One of the sheer joys of watching a classic film is the opportunity to catch a glimpse of how people lived in generations long before your own. In particular, I always find it fascinating to see how people used to dress during different periods in time. And I can’t tell you how many times I have lusted after a particular character’s outfit or, sometimes, her entire wardrobe.
I think if I could reach into a movie and yank out one outfit, it would be Grace Kelly’s absolutely GORGEOUS dress from Rear Window.
Part of my love affair with this movie is the brilliant use of costuming on Alfred Hitchcock’s part. Kelly’s wardrobe is very deliberately chosen as a means for the director to demonstrate the progression of her character, Lisa–and, perhaps more specifically, the progression of Jeff’s (Jimmy Stewart) opinion of his fashion-model love. Kelly begins the film in the height of Paris couture, as seen above, and seems to revel in its beauty and rarity–it is, after all, “just off the Paris plane,” and she is (likely) the only woman in New York wearing the gown at that very moment. Lisa’s wardrobe becomes progressively less–well, frou-frou–as the film continues, but no matter what she wears, whether a smart green business suit, a summery “day” dress, or a pair of rolled-up blue jeans, Kelly remains the best-dressed person in the room.
The style of this dress has been emulated many times–and is it any wonder? It’s just lovely–but no copy can come close to the sheer elegance crafted by costumer Edith Head’s meticulous eye and Kelly’s innate sense of style.
I also really adore Myrna Loy’s wardrobe from the hilarious Thin Man series, particularly this striped dress.
I know, I know–to some, this may resemble a very fancy striped tablecloth. But I just love it. And Loy as the sassy, sexy Nora Charles carries it off with the greatest of panache. Only Loy could wear this dress and make this face–
–and come off as adorably sophisticated (seriously, Renee Zellweger’s been trying to make the whole scrunched-up face thing happen for years and merely comes off looking severely constipated most of the time, so trust me when I say this is an art). I’m unsure as to the designer of this particular dress, but more than likely the creation of it falls to Dolly Tree, the costumer for the first Thin Man film who also dressed Loy in other great films such as 1934′s Manhattan Melodrama and Evelyn Prentice and 1936′s Wife vs. Secretary and Libeled Lady.
Finally, I must give some love to Edith Head once more for her killer designs in The Lady Eve, particularly the black two-piece gown that sets Henry Fonda all a-quiver for Barbara Stanwyck’s scheming con artist …
I love, love, love this dress. It’s perfect for the scene and for the character, and so daring with the bared midriff and short(er) skirt. A ten, all around. Head deserves a lot of credit for styling Stanwyck in a much sexier, bolder way than she had been presented in the past; it’s a step forward for both the actress and the costumer, as the great success of this Preston Sturges-directed farce sent each of their careers even higher into the stratosphere.
My sartorial admiration is not reserved merely for the females in filmdom, though. Just yesterday, I pointed out to Carrie and Nikki that I sorely miss the days when men wore dapper hats as everyday wear. Well, actually, I said something a lot more off-color than that involving rope and Cary Grant, but for the sake of maintaining a PG-rated blog, I’ll refrain from recounting the details.
How awesome would this modern world be if every man wore a dashing piece of headgear like this every time he went out in public? I tell you, I’d be swooning on an hourly basis.
Speaking of hats, I can’t forget the amazing hat Bette Davis rocks in Now, Voyager, as she emerges from the shadow of her domineering mother and claims her femininity for the first time in her life:
Sigh. I want that hat about as much as I want a pony, and I have wanted a pony since I was four years old (oh, shut up. I’m sure you wanted something equally unrealistic when you were a kid, too. At least I wasn’t like my younger brothers–they wanted nuclear waste so they could make their own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. At least ponies are REAL).
Getting back to the original point–what looks would you “borrow” if you could just reach through the screen and grab them?