There is no question that one of the great icons of style is Katharine Hepburn. What few appreciate is how much of her style started on the inside...the result of an empowered upbringing from progressive parents in New England that carried into a lifelong self-confidence. She was well known throughout Hollywood as an independent woman who spoke her mind as well as a talented athlete. One only need watch Pat and Mike (1952)--her favorite film with partner Spencer Tracy--to see evidence of both. But it's in 1942's Woman of the Year where Kate's innate sense of style really first came to the fore.
From her earliest days onscreen, costume designers delighted at dressing her fit 5'8" frame in elegant evening gowns, such as those from Adrian in MGM's Holiday (1938) and The Philadelphia Story (1940). Woman of the Year is filled with more extraordinary gowns and dresses featuring his signature fit, draping, and detail. The black off-the-shoulder gown is particularly well known and influential today, but Kate also glides around in one of the longsleeve floor-length gowns that Adrian regularly designed for her. They still act as the gold standard for modern designers, such as Jenny Packham whose Fall runway was filled with dresses inspired by Kate and the 1940s.
But as many know, it is the menswear from Woman of the Year that was revolutionary. This was, after all, World War II and a time when women were only starting to enter the workforce. The strong suiting in the movie was so ahead of its time...the starting point for our modern career wear. 70 years later, its design has changed precious little in fashion. It served as the model of inspiration for Giorgio Armani with his Power Suits of the 1980s and continues with other giants like Donna Karan and Miucia Prada today. This is especially true of offering pants as an option for women--virtually unheard of in the 1930s and 1940s--because Kate rebelled and led the way with her own offscreen uniform of a tailored blazer, blouse, and slacks. Now it's simply considered a classic look. And her iconic smoking jacket and pants from the film is a particularly strong influence for Fall...even I was surprised by the sheer number of variations available this season. Of course Yves Saint Laurent was the first to be inspired by the style in the creation of his own iconic Le Smoking in the 1970s.
Woman of the Year is one of my Style Essentials since it represents some of the most iconic costumes in film that continue to influence fashion today. It's also an example of a star who brought her own strong sense of style to the audience both onscreen and off. Whether you now wear trousers, khakis, jeans, leggings, or even sweatpants as loungewear, you can trace most of that back to Katharine Hepburn. Menswear is one of the biggest trends for Fall/Winter 2012, and you can see much of that influence starts right here.
ABOVE: Katharine Hepburn on set circa 1941 and
Giorgio Armani's modern take on Hepburn style for Fall 2012
One of the most iconic looks from Woman of the Year is her smoking jacket and slacks,
which inspired Yves Saint Laurent's own iconic Le Smoking and countless other designers
Yves Saint Laurent's Le Smoking captured by Helmut Newton (above)
and its evolution within the brand from the 1970s to the present
Ralph Lauren's smoking jacket (above)
and Chloe's smoking jacket-inspired look both in time for Fall
Katharine Hepburn is known for suiting, whether with pants or skirts...
silk shantung suiting from Miu Miu Fall 2012 (above)
Tory Burch's tipped skirt suit is a modern take on Kate's in Woman of the Year
Strong shoulders and stripes from Rodarte's Fall 2012 runway also remind me of Kate
The timeless Hepburn uniform included a tailored jacket, blouse, and pants
and Donna Karan does her own sleek look for Fall
The same type of look with a skirt by Donna Karan (above) and Rodarte
The influence of Kate can be seen everywhere in the Rodarte Fall 2012 collection, including gowns
Though Woman of the Year is known for suiting, it also includes an iconic off-the-shoulder gown
that inspires a lot of design including one on Jamie-Lynn Sigler at the 2012 Golden Globes
Another draped masterpiece from Adrian on Katharine
seems to be an inspiration for one from Jenny Packham for Fall
Even the patterns in fabric from Woman of the Year are influential...
its geometric window pane pattern made it into several outfits in Christian Dior's Fall collection
Power suiting inspired by Kate--Giorgio Armani was THE look of the 1980s (above)
and 2012's colorful cavalcade of modern menswear on the Prada runway