Style on Film: Bell, Book and Candle

It’s not a Christmas classic of anything like the calibre of It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street, but Bell, Book and Candle – the 1958 romantic comedy about a Manhattan witch who falls in love on December 25th – is one of my favourite festive season films. It may have been James Stewart who attracted me to the movie in the first place, but nowadays I love it not just for his performance as the publisher who falls under the spell of a sultry sorceress – but also for the stylish, beatnik wardrobe slinkily worn by Kim Novak  – and designed by Jean Louis. Here’s how she looks when we first see her, in her character Gill’s primitive art shop – wearing her black polo neck and trousers and red tunic.

The film begins on Christmas Eve when Gill tells her cat Pyewacket how she yearns for a man – before she knows it she’s falling in love with new neighbour Shep Henderson (James Stewart). Later that evening, at the Zodiac Club where she and the rest of the Greenwich Village chapter of the sorceress sisterhood hang out, she discovers that Shep is about to marry her old school nemesis – and suddenly, using witchcraft to get the guy doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Here she is coming home in her velvet hooded cloak, scarlet muffler and bright red gloves which match the red satin shoes she showed off in the club.

Later that evening, as if by magic, Shep stops by Gill’s place – and they get to know each other.. The romance begins on the settee where Shep gets an eyeful of Gill, whose slashed-neck, long-sleeved maroon evening gown looks fairly conservative – until she turns round to reveal that, like many of the dresses that Kim Novak was photographed in during this period,  it has no back.

After the spell has been cast, the couple spend an enchanted night which climaxes with a swoonsome love scene at the top of the Flatiron Building on a snowy Christmas morning. Admittedly, some of the colours in the film are a little dreary (including Kim Novak’s hair which looks slightly pinkish on my DVD) but the simplicity of the clothes and the fact that they all work together makes it super-stylish. Easily the best outfit in Gill’s wardrobe of blacks, maroons and reds is the one which features a tomato-red snood and matching gloves, plus a show-stopping leopard-print cape which is just as fashionable now as in 1958.

Snoods, hoods and cowl necks are Gill’s signature shapes and when she visits Shep at work , she ditches the sexy leopard-print cape in favour of a black one. Or does she? Look closely at the outfit she’s wearing as she enters his office ..

Yup, it’s lined with leopard print; in fact, as the next photo shows, it is actually the reverse side of the leopard print cape.

The leopard print is the most obvious example of why this film is so very now, and such a treasure trove for those of us who like to pinch ideas from the past. There’s also the matter of the make-up: red lips and nails (see the first picture) are the height of chic this Christmas. If you’ve never seen the movie and feel like some festive romance, check it out – there’s lots to enjoy.




Filed under Movies, Style, Uncategorized

14 responses to “Style on Film: Bell, Book and Candle

  1. kim

    I love that film – am gonna go and buy the dvd now!! Very Christmassy.

  2. Teresa Jones

    THANK YOU for this! I was searching the Web for stills from the film because I love the style of it, especially Gil’s apartment and clothes. This is perfect!

  3. Pingback: D’inspiration vintage : Betty Blue’s Loungerie |

  4. Annette Johnson

    my husband thinks the color of Kim Novak’s hair is due to the age of the film(it is loosing color). I wanted to know what color Kim novak’s hair IS in this movie,

    • jesse stewart

      the movie studio created hair colors for their stars for films, Kim Novak’s color was champage blonde, I am a classic movie fan, so I know these things.

  5. Actually she was called the lavender blonde. They often put a light lavender rinse on her hair to make her stand out from the other blondes of this time period. Lavender became her signature color via Columbia Studio and she hated the whole concept. They even had her answer fan mail using a purple ink pen.

  6. All this time I thought that dress she wore when draped across the sofa was black, turns out it is a beautiful maroon.

  7. Katherine Williams

    I really enjoyed reading your observations about the fashion in Bell, Book & Candle. I was born the year that movie came out so I”‘ve been watching it every Christmas. I really appreciate the fashion from the film now. It holds up very well. I especially love that reversible leopard cape. All the clothes look so chic. I wish I could dress like that because the clothes are amazing. I’ve purchased the DVD so even though it doesn’t play very much anymore on cable I can still watch it whenever I want. Thanks!

    • alisonkerr

      Thanks for your comment Katherine – might go and dig out my DVD to watch tomorrow in readiness for Christmas Day, and for style inspiration! I bought a dress this winter which could easily pass for one of Gil’s – and I think of the film every time I wear it.

  8. Amy

    Love, love, the Leopard cape, I said the same thing, timeless beauty. Where, oh where could I ever get one!

  9. Maria

    Kim Novak was known as “the lavender blonde.” The studio did add a slight mauve-ish tone to her hair to ash it out. In the very late fifties (and into the early sixties), ash tones were more high fashion than were more golden tones.

    Bell, Book and Candle has been my favorite movie for many, many years. I watch it each year at Christmas. I would love to have Gillian ‘ s wardrobe.

    • alisonkerr

      Thanks so much for your comment and insight, Maria. I too would love that wardrobe (and the apartment!) – she can keep the cat though!

  10. Jessica

    Well, ’tis the season, time for Bell Book and Candle again, yummy! I love the glamorous New York City buildings in this movie, want to move into Merle’s place… Does anyone know the exact address, Google search didn’t turn it up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s