Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Style Essentials--Katharine Hepburn Suits Spencer Tracy in WOMAN OF THE YEAR

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 really 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 while 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 influential 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 5'2" foot) frame. This evolved into 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. During this time, 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, which still seems so modern and yet it was conceived at a time when women were entering the workforce en masse due to the demands of World War II. The patterns in Kate's outfits - gingham, window pane, stripes - often 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. In addition, 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. 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 this 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


Christian Esquevin said...

Fabulous post Kimberly. Katharine Hepburn looked terrific in this film. Katharine and Adrian made a great pair and she acknowldged as much. This film is also interesting because it prefigures so much of what Adrian would be designing in his private label shortly after. I really enjoyed seeing all the screen grabs as a way of viewing the fashions. And thanks for the plug of my book.

Marline said...

Christian, you got that right! Kimberly hit the nail right on its head. Kate was my FIRST style icon, and when the 80's brought a reissue of those marvelous wide-shouldered, lapeless structured jackets, I was on board in a heartbeat! Wow, I miss that. Thank goodness Kate's style remains classic so we tailored types can find happiness in a well-cut jacket and a wide-legged pair of trousers. Wonderful work, Kimberly! Thanks! K

Kimberly Truhler said...

You're more than welcome, Christian! How could I not when you're so knowledgeable on the subject of Adrian. I'm doing others a public service by sharing the name of your book. :)

Thank you for sharing that these styles translated onto Adrian's own fashion line later. So interesting.

Sometimes costumes go by far too quickly on film for me, so I enjoy including the screen shots to really appreciate the details of the clothes. Glad you do, too.

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you, Kay! You must know how much you were on my mind as I crafted this style story...no one does the Great Kate's style better than you! The collaboration between her and Adrian was magical and our gift is this timeless style. To any girl who wears slacks, pants, and trousers (don't we all?!), we all must thank stylish St. Katharine. :)

Melissa Clark said...

Wonderful post, as always, Kimberly! Katharine Hepburn's influence on the way women dress really can't be overstated. Nobody else wore trousers with such casual aplomb. She was quite groundbreaking in that way, too, wearing pants so often at a time when women just didn't do that.

I have to admit, the end of "Woman of the Year" always rubs me the wrong way, with Hepburn's character being kind tamed into domesticity and made to look foolish. No matter how brilliant she was, she needed to know her place as a woman, after all! A few of the Hepburn/Tracy movies smack of that attitude a bit, but this one especially bugs me. It's funny, because there are so many much more sexist classic movies that I like and can cope with, but I have a harder time with it when it's Katharine Hepburn. It's like, how dare anyone belittle my strong, independent, amazing Kate?! ;)

On another topic, last weekend I thought of you when I popped in my DVD of "Designing Woman," which I just know has to be one of your favorites, style-wise. (Have you ever done a post about that movie? I need to search the archive and see.) For me the film itself is only so-so, but Lauren Bacall's Helen Rose wardrobe is so sublime I could die! Honestly, I just swoon over and over and over again. One of the great unsung fashion movies, in my opinion.

Congratulations on your success with the FIDM seminars. I'm so glad it all went well. :)


The Gal Herself said...

Love the attention you paid to that black Adrian evening dress! It's so sleek and regal and Grace Kelly-worthy. I mention Grace because I have read many posts devoted to her wardrobe in comparatively few films but with The Great Kate, all anyone seems to focus on are THE PANTS. As a working woman who can wear jeans to the office, I appreciate her impact. But we forget that Hepburn was a glam girl back in the day and a great deal of care went into her wardrobe in films like this. I love how you singled out the polka dot outfit. She moves so much in that scene in the movie that I never noticed the detail on the casual outfit. Love the covered buttons! Yes, once again, the clothes help make the character.

Joel Williams said...

Great write up...being a guy, I don't typically pay attention to the details of women's fashion in the movies. Thanks for bringing to the fore for me!

