Drake's Diary

Life at Drake's in Haberdasher, Mayfair and beyond

Actors and Their Clothes

In her revealing autobiography Edith Head’s Hollywood, the 8-time Academy Award winner and master costumier Edith Head fascinatingly describes her 58-year career: from Wings, a 1927 Paramount film starring Clara Bow and Gary Cooper, to her last project, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, with Steve Martin and Rachel Ward in 1982. In between she created the costumes for the likes of Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood and Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Clark Gable, Mae West, Paul Newman, Ava Gardner, Bob Hope, Gloria Swanson, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Elvis, and everybody else you can think of in films except Mickey and Minnie.

One of her most interesting relationships was with director Alfred Hitchcock, with whom she worked on virtually all of his Hollywood films, from Nortorious in 1946 to  Family Plot in 1976.”When people ask me who my favourite actress is, who my favourite actor is, who my favourite director is, and what my favourite movie is,” she proudly confesses, “I tell them to watch To Catch a Thief, and they’ll get all the answers.”

Well, perhaps not all the answers. Head goes on for pages about how she and Hitchcock conferred on what Grace Kelly should wear in each scene, how she and Kelly spent long days in fittings, designing and constructing everything from ball gowns to peignoirs. The two of them even took several days shopping for accessories at Hermes in Paris (they bought so many gloves and shoes they didn’t have enough money to pay for them, and the packages left the store only after the studio signed the bill).

Interesting stuff indeed. What is missing is any discussion of Cary Grant’s wardrobe. All those wonderful cashmere pullovers and perfectly cut grey flannel slacks, the impeccable linen blazers, the tassel loafers and ascots, the beautiful grey worsted suits and awesome dinner jackets are never mentioned by Head.

The reason is that Grant selected his own wardrobe!

"Edith dressed the women, but she didn’t design my costumes," he pointed out. "I planned and provided everything myself. In fact, I bought everything in Cannes, just before we began shooting. She didn’t go with me when I purchased the clothes, nor did she approve anything. I was the only one who approved my clothes. Hitch trusted me implicitly to select my own wardrobe. If he wanted me to wear something very specific he would tell me, but generally I wore simple, tasteful clothes — the same kind of clothes I wear off the screen."

Exactly! The point to be made is that, unlike the female stars, Hollywood’s leading men usually supplied their own wardrobes if contemporary clothes were needed. Although Hitchcock, for example, was an incredible stickler for detail, he apparently saw no reason to interfere with the sartorial tastes of his male stars. Michael Haley, author of The Alfred Hitchcock Album, says, “It’s not that he didn’t pay attention, but basically if their style was appropriate for the movie, he said, `Go ahead, use your own tailor’ and he picked up the tab.”

In essence, male stars were their own costume designers and provided their own contemporary wardrobes, only needing a costumier on the set to coordinate colours with the wardrobe of the leading lady. The real reason for this distinction is that — as Cary Grant always strongly maintained — male wardrobes were properly fashion, not costume. Men wore costumes or uniforms only for period movies. From the 1920s up through the 1960s, they used their own tailors and haberdashers in their roles as well as their off-camera lives.

G.Bruce Boyer

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    Cary was apparently responsible for his own wardrobe.
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    What a gentleman should do
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    An interesting piece on legendary Hollywood custumier Edith Head by G. Bruce Boyer, Click through to read. (via...
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