Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Style Essentials--Doris Day Makes a Statement in Jean Louis for 1959's PILLOW TALK

1959's Pillow Talk is one of the most influential movies of all time from the standpoint of style.  It is decidedly modern--as accessible as it is aspirational.  It is also quintessential Doris Day.  After many years stuck in somewhat frilly musicals at Warner Bothers, she moved to Universal and finally had the opportunity to play independent women in sophisticated sex comedies.  Pillow Talk was the first. With her strength and style, she became a role model for a new generation of women who were working both in and outside the home.  A signature piece of her wardrobe was the sheath dress (or wiggle dress, as it is often called for its flattering fit and the way women seemed to walk while wearing it).  It became hugely popular because of this film and virtually synonymous with Doris Day style.  Sheath dresses and colorful clothes existed before her, of course, but no one would make them as much a part of their image as she did.  Besides her own talent, much of her transformation into the role of urban sophisticate is due to the vision of costume designer Jean Louis

Many know the great Jean Louis for Rita Hayworth's glamorous wardrobe in Gilda (1946) with its iconic black satin strapless "Put the Blame on Mame" gown.  He is also known for another iconic gown--the nude shimmering stunner that Marilyn Monroe was sewn into to sing "Happy Birthday" to President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden.  Each and every one of his designs reflected his extensive experience in couture--from Agnes-Drecoll in Paris to Hattie Carnegie in New York where he worked through much of the 1930s.  In 1944, he turned from fashion to film and took his talent to Hollywood.  After briefly assisting mentor Travis Banton at Columbia, Jean became the studio's head of costume design from 1945 to 1958.  There he would establish the style of many actresses, such as Rita and Kim Novak.  He then went to head the wardrobe department at Universal and immediately met another star who he would help define her signature style--Doris Day.

In Pillow Talk, Doris plays interior designer Jan Morrow, a career gal who proves that a work wardrobe need not suffer in the style department.  It was the first of her films working with Jean (along with three-time co-star Rock Hudson) and really marked a turning point for her. "He created a sophisticated allure for Doris that launched a new phase of her career," wrote journalist Tom Vallance.  With this wardrobe, Jean highlighted her phenomenal figure with tailored wiggle dresses and brought out the sexuality in her virginal onscreen persona.  Friend James Garner--who starred with her in The Thrill of It All (1963, also designed by Jean Louis)--said Doris "exuded sex" while still maintaining her image of the All American Girl.  To be sure, she carries off each costume with the grace of a runway model and the body of an athlete.

In an era when costumes were becoming more "realistic" in film, Jean continued to be known for glamour.  He frequently worked with Ross Hunter, who produced Pillow Talk as well as Lana Turner movies like Imitation of Life (1959).  In fact, much of the reason actresses signed on to do his movies was because they were guaranteed a gorgeous wardrobe by Jean Louis.  Jean's overarching style for his stars was sleek and simple, but elegant.  He paid "meticulous attention to detail," yet nothing superfluous ever complicated his designs.  It's for these reasons that his clothes remain so timeless today.  Costumes in these lavish productions really showed Jean's gift with color.  It was one of his great talents and something that drew me personally to his designs.  Cream and red, royal blue and black, kelly green and turquoise, and red and leopard skin are just some of the color combinations featured in Pillow Talk.  "He had the most amazing discerning eye for color," recalls his daughter-in-law Linda Lewis.  "It was a 6th sense for him."  In a couple cases, colors come from the statement jewelry that Jean integrates into those outfits.  He also incorporates luxurious fabrics like fur to evoke even more glamour where coats, capelets, hats, and hand warmers all appear as accessories.  

