Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Hitchcockian chic
In my last year of university, I enrolled in a seminar, the subject of which was the work of esteemed film director Alfred Hitchcock. Sitting among self-proclaimed film buffs, all I had for reference was that famous profile sketch of the director, which filled the TV screen before each episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, and that infamous shower scene in that movie I would later learn was Psycho. While week after week, our instructor discussed poignant scenes from various Hitchcock films, uncovered the Macguffins, identified phallic symbols, and talked about plot, I had half an ear on the lecture, and instead was captivated by the radiance of the actors, whose ensembles jumped off the screen in their striking beauty and elegance. Not knowing much about Hitchcock, I assumed such great styling and costume design was simply a product of the times. Well, it so turns out that Hitchcock not only had a talent for suspense. He also had a flair for style.
Most, if not all of Hitchcock’s films testify to his keen fascination with style, and his body of work has left an indelible mark on fashion, so much so that iconic scenes from his films have been recreated time and time again in editorial spreads, while countless glossies have featured style advice on how to dress à la classic couture of Hitchcock films. But none of his pictures do his eye for sartorial elegance justice like Rear Window. In Rear Window, Grace Kelly glides across the screen in impeccably combed hair, a perfectly waist-defining pleated chiffon skirt, and an exquisite set of pearls adorning her porcelain neck, while James Stewart- and we- look on in awe. This scene is just one of the few enduring and most memorable sartorial moments brought to the screen by a film director whose acute sensitivity to style and discriminating taste have significantly influenced fashion.
In a Literature Film Quarterly article entitled, “Fashion Dreams: Hitchcock, Women, and Lisa Fremont”, author James Fawell states that Hitchcock spent just as much time planning hair and costumes as he would scenes and camera angles, since he considered them integral to the overall visual theme. Fawell adds that Hitchcock made fashion, like set design, an important part of the overall design of his films. And what’s more, the reason why the fashion of these films still resonates with us today is that Hitchcock was careful never to incorporate fads, which would have dated his films. During a panel discussion with actresses Janet Leigh, Tippi Hedren, Karen Black, Suzanne Pleshette, and Eva Marie Saint, transcribed by author Greg Garrett for a Literature Film Quarterly article entitled, “Hitchcock’s Women on Hitchcock”, Eva Marie Saint, who starred in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, is quoted as saying:
“ I remember one scene, everyone was wearing those shift dresses without a waistline and without a belt. All the extras came dressed that way, and he sent them all home. Why? Because that particular fashion was an ‘in’ fashion and it would date the film.”
Saint continues, “So if you look at something like North by Northwest, those dresses could be worn today.”
In “Fashion Dreams: Hitchcock, Women, and Lisa Fremont”, Fawell explains that like few directors of his time, Hitchcock understood how to exhibit his actresses’ style on screen, and did not glamorize them for glamour’s sake, but rather choose distinct ensembles, which serve an integral part in the overall visual scheme and drove the plot forward. The author recounts how Hitchcock’s costume designer, the late Edith Head recalled, as told to biographer Donald Spoto, that for Vertigo, Hitchcock wanted Kim Novak to wear a grey suit with her hair dyed blond to “look as if she just stepped out of the San Francisco fog- a woman of mystery and illusion.”
The Hitchcock seminar now far behind me, I’ve since schooled myself on the father of suspense thrillers, and have not only enjoyed the dénouement of Hitchcock classics like Rear Window, Vertigo, and Shadow of a Doubt, but also relished the timeless chic which swept across the screen in each film.
Which film(s) do you believe have influenced fashion?
Images via hitchcockwiki.com