Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Night with Katharine Hepburn

On Wednesday night, I had the chance to learn about Katharine Hepburn. I'd known a little bit about the Spencer-Tracy affair, that she wore pants and was (is) the ultimate tomboy icon. I'd also seen recently African Queen, starring Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. But Jean Lawrence Druesedow came to the National Arts Club to present the research from her book Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic and I learned much, much more.

Ms. Druesedow is the director of the Kent State University Costume Museum in Ohio, which houses tons and tons of Katharine Hepburn's costumes. She gathered essays from contemporary fashion experts and combed through tons of Hepburn's papers to put together the book and the exhibit and it's really extraordinary. Because Katharine Hepburn didn't just make it okay for women to wear pants; she had a big hand in designing the costumes for her movies. She worked with costume designers, of course, but she had a lot to say about how the costumes were made because she knew they were really important when they came to advancing the story.

Hepburn was athletic, strong, opinionated, and according to some of the designers she worked with, kind of a pain in the ass. But she knew her stuff. Ms. Druesedow told a wonderful story about how a costume designer presented his ideas about how a costume would look and Hepburn was able to say no, it doesn't serve my character, nor will what you're proposing look good on the type of film we're using. For an actress to know what was happening with her project down to the film they were using is very, very cool. 

Nope, can't do that in a skirt
So the designers made her look elegant and shapely onscreen and onstage (not easy since she was a thin 5'7" with a 20-inch waist--"a string bean with a tiny waistline," Druesedow told me after her talk) and her grace was on display. But she wasn't nearly as dainty in her real life. She played tennis and swam every day. I believe it was Calvin Klein (wish I'd taken notes, damnit) that said there was no way she could've worn a skirt because her limbs were just everywhere. She had many of the same khaki slacks made by a number of different designers and loved turtlenecks, loafers and vests. She wore the same clothes for years and year and when her estate donated her wardrobe and costumes to Kent State, they were able to display 31 pairs of beige khakis that were all essentially the same. Ms. Druesedow also told an incredible story about Hepburn using her knowledge of military uniforms and what pilots wear when they fly (beau Howard Hughes taught her to fly; how exciting) to direct the making of the costumes for The Iron Petticoat. That is amazing. Pardon my French, but she was badass.

After the talk we all settled down with bags of popcorn and glasses of soda to watch Adam's Rib, the hilarious first Tracy-Spencer movie that pits them against each other as two lawyers on opposite sides of a high-profile case. The worked so well together and the movie was rather racy for the 40s. They could hardly keep their hands off each other but I guess anything goes when the characters are married? The movie was spot on, though, addressing questions that are still being asked today, like do men and women get judged equally when it comes to infidelity? Can both partners ever really be equals or does one person have to give in a little bit more? I managed to dig up a great trailer on YouTube. 

The invitation urged people to wear Hepburn-inspired fashions. I couldn't find the kind of pants I wanted, so I went with the Jantzen knit set I bought for my birthday two years ago. I figured wearing it with a button down rather than the tie-neck blouse I usually wear it with would make it more tailored, a little closer to Kate's style.
I'm wearing fishnets. I swear it looks better in real life.

Let me also just say the National Arts Club is incredibly beautiful and I couldn't get over the Tiffany's blue suede chairs. I will take 4, please.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this, I love Kat Hepburn. She was a ballsy lady and I aspire to be more like her. If you haven't already, check out the book "How to Hepburn." A funny guide to become a kickass lady.


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