Doris' sheath dresses, her statement coats in their rich colors and textures, and the overall ladylike dressing shown in Pillow Talk are frequently on trend, but these are looks that have always been in style.  Rather than being too revealing--such as was often seen with other icons of the era such as Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield--the sex appeal of these costumes comes from their body conscious silhouettes and the fact that they are fit to perfection.  This made their design extremely accessible and the wardrobe inspired many women when the film first premiered in 1959--from secretaries to housewives.  "Pillow Talk marked the beginning of Doris Day sporting fashions that women could actually picture themselves wearing....[She] had evolved into a fashion icon [and] continued to set trends throughout the early 1960s."  Further, both Doris and the film have continued to influence fashion designers today.  One is Michael Kors, who cited this movie as a major influence when he and other designers were invited to be Guest Programmers on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).  Jean Louis' iconic costume design for Pillow Talk has clearly had an impact on fashion both then and now, and so it is included on the elite list of The Style Essentials here on GlamAmor.
Pillow Talk was so good that it brought Doris an Oscar nomination (her only one) and started a style she would continue in subsequent films, no matter what costume designer was assigned to the production. Irene (Lover Come Back), Morton Haack (Please Don't Eat the Daisies), and Ray Aghayan (Glass Bottom Boat) all followed Jean's lead with her in their designs.  Jean would return to work with Doris again on her third picture with Rock Hudson Send Me No Flowers (1964), but Pillow Talk was the first time they all teamed together and with it set a standard for romantic comedies.  I believe that her chemistry with Rock as well as her onscreen style from Jean were never better than they are in Pillow Talk.  "To this day, it remains the film most closely associated with Doris Day," says author Tom Santopietro, "and solidified [her] image in the public's mind, seemingly forever."  Take a look for yourself.

Doris (Jan) makes her entrance in a black coat with a mandarin collar 
accessorized with both a black fur hat and hand warmer

Jan's navy "suit," a sheath dress topped with a cropped boxy coat,
taught me that black and blue are indeed colors that can be paired together

This belted cream wiggle dress paired with red accessories is one of my personal favorites

Look at the divine red silk lining of her matching cream coat--
a detail referenced by Michael Kors in one of his earlier collections

All buttoned up, Jan even coordinates a red tote (below left) with her outfit

Jan attends the party of one of her wealthy clients in this 
white column gown, white fur shrug, and opera length gloves

Jan reluctantly agrees to a dance with her client's college-age son,
not realizing that her party line foe (Rock Hudson) is just behind her

Brad Allen (Rock Hudson) sees and meets Jan for the first time at this club

Adversarial on the phone, Brad must pretend to be someone else in order to see Jan again

A perfect end to Jan's evening--the promise of another date with Brad aka "Tex"

Another favorite color combination that I learned from this movie--
emerald green coat and gown accessorized with turquoise jewelry

Out on the town

Another clever use of the split screen in Pillow Talk

Even Jean Louis' robes for Jan are regal

Lessons in tone on tone--
green longsleeve sweater paired with a darker high-waisted wool skirt and hat along with a mink coat

Plans for another evening out, this time in a burgundy velvet coat and dress

Brad's scheme has been found out by his best friend Jonathan (Tony Randall),
so he arranges to take Jan to his place in Connecticut

Passion by fire light

Jan celebrates being in love in a cozy cream belted knit dress

When Brad goes out for more firewood, Jan gets more than just a chill...
she discovers his true identity by playing one of his songs

Furious, Jan throws on her own fur trimmed coat and heads heartbroken for home in the city

In a rage, Jan looks incredible in red accessorized with a leopard hat and hand warmer

Jan's revenge?  To redecorate Brad's apartment the worst way she knows how

She's all business in a black velvet suit trimmed in satin and
accessorized with a brooch at her waist

Brad somehow manages to see how much Jan really loves him by his "redecorated" apartment,
and carries her back to the scene of the crime

Of course what Jan has really managed to makeover is this confirmed bachelor
and they live happily ever after


Chris and Linda Lewis

Other Sources



Leese, Elizabeth. Costume Design in the Movies.  New York: Dover Publications, 1991.

Santopietro, Tom.  Considering Doris Day.  New York: St. Martin's Press, 2007.


All screencaps are ©GlamAmor


Marline said...

