We take a look back at the eternal style of Grace Kelly, Cary Grant and Tippi Hedren
Alfred Hitchcock never left anything to chance. It’s a filmmaking philosophy that extended to his leading stars’ wardrobe: costumes were never a rushed afterthought. He understood the power of clothes and they became integral to the stories he told.
A meticulous director, Hitchcock’s obsessive attention-to-detail would create style icons out of Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedren, Kim Novak and Cary Grant. In Hitch’s carefully constructed world, appearances are everything. Like a cinematic svengali he moulded each and every one of them. So much so, they may as well bear a Hitchcock maker’s mark.
So, what is about this iconic filmmaker’s exacting style that still spellbinds us decades later? There is elegance and decadence, granted, but an undercurrent of control makes things intriguing. Nipped in waists, restrictive pencil skirts and tightly tailored suits are an idealised (arguably obsessive) feminine construction. The detached ‘Hitchcock heroine’ is a finely dressed concept we’ll never quite understand. Crisp tweed, starched collars, buttoned blouses and billowing skirts both flirt and withhold from us simultaneously.
Perhaps this is why these ‘icy blondes’ still captivate fans today – their clothes play such an intrinsic role in Hitchcock’s strange, dreamlike world. Let’s step inside and celebrate just a few of his most iconic looks…
Grace Kelly In Rear Window (1954)
Forget the suspense of what’s going on outside James Stewart’s apartment window: we’re far too busy gushing over Grace Kelly’s exquisite wardrobe in this 1954 classic. Kelly wore five elegant outfits in total, each designed by costumer Edith Head, utterly inspired by French couture. Who could forget Kelly’s dazzling opening frock? The off-shoulder V-neck, nipped in, belted waist and decadent full skirt owes everything to Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ which hit the catwalk in 1947 and dominated the 1950s. Hitchcock reportedly worked very closely with Head to mastermind Kelly’s look. As we now know, there was a darker side to Hitchcock. He often became infatuated with his leading ladies and his obsessive complusion tightly controlled a very precise look: sexual allure, but always at a distance.
Tippi Hedren In The Birds (1963)
Colour was never a happy coincidence in Hitchcock’s unsettling world and – as Tippi Hedren’s green suit demonstrates – his fashion choices played an important symbolic role in his films. Hedren wore this suit throughout and was therefore supplied with six identical copies during the making of The Birds. What does it mean? Well, there are many theories, but some believe Hitchcock chose the colour green to make Hedren stand out coolly from the rest. Fans of the film, however, have come up with a direct correlation between the green caged love birds Hedren carries in the film and the green she wears. Is the character of Melanie symbolically linked to those caged birds? Your guess is as good as ours…
Cary Grant In North By Northwest (1959)
If there’s a man who looks sexier than Cary Grant in a single-breasted grey suit, we’re yet to find him. Savile Row tailors Kilgour reportedly designed most of Grant’s wardrobe for this film and he allegedly made sure he could keep every suit by altering the small print in his contract. According to The Telegraph Grant’s co-star Eva Marie Saint told Cary Grant biographer Richard Torregrossa: ‘Hitchcock made everybody in the picture dress in a classic style…He didn’t want the picture to date because of the clothes.’ Both Cary Grant and Hitchcock’s joint effort succeeded in this aim: Cary Grant’s suave suit is still considered the epitome of timeless Hollywood style.
Joan Fontaine In Rebecca (1940)
Hollywood blockbuster Gone With The Wind was released in 1939, only a year before Hitchcock’s brooding Daphne Du Maurier adaptation hit the big screen. The dress above could well be taken from Scarlett O’Hara’s wardrobe. Joan Fontaine looks glorious in one of Rebecca‘s defining scene when Fontaine brings the ghostly painting of Rebecca to life in one fantastical costume. The climatic ballgown is everything you’d hope a plot-device to be and more.
According to The Telegraph, when Kim Novak told costume designer Edith Head that she didn’t like the grey suit/black shoes combo designed for her character to wear, Head chuckled. ‘Why don’t you go and discuss that with Mr Hitchcock?’ she gleefully replied. Novak may have been unimpressed at the time, but this simple grey suit is now considered an iconic Hollywood outfit. Rumour has it Hitchcock knew exactly the colour he wanted before filming even began. Grey, for Hitch, symbolised modesty. It also gave Novak a ghostlike quality which fitted in perfectly with the narrative.
Grace Kelly and Cary Grant In To Catch A Thief (1955)
Introducing one of the most fashionably glorious films of all time. Grace Kelly and Cary Grant shine in this 1955 romantic thriller, pulling off the kind of outfits we could only dream of wearing. Whilst it’s tempting to pick one of Grace’s stunning evening gowns, we’re opting for her sensational Cannes beach-outfit instead. What’s not to love? Those white-rimmed, cats-eye sunglasses, the yellow halterneck, that matching turban. IT’S TOO MUCH.
As for godlike Cary: name a single human being who could throw on a pair of chinos with a sports jacket and turtleneck and still look effortlessly cool and sophisticated. Nope? Didn’t think so. What a hero.