Style in Film: Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde

Note: this is a revised version of a previous article I wrote; the film stills I had used, not captured by me, simply did not do justice to Faye’s style in the film.

Faye Dunaway’s wardrobe in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) evoked a sense of the ’30s elegance and glamour that went against the fashionable mini skirt of the ’60s and ushered in the midi. Simple cut silhouettes, pencil skirts, knitted sweaters worn with silk printed scarves, cardigans, the windowpane checked suit, jaunty berets and the iconic honey gold bob were chosen by Theadora Van Runkle (the self-taught costume designer who won her first Oscar nomination for Bonnie and Clyde, her first film) to create Faye’s “gun moll” look in this landmark American movie, considered by many as the dawn of a golden age in Hollywood, that has been a constant reference in fashion and has been influencing the catwalks for decades now.

“I knew it was a great role. I really identified with Bonnie. She was just like me, a Southern girl who was dying to get out of the South. She wanted to take risks, she wanted to live. I knew exactly how she felt – I’d felt that way for years”, says Faye Dunaway. She was perfect for the role. Dressed in effortless looking, low-key outfits bearing a tomboy sexuality, she became the most memorable and beautiful female outlaw. A daring, disturbing tragicomedy, Bonnie and Clyde was directed by Arthur Penn (photographer Irving Penn’s brother) and inspired by the films of Truffaut, Godard and Hitchcock, and although in Europe it was an instant hit (no wonder), it was at first dismissed by many critics in the US. However, the young moviegoers immediately fell in love with it. Amateur bank robberies swept the American nation and women rushed in the stores to buy berets.

But can anyone wear a beret better than Bonnie Parker? Faye’s character would not have been the same without it: it gives her an identity, confidence and sex appeal. And what further completed her dramatic looks and became a fashion in itself was her glowing make-up, with sunkissed skin, black eyeliner, peachy blush and lips, enhanced by the beautiful cinematography: they would get up every day at 4.30 and shoot at first light. Bonnie and Clyde made Faye Dunaway a movie star, but it was Warren Beatty, her partner in the film, who gave her one of her most cherished compliments: “You’ve got a lot of class!”

In black blazer and flowing skirt. The designer used a bias cut so that the dresses would swing and incorporated her own concepts with vintage pieces and fagoting stitches. The beret made a comeback after the film was released and production in the French town of Lourdes reportedly increased from 5,000 to 12,000 being produced each week. It had been a trend for confident young American women in the thirties, as worn by Ginger Rogers and Joan Crawford, but had fallen out of fashion. Theadora said: “The beret was the final culmination of the silhouette. In it, she combined all the visual elements of elegance and chic. Without the beret, it would have been charming, but not the same.” When Faye Dunaway attended the French premiere, a crowd of thousands had gathered outside the Cinematique in Paris just to meet the star, many with bobbed hair cuts and berets.

Bonnie wears a belted tweed jacket with matching midi skirt, paired with a black beret and flat pumps. She has found a profession, a bank robber, and she adopts a powerful and professional look. Bonnie’s style is masculine with a feminine twist.

Part of the success of the Bonnie and Clyde look, Theadora Van Runkle said, was that “they wore clothes that people could wear to work and wear in their real lives.” I think that’s the secret of any enduring style.

photos: screen stills captured by me; kindly link back to classiq if you use any of these images; company credits
source: an article appeared in the L.A.Times by Patrick Goldstein, and Classic Hollywood Style
by Caroline Young


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