Wednesday, October 30, 2013

5 Lessons from Edith Head

On Monday, Edith Head won the Internet after she was honored with an incredible Google doodle. I've long been a fan of Ms. Head and reading about her work and her eight Oscars this week really showed me what an incredible woman she is.There's something about an Edith Head costume that's distinct even though I can't quite put my finger on it.

Edith, you see, was the queen of fake it til you make it. She didn't really have a background in fashion but she used some sketches from the students she taught plus her own to land her first job at the studio. To quote Tim Gunn, she made it work. So much so she did more than 400 movies. Four hundred, guys. Even in a career that lasted more than half a century, that's still a ton of movies. She worked with the biggest stars on some of the biggest movies--Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, Bette Davis in All About Eve, all the gorgeous on Grace Kelly in Rear Window--the list is endless. Edith was a lady with balls who worked until the end, and that's really admirable.

So I thought to honor Edith, I would take a look at the lessons we can learn from her, both in her own words and in the magic of her costumes.

Edith working on a costume for Grace Kelly, 1955 via Life Magazine archives

"A dress should be tight enough to show you're a woman and loose enough to prove you're a lady." So right, Edith. I thin this is definitely a rule you can see her using in the eveningwear designs for her movies. Lovely fitted bodices with a hint of shoulder and lots of skirt.

"There's no such thing as a standard size movie star, or woman for that matter." This is a big one, and one that's hard to remember, especially when you're watching old movies (or newer ones, obviously) and everyone is tiny and graceful. But the truth is, we all come in our own shapes and we just have to love what we have.

Even the most beautiful legs - Marlene Dietrich's, for instance - look better when the kneecap is covered." I've worn many a miniskirt in my day, but I do think there's something very elegant and put together about a skirt, especially a pencil skirt, that ends just below the knee. It really accentuates calves in a way that's sort of accidentally sexy.

"Don't be afraid to wear a becoming costume many, many times. It's an old fashioned idea that you must have a new dress for every occasion or party. Even if you have the money to do so, it isn't necessary. The modern approach is to change accessories": Yup, accessories really do make the outfit!

Grace is so carefree, with her chiffon scarf trailing behind her

Chiffon. Not a quote from Edith Head, but she made a lot of beautiful, airy evening dresses for films using chiffon. It's gorgeous. And even for the dressed down scenes, she'd throw a chiffon scarf around a starlet's neck, like Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief.


  1. totally agree with the knee length (or a little longer) skirt lesson. i wore a skirt this length to the 1940s brunch and i felt so effortlessly sexy in it!

    cool post!

  2. Great post--I admire Edith Head's designs and totally agree as well with the kneecap comment. My own kneecaps tend to look very bumpy in photos and look better covered up with the right length skirt or tights.

    1. Bumpy? Don't be silly! But I definitely love that length. I'm trying to phase out my shorter pencil skirts.


Thanks so much for your comments!