on fast fashion retailers, some of which were producing clothes at Rana Plaza.
The film will be screening at the Napa Valley Film Festival in November, if you prefer the big screen. Otherwise, you can pay to stream the film or buy the DVD through the film’s website.
“The Next Black” (2013)
This film from AEG (yes, the people who make kitchen and household appliances) explores tech innovations that can change the future of sustainability in fashion. “The Next Black” highlights “biocouture,” a process in which organisms are grown to create fabric and eventually some very beautiful dresses. Talk about growing into a dress! Look out for skirts made from green tea and sugar in the near future. Other companies featured include Nike and Patagonia for their efforts in technology and sustainability respectively.
Watch it on YouTube here.
“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” (2013)
The storied New York City department store launched many a fashion career, and getting your clothes on its shelves continues to be a rite of passage for fledgling designers on their way to the top. Director Matthew Miele interviews celebrities (R.I.P. Joan Rivers) and famous designers about the historical department store and asks how it helped their careers in the days of yore. Warning: be prepared to feel like you want to drop $5,000 at this place immediately after watching.
Watch it on Netflix!
“Bill Cunningham New York” (2010)
Among the several fashion documentaries scattered across the Netflix wasteland, this one is a diamond in the rough. Director Richard Press follows New York Times style section photographer Bill Cunningham as he takes the New York City’s streets on his bike to photograph what people are wearing. Cunningham is beloved throughout the fashion industry and recognized all over the world as a pillar in fashion photography. The original hipster (he started documenting street style before it was cool), you’ll be sure to fall in love with his whimsical personality and magnetic charisma.
Watch this one on Netflix too.
“The September Issue” (2009)
Think “The Devil Wears Prada,” but less caterwauling. This manicured and polished documentary follows American Vogue staff in 2007 as they put together the September issue, the most important issue of the year for any fashion magazine. Director R.J. Cutler tails editors as they move from concept to photoshoot to editor-in-chief Anna Wintour’s final decisions. “The September Issue” also displays the relationship between Wintour and right-hand woman and creative director Grace Coddington, whose sassiness has made her a fan favorite. (She released her book, “Grace: A Memoir,” in 2012.)
You can stream the film on Amazon here.
Elizabeth Moss covers fashion. Contact her at [email protected].
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the film “The True Cost” would be screening at the Napa Valley Film Festival in October. In fact, the film’s Napa Valley Film Festival screening will take place in November.