Seventeen years ago, approximately eight other people and I sat in the smallest screen at my local cinema to watch what tabloids were calling the latest ‘chick flick’, never mind the fact that it starred an Oscar-winning actor and was based on one of the most powerful women in the world. By the time the end credits of The Devil Wears Prada rolled, my brain chemistry had been altered forever.
Although I still don’t own The Chanel Boots, or really understand what shade cerulean is, The Devil Wears Prada had a profound effect on me when it debuted in 2006. Up until then, the films I’d seen and loved were centred around classroom melodramas and female protagonists whose sole purpose in life was to find a Prince Charming, but as soon as I saw Anne Hathaway traversing the streets of New York with a stack of CVs, I knew this would be different.
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It was so rare, back then, to see a film fronted by women, and rarer still to see one that focused on their ambition and the passion they had for their careers. Sure, there was Andy’s frankly awful boyfriend, who occasionally cropped up to cook a grilled cheese sandwich and complain about how much time she was spending at the office, but he was a bit part at best. As a precocious 13-year-old who was more interested in cutting and pasting together ‘zines’ in my bedroom than talking to boys on MSN, the glittering world of the Runway office spoke to my very soul.
Although, through my annual rewatches and the clear eyes of adulthood, I can see its flaws (the glaring lack of diversity being an obvious one), The Devil Wears Prada remains my favourite and most formative film – especially when it comes to the way I’ve approached my own career.
While I’m far from striking fear into the hearts of colleagues with a gentle pursing of my lips, I have carried so much of it with me throughout my working life. Here are the valuable lessons I learned from the glossiest 109 minutes in cinematic history.
Power doesn’t have to be loud
I will die on this hill: Miranda Priestly is the most iconic boss in the cultural canon, played to chilling perfection by Meryl Streep in what the world recognises as an ode to Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. (Who, by the way, showed up to a special screening of the film wearing custom Prada.)
Priestly is, obviously, an over-the-top caricature of well-heeled evil, but she is also incredibly well-respected and good at her job. She never raises her voice or flies into a rage or throws her weight around to get people to do what she wants – in fact, she’s notably softly spoken. And when she speaks, everybody listens.
Clothes aren’t frivolous
The way you present yourself at work should never be dictated by the kind of toxic culture that exists at Runway – how Emily Blunt even sat down in some of those pencil skirts I’ll never know – but the beauty of the costuming in The Devil Wears Prada did click something into place for me.
Style is a key form of expression, and clothes can often act as armour, especially in situations where you want to project confidence. I now know this about myself: I work better when I’m wearing something that reflects who I am and who want I to be, and that fact doesn’t make me any less of a force to be reckoned with. There’s a reason our hearts soar when we see Andy Sachs in her montage of chic outfits, and it’s not solely down to Pat Field’s genius styling and Suddenly I See playing in the background. We see a woman finding a new way to show people exactly who she is.
Work isn’t worth risking your health for
It might sound obvious now, in the age of quiet quitting and a far healthier conversation around mental health in the workplace, but there was a time when working yourself to the bone was praised far more often than it was discouraged.
In the world of Runway, hustle culture is shown up for the scam it truly is, as Miranda Priestly’s assistants are subjected to Blackberry pings at all hours of the night and wild goose chases after Hermès scarves and unpublished manuscripts. Emily, her first assistant, has been toiling around the clock for years in the hopes of finally being asked to Paris Fashion Week – but when she finally has the chance, she’s so run down from overwork that she has to stay at home while Andy takes her place. A modern-day workplace fable, if ever I saw one.
It’s OK to quit a great job
Behind the glitz, glamour and perfectly coiffed hair, the overarching lesson of The Devil Wears Prada is a pretty powerful one: no matter how hard it was to get it or how many people wish they had it, you are well within your rights to leave a job that isn’t working for you.
In one of the final scenes, after a whirlwind of couture outfits and cut-throat power moves in Paris, Andy asks her boss: “What if I don’t want to live the way you live?” She’s climbed the greasy pole and earned the respect of her colleagues, but she’s sacrificed her happiness and any semblance of work-life balance in the process. In that moment, she decides to walk away (and throw her phone in the Fontaine des Mers for dramatic effect). Putting yourself first? That is groundbreaking.