Style in Film: Elizabeth Taylor in ‘A Place In The Sun’

Her striking performance in A Place In The Sun propelled Elizabeth Taylor from family movies to serious roles. She also became one of the most celebrated beauties in the world. She was 17 and this was the first out of three films Elizabeth and Montgomery Clift made together. “I think that was the first time I started taking acting seriously, that was when I first began to act”, she said, referring to the impression Clift made on her on the set of A Place In The Sun, to the way he could transform himself completely to get into the George Eastman character. The film also marked the beginning of a life-time friendship between the two.


 
Elizabeth also became very good friends with Edith Head, who designed the costumes for her character, Angela Vickers. The challenge of costuming George Steven’s A Place In The Sun (1951) was that it was not going to be released for more than a year from the time Edith’s designs would be completed. Edith believed that the New Look would survive as a style trend during that time, so she felt comfortable creating full skirts for Liz. She kept details on all of the clothing including accessories, collars, and sleeves to a minimum, because those were the trends that she felt she couldn’t predict.

But Edith needn’t have worried too much about predicting the fashion trends to ensure that A Place In The Sun wouldn’t look dated upon its release. In 1951, it was Elizabeth Taylor’s appearance in that film that actually set the trends. Edith credited Elizabeth with helping her understand the teenage point of view on fashion. With the advent of blue jeans for day and Dior’s New Look for evening, the rules had changed for young people. The fittings for Taylor proved lively and enjoyable for Edith. Elizabeth was totally in sync with the proposed designs. It must have also helped that Elizabeth had a beautiful hourglass figure and she kept trying to persuade Edith into making the waistline of the dresses as tiny as possible.

When Angela first appears in the film (the last two images above), she is in a white satin dance dress with Boas bands across the bodice and hip, and a petticoat of tulle underneath, and she wears a white mink stole on top. Her privileged position is established.
 

 
Seductive and innocent. This one is one of the two most important gowns in the movie, copied by manufacturers throughout the country and that caused a sensation among the prom-going young ladies that year and throughout the entire decade. A pale yellow strapless gown with fitted boned bodice of ruched ivory tulle over yellow taffeta, with small velvet flowers blooming at the bustier. The skirt was made of several layers of cream tulle over a yellow taffeta underskirt, the first layer studded with scattered velvet violets. This dress is still considered one of the most iconic dresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
 

 
This is the other evening dress, in black velvet encrusted with pearl beads that were laced into ribbon bands cross the bust. Worn with elbow-length black gloves and white mink stole.
 

 
With the day-time outfits, Edith Head perfectly depicted the look of carefree 1950s teenagers holidaying on Lake Tahoe, reflecting fashion-conscious high society teenagers. Elizabeth’s crisp white sleeveless shirt dress she wears in the top photo in the set above was a fresh and youthful take on Dior’s New Look.
 

 
In a bodice and stole of heavy white lace with double circular skirt of sheer white organdy. And a beautiful belted coat to go with the rest of the outfit.
 

 
“All my teachers, because I never had an acting lesson in my life, were the people I acted with, the people I was directed by, the experience of my life one-on-one with the people on the set and that is how I learned whatever was my technique. It was purely instinctive.” Elizabeth Taylor had a mesmerising beauty, made a great impact on fashion and style, she had range, instinct, was very natural. A Place In The Sun brought all these qualities to light. A film that has endured the test of time. Just as Elizabeth has and will continue to do.
 
images: stills from the movie, captured by me; kindly link back to classiq if you use any of these images; production credits
sources: Edith Head: The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer by Jay Jorgensen and the special features on the dvd A Place In The Sun.


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