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thanks Melissa! I know exactly what you mean about the meta-messages in the Hepburn-Tracy movies. Due to the time that the studios released them, I think we're lucky that she was allowed to be as strong a character (so similar to herself) as she was onscreen. But she was never allowed to be too strong, was she...there was usually some message that she didn't have her act entirely together, as was the case in WOMAN OF THE YEAR. They had to remind us that she may have been good at the office, but she was far from a well-rounded wife. In some ways I take issue with it. But in other ways, I do think it's a very modern reminder to those of us career gals to not sacrifice too much of our personal lives for the sake of our work. Balance balance balance.

But the fashions are wonderful and the collaboration with Adrian is marvelous. I love seeing the suiting AND the gorgeous gowns.

And DESIGNING WOMAN? Oh my, do I love it! I can practically hear Kay screaming yes yes yes, too! lol I haven't done an official Cinema Style File on the movie yet, but many of the fashions are included in an early post I did a couple years ago on Lauren Bacall's style. I'll definitely have to circle back to it at some point soon since there are a couple outfits in that movie, particularly her red wiggle dress, that I would like to take as my own. ;) And that mink dress/coat she wears to the fight? Outrageous!

Thanks so much for weighing in and for your congratulations on the seminar. It was such a great experience and I'm talking with many different entities now about the next place to take it. :)

Kimberly Truhler said...

Hello Gal Herself and welcome! Thank you so much for your comments. You're right--those of us in fashion do focus a lot on Kate's contributions in menswear. It's hard not to since there are far too few idols in that direction outside maybe Marlene Dietrich as well. But yes, Kate was divine in dresses...I mean, she had the perfect figure and carriage for them, didn't she? I really love the looks in HOLIDAY, so I'll be doing that as part of the Cinema Style File at some point for sure. :) And THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is one of my Style Essentials and that's almost entirely dresses and gowns. Too good.

I love that polkadot outfit, too, and it's great how you noticed the covered button detail. I mean, Adrian paid attention to everything, didn't he? And I like how the pattern made Kate seem almost girlish and innocent. Today, polkadots just keep coming around and around and around in the trends. I credit so much of it to the outfit in this film.

Thanks and hope to hear from you again!

Kimberly Truhler said...

Hi Joel! How great to see you here...thanks for weighing in. You're far from alone in what you say...I actually get a lot of guys who email me and say that they never paid much attention to the fashion before. To me, I see it simply as DESIGN and how that particular design adds to the overall effect of the movie. I know that there are many movies from classic cinema that wouldn't have near the longevity they do if it were not for the spectacular design, and most is coming from the clothes. I love hearing that this is something that you are now looking at more closely. Thanks for sharing!

Citizen Screen said...

FABULOUS entry as always! Feel like I just went to fashion history class. What a wonder you are!

LOVED this.


Melissa Clark said...

I tracked down the Lauren Bacall post where you touched on "Designing Woman." I loved it! It just made me want more, though! A Cinema Style File on the movie would be fantastic. I actually did some screencaps for myself a few years back, since I couldn't find good photos of the clothes anywhere online. They're worthy of study, that's for sure. The red wiggle dress is to die for, and holy cow - the mink dress! Deliciously decadent, and such a contrast to the sweaty, violent boxing match. (Another great example of illustrating character through costume. Love that Helen Rose!)

My favorite ensemble is the navy blue suit fitted to a fare-the-well, with that gorgeous mink stole worn backwards and tied in the back. When she appears on the airplane in that getup my jaw drops just like Gregory Peck's. Such elegance.

Anyway, sorry to hijack your Katharine Hepburn post with my "Designing Woman" talk! I've been dying to chat about the costumes since rewatching the film the other day, though, and you and Kay are my favorite people with whom to discuss such things. :)


Kimberly Truhler said...

