This is arguably the most famous dress of the 1940s – and certainly the most iconic film noir frock -and it’s worn by the luminous Rita Hayworth in the 1946 noir melodrama Gilda which is currently enjoying a revival in British cinemas. However, it’s not the only gorgeous gown in the film: Rita gets through several wardrobes’ worth of Columbia Studios designer Jean Louis’s finest creations in the course of the movie, starting with the shimmering gown which her power-crazed husband has to help her in – and out – of.
For her second outing to her husband’s Buenos Aires casino, Gilda glides around in a Grecian-style gown – very now-looking, with its belt and matching cuff. And she carries her cigarettes in a teeny clutch bag..
The first time we see Gilda in daywear, she’s singing her signature song – Put the Blame on Mame. Her chic outfit is – like her (or rather singer Anita Ellis’s) performance of that bluesy and witty song – extremely simple yet effective. The plain, slightly toga-esque, dress is accessorised with a studded belt and a deep, gladiator-style cuff. As a fan of cuffs (if you have skinny wrists they’re a godsend), I recommend this film as a source of inspiration! They’re definitely a running theme.
For her wedding to Johnny, about two minutes after her husband has apparently died in a plane crash, Gilda sports a chic black satin skirt suit – just the right touch for a widow-turned-bride, n’est-ce pas?
For her visit to her new husband’s office (it used to be her old husband’s), Gilda smoulders in a pale-coloured satin column gown; fur coat draped casually over one shoulder or held in front of her. Indeed, she never puts it down – even though she walks about the office smoking a cigarette. Was Rita perhaps sporting a baby bump? The positioning of the coat over that part of her dress makes you wonder..
Returning to Buenos Aires to file for divorce, Gilda is very business-like in a pinstripe suit not dissimilar to (though not as sharp as) Rosalind Russell’s in His Girl Friday or Bette Davis’s in Now Voyager.
I don’t know that Gilda saves the best dress for last – but it’s certainly the one that is best remembered. Rita Hayworth was asked later what had held up the black satin column dress during the nightclub performance of Put the Blame on Mame – it comes dangerously close to slipping down as the song goes on. She replied: “Two things.” Here’s the number, followed by my preferred version of it (the day dress one) and the other song from the film, Amado Mio.