Style File: Katharine Hepburn

Today is the birthday of the late, great Katharine Hepburn, a movie star who refused to bow to convention and who evolved an androgynous look that is still inspirational today. Whether the above, early 1940s, photo is Hepburn in her own kit or in one of her characters’, it nevertheless reflects the distinctive Hepburn style: simple, mannish tailoring (and brogues) combined with loose, feminine hair. She was photographed in 1937 wearing similar gear, on the set of Stage Door (that’s Ginger Rogers on the left).

I love Hepburn’s look in The Philadelphia Story (1940) – apart from the intentionally OTT flouncy gingham number she wears during the performance she puts on for the reporters from Spy Magazine.  Here she is with James Stewart in the scene in the library. Love the Wee Willie Winky hat …

Designed by Adrian, this is the stand-out gown in the film, appropriately classical because Hepburn’s character, Tracy Lord, is seen (not least, by herself) as something of a goddess..

The gown she had worn when she played Tracy in the original stage production of The Philadelphia Story was even more overt in its nod to Greek influences.

My other favourite Hepburn movie is the one she made after The Philadelphia Story. Woman of the Year (1942) is another stylish and very funny comedy – about the love affair that develops between two writers on the same newspaper: Tess (Hepburn), the world-renowned political columnist, and Sam (Spencer Tracy), the top sports reporter.  Here they are at Tess’s first-ever baseball game.

Tess and Sam get married – not at the end of the film, but maybe halfway through. Here’s Hepburn looking elegant(and radiant – she had just fallen in love with her co-star, after all – in the wedding dress which Adrian designed for her.

Sadly, I couldn’t find a photo of Tess in the stripy Adrian suit she memorably wears in the film, but here she is in the film’s most celebrated scene, trying unsuccessfully to be the kind of wife who cooks breakfast for her husband. The straps on her pinafore-style dress were not purely decorative: they provided some of the comedy as they continuously got in the way of her attempts to get to grips with unfamiliar kitchen gadgets.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Style File: Katharine Hepburn

  1. Margaret Perry Movies

    Love this article! I am a Katharine Hepburn scholar and I’ve written a bit about how Hepburn’s sense of fashion helped to join her tomboyishness with her feminine sensualism. Philadelphia Story and Woman of the Year are two great films where her costumes really reflected her persona. I would also recommend taking a look at Summertime (1955), a David Lean film set in Venice. It’s almost a paradox seeing the angular Hepburn in shapely 50s dresses, and yet it seems to work remarkably well. Cute story, too. If you’ll notice, Hepburn is one of the very few actresses of her day that were able to ride into the sunset alone at the end of the film (and still feel the story was a success). Thank you!

  2. I think my favorite Hepburn/Tracy movie is: Desk Set.

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