Style: Katharine Hepburn in ‘The Philadelphia Story’

I have finally managed to do something I’ve intended to for quite some time: capture frames from classic movies for style and fashion references. I am a firm believer that a movie spreads a trend so quickly and has an endless and powerful influence on fashion. It’s always been difficult to find the relevant film stills online and although this do-it-yourself is much more time-consuming, I think it has a kind of a more personal touch.

Katharine Hepburn’s clothes for The Philadelphia Story were designed by Adrian, one of the few American designers of the era capable of making an individual statement. Those goddess gowns, transcending the magnetism of her personality, highlight her beauty, vulnerability and her human and feminine side (too little perceivable in her previous movies).

In an early scene Katharine appears in a black pantsuit worn over a white blouse. The short, tight jacket, high collared and without lapels, has a large white breast pocket and oversized white buttons.

Adrian called the creation below a dance frock. Katharine wears this very pastoral American look when she encounters a pair of society reporters, played by James Stewart and Ruth Hussey. It is composed of a red and white gingham skirt, flounced with four layers of ruffles stylishly placed on the bias, and a blouse of mousseline de soie, edged at the sleeve, collar and string tie in the same gingham.

The most talked about gown in the movie is the Greek goddess white chiffon gown with stepped gold sequin belting and bodice decoration, emphasizing Katharine’s lean figure. Adrian dressed Katharine in clothes with Hellenic motifs, emphasizing her patrician character in the movie.

However, my favourite dress is her wedding dress, orchid-white, accessorized with a white-brimmed picture hat and chin strap streamers. Her midriff is protected with a smaller fabric “buckle” fastened by string ties. The weightless fabric, transparent silk organza, is beautifully fitting Katharine’s svelte silhouette. Her delicate wedding dress suggests Tracy’s transformation.

Katharine Hepburn came a long way from the moment she set foot in Hollywood (she grew up a tomboy) until the moment she became a style icon and was included among the 10 women who changed fashion. Arriving in Hollywood, she told a skeptical George Cukor that she thought her New York designer outfit was very smart. “Well, I think it stinks”, Cukor told her. “We can proceed from there.” (Kate: The Woman Who Was Katharine Hepburn)

Katharine used to say about her real life non-conformist style: “I just had good timing: the pants came in, the low heels came in, the terrible woman came in, who spoke her mind.” Yes, she was elegant (an understated elegance), tough and outspoken, but she was much more than that, Katharine Hepburn was simply ahead of her times.

images: stills from “The Philadelphia Story”, captured by me; kindly link back to classiq if you want to use any of these images / production credits
source: the book Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label by Christian Esquevin.


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