Style on Film: Now, Voyager

The onset of winter always makes me think of the fashions of the 1940s, perhaps because some of my favourite 1940s films are set at Christmas-time. We’re not quite at Christmas yet, so the stylish 1940s film I’m celebrating today is the legendary Bette Davis’s Now, Voyager (1942) – a fashion film if ever there was one, and one which emphasises the power of clothes. After all, the sack-like dresses that the troubled Charlotte Vale wears reflect her psychological state, and as she is transformed from browbeaten nervous wreck into a worldly woman with a newfound confidence, her wardrobe  – designed by the great Orry-Kelly – goes from dowdy spinster to chic fashion-plate. So much so that she attracts a suave man on her maiden voyage as a new woman…

Reinventing herself, she has to play the part of the sophisticate very consciously and deliberately to begin with, using her stylish new outfits as props. When she dresses in the evening wear shown below, she uses notes from her fashion-savvy sister-in-law to direct her as to which accessories to team with the gown. “Silver slippers and silver evening bag will be found in accessory chest,” advises the handwritten slip of paper pinned to the chiffon dress…

Luckily, Jerry (Paul Henreid) spots and removes another note, pinned to the cape, before Charlotte heads off down the deck…

The daywear Charlotte wears during her cruise is nothing much to write home about, in my view, but yowser!, the nifty little monochrome outfit she wears as she disembarks for a reunion with her astonished relatives is fabulous – my favourite in the film. Indeed, finding a similarly squishy and capacious black leather clutch bag was an obsession of mine two winters ago … I eventually  found one, and I use it at every opportunity.

When Charlotte’s monstrous mother claps eyes on her new look, she is horrified and, desperate to re-assert her authority and to prevent her now glamorous daughter from stealing the limelight, she tells her to put on one of her old frocks for a family dinner. But the new Charlotte stands up for herself and defies ma by knocking the relatives dead in a simple, elegant black gown which she customises with the camellias sent from New York by her admirer..

For her debut on the Boston social scene, Charlotte wears another exquisite gown, this time a sparkling white and silver beaded number – no wonder she takes Jerry’s breath away when – to the strains of Cole Porter’s Night and Day – they’re reunited, though only briefly.

By the end of the film, Charlotte is a confident and self- assured woman- and her final outfit, in which she sashays about during a tea party, is another winner.. Here she is, posing with her cigarette from the celebrated “Don’t let’s ask for the moon – we have the stars” speech which ends the film and cements her never-to-be-consummated relationship with Jerry.


Filed under Movies, Style

4 responses to “Style on Film: Now, Voyager

  1. Pingback: Deception (Oct. 18, 1946) « OCD Viewer

  2. sue b

    gawd bless ya! this is my favourite film and i intend to recreate this fabulous collection (after i lose some more flab) lol i love the movie stills xxxxx

  3. Elizabeth stevens

    I have been searching for photos of the clothing designed by Orry-Kelly for Bette Davis in “Now Voyager.” Where can I obtain the patterns or copies of the patterns. Thank you. Elizabeth at

    • alisonkerr

      Hi Elizabeth, I’m afraid I have no idea but perhaps someone else who reads the blog might? Best wishes, Alison

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