As many of you know, last week I taught a three-day seminar at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) called The Style Essentials: the History of Fashion in Film. The Style Essentials represent iconic costume design in the movies--from the 1920s to the 1970s--that continues to influence fashion today. It was such a rewarding experience...with responses ranging from audible oohs and ahhs to stunned silence at the sheer amount of design today that owes its origins to classic cinema. Most people simply never knew. One star whose style was featured in this august group was Katharine Hepburn in the 1942 classic Woman of the Year.
Though she looked glorious in movies like Holiday (1938), Bringing Up Baby (1938), and another Style Essential The Philadelphia Story (1940), Woman of the Year introduced and showcased what would become known as Katharine Hepburn style. As political columnist Tess Harding, Kate primarily wears a wardrobe of smart suits that include both skirts and her beloved "slacks." She also wears a velvet smoking jacket and pants when working at home, an iconic look that would later influence the likes of Yves Saint Laurent in the 1970s (and his equally iconic Le Smoking) as well as many many other designers. There are certainly gorgeous gowns in Woman of the Year, including an iconic off-the-shoulder number, but it is the menswear that really stands out.
Woman of the Year's wardrobe is the result of the genius of designer Adrian. From 1924 to 1941, Adrian was the Chief Costume Designer at MGM and responsible for much of the studio's signature over-the-top glamour. Even after leaving, he still occasionally contributed costume design until 1952. He is indeed best known for his evening gowns, such as the ones that appear in Style Essentials Dinner at Eight (1933) with Jean Harlow and The Women (1939) with Joan Crawford. His relationship with Joan is quite famous, most notably for the strong shoulders he created in garments to add size to her petite (some say 5 foot) frame. This became a defining look of the 1940s that would appear once again as a trend in the 1980s. Adrian is someone I regularly hold up to show the overlapping nature of costume design and fashion. Many costume designers actually started and/or ended their careers as fashion designers; Adrian, for example, ultimately had his own fashion lines (both couture and ready-to-wear) and a boutique in Beverly Hills. And most importantly, the design in the movies was often months and even years ahead of the fashion industry. Hollywood costume design set the trends...it was not following them.
The style story and list of contributions from Woman of the Year are pretty impressive. The feminine career suiting alone...so modern and yet conceived at a time when women were only first entering the workforce en masse due to the demands of World War II. The patterns in Kate's outfits--gingham, window pane, stripes--normally reserved for men's shirting, now appeared in women's career wear. Polkadots also make a big splash in a casual ensemble from the movie, a moment that would inspire an ongoing polkadot trend today. Certainly not to be overlooked, Adrian's gowns and dresses are equally impressive with their superior cut, fit, draping, and detail; they still act as the gold standard for modern designers. And all the accessories...the hats, gloves, and pins are quintessential 1940s style. Even at the time, Woman of the Year made such an impact that it inspired many of Milo Anderson's costumes in yet another Style Essential--Warner Brothers' film noir Mildred Pierce (1945).
Of course much of the success of Woman of the Year also came from the synergy with Katharine Hepburn herself. Doing this movie was a major moment in her life. It was the first of nine films that she would make with Spencer Tracy and the beginning of their unconventional 25+ year partnership. It's a thrill to watch and feel them fall in love onscreen...their chemistry is electric. Also the movie's main character of Tess Harding is very aligned with Kate's own. She represented a new kind of female role model who was strong, independent, and followed her own path in life. This, of course, included her style and Kate personally preferred pants on and offscreen...where the ensemble of a tailored blazer, blouse, and slacks became her timeless uniform. There isn't a woman alive who doesn't owe some debt of gratitude to Katharine Hepburn.
If you'd like to see design from today's runways that is influenced by Woman of the Year, take a look at the Cinema Connection on GlamAmor. It's amazing how much our modern fashion finds inspiration in a film from 70 years ago...proving the ongoing relevance of classic cinema in our lives today.
The soon-to-be warring columnists Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy) and
Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn) at The New York Chronicle
When Tracy meets Hepburn...
Kate is stunning even in a conservative skirt suit and heels
and a blouse whose style would make a huge resurgence in the 1980s
Suited up for her first date with Sam at the ballpark, right down to her matching gloves
This time Tess wears a collarless striped jacket over a mock neck blouse and skirt for the office
The gingham check pattern in Tess' suiting was popular in the 1940s,
such as on Lauren Bacall
Working at home in a velvet smoking jacket and pants
that heavily influenced Yves Saint Laurent's Le Smoking of the 1970s
Pretty pants in polkadots...a popular 1940s print that's very on trend today
In the midst of challenges in her personal life, her professional life is booming--
Tess wins the Woman of the Year award
An iconic off-the-shoulders gown from Adrian that's perfect for Kate
Gowns and dresses add glamour to Woman of the Year
such as this draped delight for Tess' cocktail party
It's all in the details...
classic 1940s accessories--like hats, pins, and gloves--accent many of Tess' beautiful outfits
The famous Hepburn-Tracy chemistry heats up as Sam tries to kiss Tess goodbye
Things heat up again for the twosome over drinks
and Sam decides he wants Tess to be his wife
Waiting in the bedroom on wedding night
before others come and crash their party
Trying to prove she's as much a wife as she is a careerist
in a suspender dress that influenced costume designer Milo Anderson for Mildred Pierce
Director George Stevens' composition and cinematography adds so much to Woman of the Year,
especially in the intimate moments as he did in 1951's A Place in the Sun
And to learn more about the life of Adrian, read the book Adrian: From Silver Screen to Custom Label
by friend Christian Esquevin of Silver Screen Modiste.