Style in Film: Rita Hayworth in ‘Gilda’

The song ‘Put the Blame on Mame’ that Rita Hayworth sings twice in Gilda (1946) is a sarcastic apprehension of the way women are considered responsible for the disasters caused by the men who become obsessed with them. There are hardly a few takes in the entire film in which Gilda appears on her own, not close to a man. It’s one of the elements used by director Charles Vidor to build up her character. Another one is the glamorous wardrobe she wears, which helps consolidate the image of femme fatale in this classic film noir. The costumes were designed by Jean Louis, the famous head designer at Columbia Pictures, who collaborated with Rita for nine movies. His creations complemented Hayworth’s figure and he had an important contribution to her fashion trend-setting image.

One of the most beautiful actresses of all time (and the wife of Orson Welles at some point), Rita Hayworth is enigmatic and radiant in Gilda, a role that fitted her as a glove. Gilda is Ballin Mundson’s (a casino owner) newly wife. But she is also a woman with a past, a passionate and troubled past she shares with Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), an itinerant gambler who has become Ballin’s right hand and whom she meets again after she marries. Rita and Glenn had an amazing chemistry on-screen and their characters’ love-hate relationship is responsible for a big part of the tension throughout the movie. And, as I’ve said many times before, there is something about the way black and white filming captures a beautiful face and the depth of a scene that colour is simply impossible to do.

“Gilda, are you decent?”, asks Ballin (George Macready), before ‘introducing’ her to Johnny.
“Me?”, she replies, wearing a diaphanous, light-weight, semi-transparent, off-the-shoulders négligée. Does her innocent look say otherwise?

For Gilda, Jean Louis created daring, sensual gowns in luxurious silk, satin, metallic and transparent fabrics, transforming Rita Hayworth into a screen goddess.

Below, a sexy evening dress decorated with gold bead stripes, with beautifully contoured shoulders and pleated from the knee below.

She is gorgeous in a halter-neck, draped grecian evening dress with a beaded midriff and matching bracelet. How nicely it fits her body! And how even more glamorous it looks with a sequined coat on top.

A grecian style day dress with a studded belt and, again, a matching cuff. A timeless look, the dress would stand high today as well. I love it to the bits.
And a beautiful structured white coat to go with it.
In a diaphanous, bell-sleeved home dress.
At the carnival she wears a Gaucho costume. Embroidered waistcoat, black skirt split to the hips, embroidered cowboy boots and gloves, and a mask over the eyes.
A simple and elegant home dress.
After Mundson’s supposed death, she marries Johnny in a black suit. In the typical fashion style of the ’40s, it’s a strange choice if we think of the event she wears it to, but it’s very suggestive for the plot, and this was the idea.

The bust gathering style which is revealed by three different gowns (below).
She is trying to escape her marriage with Johnny, but finds out that she can not. He has her followed everywhere she goes and she feels trapped. Notice the irony: libre written inside the taxi cab, which means free in Spanish (the story takes place in Argentina).

A pinstriped, well-tailored skirt suit and crisp blouse topped with a soft-brimmed hat and white gloves never disappointed.
The iconic black dress worn in a memorable scene of the movie, in which Gilda is singing and improvises a quick striptease – with a single-glove striptease Rita had the power to seduce every single man in the audience. They did everything better in those days! In black satin, strapless and side-slit down to the ground, with a huge bow at the hip, and paired with high above the elbow black satin gloves, it was a trend-setter and was named by The Independent one of the Ten Best Fashion Moments in Film.

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