Doris Day’s shirt dress look in The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Doris Day was not the typical cool Hitchcockian blonde in peril. Day’s character of Jo McKenna in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) is resourceful, self-reliant, grounded, warm, and she did a marvelous job in the film. The film was entirely shot on location and I particularly liked the beginning part, filmed in Marrakech. The climax part of the film towards the end is much too long, I think, and failed to have the effect these suspense sequences usually have when it comes to Hitchcock’s movies. Maybe it’s the attraction of exotic, sunny, colourful Morroco, a background which also makes for the perfect contrast with the escalating underlying tension and dark plot that’s about to unfold, but the film loses some of its charm once it gets to London.
Although Doris Day’s wardrobe (designed by Edith Head) also includes the tailored grey suit that would be reproduced and pored over by film historians when Kim Novak wore it in Vertigo two years later (with the additional mention that I liked the way Doris wore it more), I have chosen to focus on the shirt dress look she wears to the market in Marrakech. It’s simply because I love the genius invention of the shirtdress: a garment imbued with the insouciance of a man’s shirt, only with more length and polish, and, in this fifties version, a cinched-waist and full structure. But even in this silhouette (I, for one, prefer the more modern, more linear style) and buttoned just to the waist, it still carries a feminine-meets-tomboy charm, perfect for the film location. There is nothing more feminine than a piece of clothing thought to be used in the male universe, that has been reshaped on the body of a woman.
The most interesting part of Doris’ outfit is the white basket bag. It was 1956, long before Jane Birkin popularized her basket bag. Once again cinema foresaw fashion, but nobody seemed to take notice of this original piece of accessory before the 60’s.
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photos: 1-5: movie stills captured by me from the blu-ray available in Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection | Universal Pictures / 6-still from the movie set