The year 2013 will go down in history as the year of bold eyebrows and pixie haircuts, so naturally my mind turns to Audrey Hepburn. Audrey is known for her impeccable style, most notably after Hubert de Givenchy started dressing her, first in the movie Sabrina (1954), then later in Funny Face, Love in the Afternoon, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Paris When It Sizzles, Charade and How to Steal a Million. If you want to see classic mid-century style at its finest, those movies are all excellent choices, particularly the last three. But to see how Audrey’s style got there, and how she moved past being invariably charming and well-dressed, the three movies to watch are Roman Holiday (1953), Sabrina (1954), and Two for the Road (1967). Happily, all three of them are available to stream–Roman Holiday is on Netflix Instant Watch, and Sabrina and Two for the Road are free to stream for Amazon Prime members. If you only have time for one, I recommend Two for the Road. It’s a better movie–the other movies are cotton candy, but Two for the Road sticks to your ribs. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Roman Holiday is a delight, starring Gregory Peck alongside Audrey. This movie introduced her to American audiences in a big way. In fact, George Clooney recently said in an interview that he fell in love with her when he saw this movie as a kid. Everybody else fell in love with her, too. She plays a princess who is chafing under the constant supervision, scheduling, and coddling that her position entails. She slips away one night and meets Gregory on the streets of Rome. Gregory is an American journalist who immediately starts scheming to write a juicy story about her. What a creep. Except, of course…how could Gregory Peck be a jerk? He’s Atticus Finch!
The makeover in this movie is simple but transformative. Edith Head, who I adore, designed the costumes. Once Audrey hits the town without her usual minders, she ditches her Minnie Mouse pumps in favor of gladiator sandals, rolls up her sleeves, gets a jaunty scarf, and, most importantly, cuts her hair. If you watch a lot of movies from the first half of the last century, you’ll notice that women almost invariably had short hair. The reason for this is simple–women started cutting their hair short in the 1920’s as a way of rebelling and showing themselves to be “modern women.” For the next thirty years or more, young women kept their hair short–no mermaid hair or extensions for those glamour girls! Hair longer than the shoulders was for little girls and grandmothers. Just picture the cartoon grandma with her white shirt buttoned to her chin, round wire-framed glasses, and her hair up in a bun, and you’ll see what I mean. Of course some modern women had long hair, but they were the exception rather than the rule.
Why does Audrey look so glum in this still from SabrinaI? Maybe it’s because she’s dressed like a little girl and has a sad little ponytail. Or maybe it’s because she’s mooning over William Holden and ignoring Humphrey Bogart, which is basically the plot of the movie. This movie was just the first of many putting Audrey opposite a man a few decades too old for her, but that’s another post. Sabrina is truly notable for bringing together Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy.
Audrey gives up on mooning, goes to Paris, ditches the ponytail, and returns dressed like a fashion plate. She debuts at a garden party with this ballgown, then goes on a date with Humphrey in the first of the famous little black dresses Givenchy loved to put on her. Edith Head was the official costume designer for this film, and there’s no doubt that she put Audrey in the pre-makeover dress and dressed the other characters, but the dresses this movie is remembered for were all designed by Givenchy.
The little black dress, the flowered gown, and the other post-makeover costumes are the (sartorial) stars of the movie, all indisputably designed by Givenchy, yet Edith Head accepted the Oscar for costume design for this film and uttered not a peep of thanks to Givenchy. If you remember my last post about Edith, you’ll remember that she was never above taking credit for others’ work, which is not my favorite thing about her.
Let’s skip ahead a decade or so. Audrey is a wife and mother, an established movie star, and noted for being one of the best-dressed women in the world, thanks in large part to her friendship and collaborations with Givenchy. In 1967, she starred with Albert Finney in Two for the Road, a movie following a couple traveling across France at various points in their relationship, as they fall in and out of love. They fell in love off-screen as well, though the affair didn’t last.
The movie shows them as a young couple hitchhiking, as newlyweds traveling with friends, young-marrieds driving themselves, and as jaded and bitter bickerers jetting hither and thither at the whim of Albert’s boss. The movie is non-linear, so you have to keep track of Audrey’s haircuts to figure out the timeline to some extent. The outfit above is the one she wears to hitchhike, and obviously it is practical and comfortable, but not fashionable. Later, she dresses in more conventional pastel separates, but the real fashion fun begins when the couple is seen driving a fancy car and flying in a private jet. Audrey has an incredible short haircut and wears the most up-to-the-minute late 60’s styles, including a black patent vinyl leisure suit, a knitted striped two-piece swimsuit, and a psychodelic printed mini-dress that obviously was not designed by Givenchy.
This is a publicity still. The movie is not ridiculous, I promise.
The final dress of the film is also its finest. It was designed by Paco Rabanne and a drastic departure from the LBD that Audrey is known for. The over-sized sequins over the thin liner give the short dress movement and convey the distinct impression that Audrey is a grown woman, and a sexy one at that. You can almost imagine that you can see right through this dress, yet there’s no skin other than her legs. After all of the perfectly tailored, perfectly tasteful dresses, it’s refreshing to see her succumb to fads and fashions that just look so darn fabulous.
Written by Team Glamorous Housewife Movie Expert: Mary D. Freiman.