The casino is a long-time fixture of culture, not just in the U.S. but across Europe and Asia. Due to the influence of various films and television representations, most people have a clear picture of the aesthetic behind casino fashion. It's glamorous and refined, yet over-the-top and opulent. It's sleek and mysterious. It's James Bond drinking a Martini, shaken-not-stirred, while a femme fatale approaches the bar in a perfectly tailored floor-length gown.
How did this aesthetic start? And how has film shaped the way casino style has been understood by the viewer over the years? Most importantly, as the modern audience moves into the digital world, and online casinos begin to take hold—there are new ones in Ireland, the U.K. and Canada being introduced almost daily, not to mention in the U,S.—will physical casinos and the aesthetic they've inspired go out of fashion?
The Origins of Modern Casino Style
Like many iconic fashion origin stories, the casino aesthetic can be traced back to a time in which U.S. and European cultural life was experiencing a massive societal shift—the Roaring Twenties. The economic boom enabled more people to afford luxuries, and breaking social norms gave them more freedom.
Despite Prohibition, the rise of underground nightlife in major cities meant that there were plenty of opportunities for young people to get out and experiment with clothing and different lifestyles. Women's fashion saw the rise of the flapper dress—a dropped waist and highly embellished garment that became synonymous with social liberation and expression. Men's fashion was all about multi-colored tailored suits and fabulous ties.
The combination of changing culture and societal ideals created an aesthetic characterized by sophistication, rebellion, extravagance and drama. No film portrays the style and attitude of the era better than Baz Luhrmann's 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Yet, it was cinema from that era that immortalized the distinctive look.
Films set during this period portrayed an idealized version of such excessive lifestyles, complete with its distinctive fashion elements and a popular pastime of the era, including attending clubs and underground casinos. And thus, the casino style was born and began becoming more widespread, even to those who didn't have access themselves.
It's hard to reinvent the wheel, especially in the world of fashion. As decades move forward, modern designers continue to look to the past for inspiration, including set directors and costume designers. Design motifs from previous eras are not only recycled but vintage garments from previous periods are preserved and worn again.
The refined, yet "morally questionable" look of the twenties is a treasure trove for depicting opulence and mystery on the silver screen. Modern portrayals of casino culture in film continue to promote this aesthetic, sometimes with a contemporary twist and sometimes with painstaking historical accuracy.
Movies such as Casino Royale and Ocean's Eleven perfectly capture the fusion of American allure and European sophistication, leaving a lasting impact on both haute couture and everyday fashion; however, with a rapidly changing modern world, will this characterization endure?
Today, games of chance are played at home from the computer or mobile phone screen, with most casino patrons enjoying the opportunity to play in their sweatpants and slippers. Even modern-day in-person casinos have mostly adopted a casual clientele, meaning that glamorous attire is reserved for casino-themed gala-style events.
Yet, even if the reality of modern life operates in many shades of grey, fashion enthusiasts will always be able to count on film for more profound imagery. The origins of the casino aesthetic will always reflect a level of heightened excitement and indulgence—and that imagery is likely to stay in cinematic compositions for a long time to come.
Featured image: (C) Pavel Danilyuk @rocketmann_team