Classic Film Guide for How to be a Lady #19: Refuse to eat humble pie as Katharine Hepburn should have in Woman of the Year (‘42).
Professional women who enjoy successful careers, especially those who are singled out in public for awards are sitting ducks for the too-big-for-her-britches-take-her-down-a-notch treatment. Heaven forbid a lady be too accomplished or a fella might have the vapours from feeling a threat to his manhood. Do we really believe that Katharine Hepburn would be incompetent at or overwhelmed by so simple a task as making breakfast? While outfitted in an absurd mink coat for the task? The lady could have been a dab hand at running the entire MGM studio. Even if that were the case, ladies should reject the notion that you are lacking as a woman if you’re not fetching and serving for a fella. Spencer Tracy can brew his own damn coffee. Hepburn’s Tess has better things to do on the morning’s agenda.
Thanks to MissGilda for the Gif.
Classic Film Guide for How to be a Lady #1: Look for friends as in Stage Door (‘37).
Ginger Rogers’ character hates Katherine Hepburn’s at first glance. The new resident to the Footlights Club is wealthy, has a better wardrobe than anyone in the house; she’s bossy, a know-it-all who lectures over a dreary meal about how they should strive to play Shakespeare rather than popular comedy; she’s a snub-nosed blue blooded snob. Ginger and Kate bristle through most of the film. If only Ginger had refrained from channelling energy into barbs and freezing out her roomie, she would have noticed sooner how handy it can be to have a smart friend who lends you her good ermine. For every treacherous lady who steals your stockings (I’m looking at you, Gail Patrick), there’s another who will pledge amity and your combined news clippings over a husband and babies.
Classic Film Fashion #277: Howard Greer’s silver moth costume for Katharine Hepburn in Christopher Strong (1933).
Popped collar cape, sliver gown and skull cap, antennae, boots. Each facet of this fancy dress ensemble ticks the boxes under Fabulous Party Attire or How to Make an Entrance or Disco Goddess (Before there was Disco). As ever, my interest resides in how exquisite design adds to the character and plot in classic film. One could argue that Howard Greer’s moth is more likely a sartorial Lady Icarus, an aesthetic foreshadowing of her ambition as aviator mixed with the star-crossed lovers climax. She will fly too close to the sun. Instead of wax and feather, Greer gives us a sleek metallic gown with cape. Even the skull cap resembles standard pilot gear of the era, only it’s not in the usual leather. Headed for doom, Hepburn’s pilot set records in altitude as well as style.
Classic Film Fashion #210: Ladies battle computerisation in sumptuous work wear threads for Desk Set (1957).
They would have pooped bricks had they Google to best for their jobs, but Katharine Hepburn, Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill and Sue Randall play the television research team suited up to win one for working women. The ladies inhabit the office with expert style: vests, pencil skirt, popped collar and rolled sleeves; slate grey jersey frocks, cardigan; belted jacket with Peter Pan collar; cinched waist and full skirt; sensible heels; bright hued jumpers. Each ensemble telegraphs women who are accomplished, capable and fashionable.
Classic Film Fashion #146: Rich ladies wear fur & ugly hats in Holiday (1938).
Hardly ever do I watch a black & white and find the clothes not worthy of some drool. Yet such is the case for this Cukor film. I suppose it does illustrate the old chestnut about ladies with money who often have poor taste. Silly hats, fur, dowdy frocks all over for Katharine (I-never-enjoy-her) Hepburn and Doris Nolan. The only one who looks yummy onscreen is Cary Grant. As ever.
Classic Film Fashion #59: Katharine Hepburn’s wimple for The Lion in Winter (1968).
A wimple is the perfect accessory to accentuate the lady’s bitchy hauteur, even more so than a crown. The silky white sheath cradles her imperious chin and underscores her martyred wife-mammy-queen mien. She doesn’t have to raise her voice and chew scenery in it, unlike the very shouty Peter O’Toole.
Classic Film Fashion #19: Katharine Hepburn’s uptight wardrobe to play Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story (1940).
Talk about matching characterisation with costume, Hepburn’s outfits rank near the top. Cary Grant calls her an ‘ice princess,’ a virgin goddess’ after their sexless marriage. Is she a monster? A lady who prefers talking books or politics rather than sexytimes with Cary Grant? Inconceivable. The fiance dude thinks she’s ‘like a statue,’ in other words cold and bloodless, which is just what he wants as a politician. Tracy Lord is repressed, lacks empathy and is far too cerebral. Tracy’s attire consists of loud prints, busy checks, chevron stripes. She’s complicated! When she meets Jimmy Stewart’s novelist fella in the library, she wears a curious cap with a pom-pom dangle that swings around like a mortar board. It teeters to the edge of overkill, but Adrian’s costumes match the lady in question. (On a side note, the old timey looking night cap also appears on Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve as a lesson that not all vintage fashion can be considered classic.)
Once the ‘married maiden’ loosens up, she gets pretty gowns and Cary Grant.