Katherine Hepburn Movie style iconMarch 11, 2015
Katherine Hepburn wasn’t just another 1940s style icon, she was so much more than that. She made it right for a 1940s woman to wear trousers and gave high fashion a new look. After the austerity of the Second World War, a certain extravagance came about in 40s fashion, making up for the hardships of men and women everywhere, the rationing and the shortage of materials etc.
Katherine Hepburn – 40s style icon
A new look came into being and Katherine Hepburn was very much part of it, with tailored jackets that came in at the waist with peplums, longer length skirts and baggy high-waisted trousers. We can thank Hepburn for the popularity of the pants, for she had no time for dresses and only wore then when absolutely necessary on set.
Because there was plenty of emphasis on the hour-glass figure, even the looser romantic tea dresses could be a tad uncomfortable with garters, girdles and corsets beneath them keeping the feminine silhouette intact.
A new masculine aesthetic
Hepburn favoured a more masculine and androgynous aesthetic, due in large part for the need of comfort and movement, which Hepburn appreciated, especially when working on set. In fact her love of trousers was so evident that at one point RKO hid her trousers as part of a plan to get her back into dresses. Hepburn was having none of it and threatened to go on set naked if they weren’t returned. They were.
Sporty with a love of the outdoors
Hepburn was also fond of sports and played tennis often, therefore her clothes reflected her love of the outdoors and were always comfortable and loose. She favoured big, white shirts which were matched with high-waisted wide legged trousers. She always enjoyed dressing informally both on set and off and was credited with having popularized sportswear as day wear.
There was definitely an androgynous look to Hepburn’s style and a certain masculinity that hadn’t been seen before in the way women dressed, it allowed for comfort and was a look that was a million miles away from the corsets, and girdles of the hour-glass figure, allowing women to relax and breathe in their clothes.In fact Hepburn was heavily criticised for the way she dressed, once being referred to as “box office poison,” and her constant appearance in trousers was a source of concern. However when it was suggested she stop wearing them, her famous response was “Anytime I hear a man say he prefers a woman in a skirt, I say Try one, Try a skirt.”
As well as influencing the way women dressed, she also had a massive impact on ready to wear. Hepburn’s love of loose comfortable clothing along with smart open collared skirts and khaki pants was certainly influential in fashion terms.
Hepburn kept all her clothes, and often had copies of clothes she’d worn on set to keep for personal wear. Such was her love of clothes that she amassed a formidable collection by the time of her death and two years ago an exhibition of her clothes was shown at the New York Public Library.
Slim and tall
Hepburn had a slim waist, only 20 inches, and her height was an obvious advantage to wearing the long wide pants she favoured. Being tall is a distinct advantage of course, but if you are on the short side, your pants can be slightly narrower if you’re worried about being overwhelmed by them.
If you favour a Katherine Hepburn look then take advantage of vintage, where you’ll find enough inspiration to create a really authentic look that will set you apart. A good quality white shirt worn a little baggy, with high-waisted palazzo pants or trousers work well. One thing that Hepburn always achieved was that no matter how casual her ensemble was, she was always managed to look well-groomed and no matter how relaxed she may have looked, her hair was always carefully swept away from her face in that trademark loosely held bun on top of her head, with gentle tendrils of hair framing her face. Her make-up was immaculate, well applied and never too heavy.
Hair is forties heaven in the early years, with side partings, gently reaching the shoulders in subtle forties waves. If you want the casual, yet immaculately well-groomed look favoured by Katherine Hepburn, walk tall and hold your shoulders back and never look apologetic for the way you dress. You want a confident and devil-may-care attitude to match the clothes.