Aurora--thank you! How sweet you are and I'm thrilled by the compliments! Stay tuned...next blog will be a Cinema Connection showing examples of today's runways that are influenced by the outfits in WOMAN OF THE YEAR. I know you'll love that, too. :)

Kimberly Truhler said...

You're not hijacking anything, Melissa! lol DESIGNING WOMAN is an amazing display of costume design by Helen Rose...she made it worthy of what essentially is Lauren Bacall playing her life story (in a cute way, of course).

Right after I responded to your comment, I thought about that incredible suit of hers on the plane...it's extraordinary. Drool-worthy. lol And with the fur, too? Wow. That outfit will DEFINITELY be highlighted whenever I finally do a photo essay on it. You're totally right--the number of good photos online on the costumes are few, so I'll have to do my own screen captures for it. The clothes deserve it. Perfection.

Irish Jayhawk said...

Kimberly, this is simply delightful! I've ALWAYS loved fashion and believe that fashion and cinema make the perfect marriage. I love so many of Kate's exquisite wardrobes. I'm not a trouser gal like KH but adore so many of her dresses, jackets, wide shouldered suits and hats galore. She had a wonderful figure to pull off those adorable choices, too. Thanks for posting so many photos!

Melissa Clark said...

The back of the fur, tied with a big bow that matches the suit, is my favorite detail of the navy suit ensemble. Can you imagine having an expensive mink wrap that's meant to be worn only with that one suit? Gregory Peck's character should've realized right then that he'd married money. LOL.

I went ahead and uploaded the screencaps I did to Photobucket, so feel free to use them anytime, if you like. They're not the most perfect quality, but it might save you some effort one of these days.

Plus, it makes it easier to ooh and ah over the clothes right now. Like this dress, which I just realized for the first time has the words "DO RE MI" on the material -- perfect for a scene where they're rehearsing a musical. Such a fun touch of whimsy, and I bet you could really see it on the big screen.

Helen Rose was brilliant. There's a neat extra on my DVD -- a publicity interview with her at the time this movie came out. She said Lauren Bacall had something like 30 costume changes in this movie. Rose must have had a field day designing all those clothes! :)

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thanks for sharing all that, Melissa! Beautiful shots of beautiful Helen Rose clothes. When I was at the TCM Film Festival, I noticed again and again how much detail was jumping out at me that I had actually never seen before...your noticing "DO RE MI" in the fabric reminded me of that. It's really something. I'll have to check my own DVD of DESIGNING WOMAN to see if I've got any neat extras on it as well. ;) Helen Rose IS really incredible...especially considering she was essentially self-taught (no fashion school like Parsons or FIDM for her) and started designing for dancers in mob-run clubs of Chicago in the 1920s. Amazing!

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thanks Kellee! I know how much fashion has meant to you in your life, so I'm so happy that you enjoyed this post. I'm clearly not really a trousers type of gal either, but whenever I have worn pants at work I've certainly channeled more than a bit of Katharine Hepburn. And yes, as The Gal Herself pointed out, sometimes Kate's (and Adrian's) style contributions in gowns and dresses are overlooked because of how ground-breaking the suiting (with pants) was. The dresses are extraordinary in WOMAN OF THE YEAR and continue to influence fashion designers today. I just posted a Cinema Connection that shows just how much. Be sure to check it out! :)

Unknown said...

This is such a great article! My favorite outfit from this film is the smoking jacket - very 1920s Bryn Mawr dorm style, if you know what I mean. So swish. Have you seen CHRISTOPHER STRONG(1933)? I was just recently struck by some of the stunning costumes in that film. As in WotY, they also combined KH's unique masculine and feminine qualities. I think the designer for that film was Walter Plunkett.

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you Margaret and thanks for sharing the link! I love the smoking jacket, too...considering it's supposed to be her character's "casual" look makes it even more remarkable. And, as you say, very Bryn Mawr and shows yet another way that the character and costumes are in sync with Ms. Hepburn herself. In this age where stylists seem to have taken over the fashion universe, just love how true her style was to herself.

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