Shall we both sing together.."You are my inspiration, Doris"? I ADOR-(is) this movie, too! I sing Ya Ya Roly-Poly for DAYS after I see it. I simply can't get enough of the color combos...and those colorful jewelry sets. And the muffs! Yikes! It's mid-century perfection. What did you think of the Rene Z update spoof? And did you know that Doris was considered to have the sexiest bottom on Hollywood? Who knew? Well, anyone who's ever seen Pillow Talk! Thanks for these wonderful screen caps. They bring it all back, Kimberly. Beautifully written and shared.
Love, Kay

Melissa Clark said...

I've seen Pillow Talk more times than I can count, and Doris Day's wardrobe is one of the big reasons why. Everything she wears is perfection! The colors, the accessories, the jewels -- all so inspiring. Her parade of coats is especially exciting to me. Total dream wardrobe.

Plus, the movie itself is so much fun. I still giggle every time, in spite of knowing each scene and bit of dialogue by heart. Thanks for a wonderful post. I watched Pillow Talk again this weekend, after reading it.

Kimberly Truhler said...

What lovely comments--thank you both! I can see that we're all great fans of both the movie and its wonderful wardrobe. It really doesn't get much better than this, does it? As both of you said, "perfection" and "dream". Absolutely. And seriously, I could wear every item of clothing and the accompanying accessories from this movie TODAY and not only be on trend but the most stylish person in the room. Loved putting together this post so that we can all continue to refer back to all the fun from PILLOW TALK. Thanks for loving it as much as I do. :)

Unknown said...

Oh, my gosh, I *love* that someone else gushes over the clothes in this movie as much as I do. I saw it for the first time (of many) probably 20 years ago, and have always bemoaned the fact that I don't have a personal tailor to build me such exceptional clothing. The screen shots here really are beautiful. Lovely work.

Kimberly Truhler said...

Well, you've come to the right place to gush over clothes like these, Jennifer--welcome! They're just soooo stunning and timeless, aren't they? I agree...I think each of us should have a personal tailor (like Jean Louis lol) to craft us wardrobes like this.

In many ways, I try to do this with my choices for the GlamAmor Vintage collection. Since I can't have a personal tailor, I'll do the next best thing and find clothes that were created (so well!) back then. That way I get the vibrant colors, the great tailoring, and quality that not only has lived for the past 50 years but continues to outlive much of my brand new clothing. And timeless, not trendy.

Again, welcome to GA and feel free to gush away whenever you'd like!

Anonymous said...

Kimberly, somehow I missed this article on the fabulous Jean Louis clothes for Miss Doris Day in Pillow Talk! I love it, thank you for all the wonderful details about these clothes. Another inspired piece that brings these designs to light! Now I have to watch the movie again to rediscover the beautiful clothes. Jean was such a talented designer and a dear, dear man. He loved dressing Doris Day, said she had the perfect figure, well, no doubt! :-) Thank you! Linda Lewis

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you, Linda! LOVE hearing that Jean thought so well of Doris and her figure. His designs for her in PILLOW TALK are sublime. It made an enormous impression on me and informing my own design aesthetic. My vintage for GlamAmor is a testament to that. If I could choose one film wardrobe, the one for PILLOW TALK would be in contention for the top. Happy to share the great fashion with everyone!

Unknown said...

Where can I get a coat like the one Rock Hudson wears to the cabin…..the one that Doris wraps herself in….the black and white one…..can you direct me to someone? I've been looking for years!
Love, Laura

Unknown said...

Where can I get a coat like the one Rock Hudson wore on the way to the cabin in Pillow Talk….the one Doris wraps herself up in..the black and white one….can you direct me to someone…..I've been looking for years!
Love, Laura

Kimberly Truhler said...

Hi Laura! It's great that you love Rock's black and white coat so much. Unfortunately, I don't really know where you can find an identical one, though if you're interested in vintage then Etsy is a great place to start. You can search on very specific details like era and color. Good luck!

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed your post about Doris's costumes. "Wholesome glamour" is always what comes to mind when I think of her. Whenever I put on my White Shoulders perfume, I get an image of Doris in that white dress with her fur stole!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...