Alfred Hitchcock is constantly noted as one of the most influential directors in Hollywood, defining the Golden Age through his trailblazing style of suspense. Although his methodical use of color, mise-en-scène, and tension-building music are typically acclaimed for their cultural impact, it would be egregious to overlook the significance of Hitchcock’s eye for fashion. From Grace Kelly to Tippi Hedren, Hitchcock – in collaboration with iconic costume designer, Edith Head – created an era of the best-dressed heroines in cinematic history. Audience members gaped at the chic gowns, either allured or envious, while couture fashion designers gathered inspiration for future collections. Head, who received 35 Academy Award nominations, joined forces with Hitchcock for 11 of his films. Here are some of their most stylish projects, and the influence on fashion they still hold today. So grab some popcorn and needles; it’s time for a movie marathon followed by a sewing spree!
While Head styled countless actors and actresses over the course of her career, she always maintained that Grace Kelly was her favorite to dress. The pair even became close friends! As a muse, Grace Kelly was idyllic; seductive and poised, she starred in three of Hitchcock’s most memorable films. Rear Window was her second appearance, but the first glimpse of her on the silver screen still stuns the audience. Her character, Lisa Freemont, is introduced at a close-up angle; she leans in to kiss her beau, L.B. Jeffries (played by the inimitable Jimmy Stewart!) Confined to his NYC apartment due to a leg injury, the photographer watches his Greenwich Village neighbors through his window for entertainment. By way of binoculars, he becomes suspicious of the couple across the street, eventually believing that the husband murdered his wife. While Lisa doubts him at first, her character arc is mirrored through Head’s clever costume choices.
Described as the woman “who never wears the same dress twice,” Lisa Freemont proves this remark true. She appears in six outfits throughout the movie, each one more fabulous than the last. Her first outfit is a chic ball gown. A round neckline accentuates her collarbones, while black velvet hugs her waist before exploding into pounds of white tulle. To top off the look, Lisa keeps it chic: a brush of red lipstick, a choker of pearls, and a thin belt. Appearing wealthy and frivolous at first, her character growth is expressed through her clothing. When she starts to believe L.B, Jeffries’s concerns over murder, her ornate look shifts to a more sophisticated style. In perhaps her most striking ensemble, Lisa saunters around in a mint green tailored skirt suit, adorned with a matching Pillbox hat. It is difficult not to gasp when Lisa removes the jacket only to reveal a stunning, silk halter-neck top that perfectly drapes over her. Although Rear Window is an accomplished thriller film, it is a fashion masterpiece.
To Catch a Thief
In her third and final Hitchcock film, Grace Kelly appears as Frances Stevens in To Catch a Thief. Set in the French Riviera, the audience is swept through picturesque scenes of bright, blue waves and sunny beaches. Frances falls for John Robie, an American retired burglar, who is suspected of being the season’s jewelry thief. The two lovebirds venture to prove his innocence, all while looking drop-dead gorgeous. Frances first appears on screen in a pale yellow, halter-neck one-piece swimsuit. Although this film came out over 60 years ago, this swimwear look is still in style! Her cat-shaped sunnies top off the look perfectly, hiding her eyes as she glances at her future beau as he lay shirtless on the sand. This is not her only beachside attire showcased in the film. In fact, one of her most striking looks is a black, halter one-piece swimsuit that Head pairs with a white skirt as a cover-up and a large hat to protect her skin. In fact, the clothing items pair together so well that Frances could easily be mistaken as wearing an expensive, designer gown as she walks down the lobby steps of her French hotel.
Despite the several other stunning looks Edith Head creates for Grace Kelly to embody Dior’s “New Look” that was oh-so-popular during the time, the closing scene is the crème de la crème. The climax of the film plays out at an extravagant masquerade ball. Hitchcock specifically requested that Frances is dressed as the ‘fairy princess,’ and Head delivers. Wearing a golden, glittery wig, Frances dons a metallic gold dress embellished with fabric birds. Marie Antoinette would even be jealous. Behind the shots of Frances, the extras are equally extravagant. Saturated tones of silks, feathers, and crystals dance around the room. It is no surprise that this was the most expensive scene Edith Head had ever worked on! So, while planning your next vacation, elevate your style inspiration as well when watching To Catch a Thief.
While Grace Kelly was Head’s favorite actress to dress, Kim Novak and her did not have the same relationship. On the set of Hitchcock’s Vertigo in the late ‘50s, Novak exclaimed to Head “I don’t wear suits, and I don’t wear gray. Another thing, I don’t wear back pumps.” Ironically, the gray suit she would be obligated to wear would be defined as the most emblematic outfit, not only of her film, but of any Hitchcock film. Tailored to perfection, the gray skirt suit emphasizes the mysterious nature of the figure Novak plays: Madeleine. She is followed by retired police detective, Scottie Ferguson, because her husband is worried about her safety. Scottie falls madly in love with her while the audience falls madly in love with her wardrobe.
While the gray suit blends into the San Francisco fog, Madeline compliments the stunning scenery in shades of emerald green. The first time she wears green is when Scottie spots her at dinner. Wearing an elegant black cocktail dress, she accessorized the look with a green silk shawl and a simple, pendant necklace. Later in the film, while disguising herself, Madeline is spotted in green, yet again, in a polka-dot blouse, layered underneath a matching, wool pull-over. The color seems to have been a personal favorite of Hitchcock, who limited Tippi Hedren in his 1963 film, The Birds, to only donning a fern tone. Despite their disagreements over style off-screen, Head and Novak appear to have harmonized perfectly to the audience. Her style is ideal for city girls, and remains so even in the modern day.
It is obvious that Hitchcock had an eye for fashion. His films transcend time; the fashion showcased on screen is an array of chic and classic ensembles for a bold woman. Which look was your favorite?