The Ninotchka Hat Blog

Jennifer Jones as Dior-clad adulteress in “Indiscretion of an American Wife”
May 14, 2010, 4:23 am
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The film is also known as “Terminal Station” in its expanded cut.

Jones is an elegantly attired, conservative housewife from Philadelphia in Rome to visit her sister. Monty Clift is Jones’ wounded, caustic but passionate lover, a half-Italian half-American university professor. The whole film takes place within the space of two hours. Each of the characters therefore only has one costume.

Few films have the protagonists wearing the same outfit for the entire duration of the film. Such films either throw characters into some sort of harrowing adventure or else take place over a short period of time. “Indiscretion” belongs to the latter. The use of a single costume means that character needs to inhabit it completely

Jennifer Jones wear a double breasted light coloured Dior suit, a pair of dark pumps, a fur tippet (probably mink), and a fur trimmed velvet skullcap done up with a turban-like swirl.

The hat itself is interesting. Montgomery Clift’s character, Giovanni, tells Jones’ character Mary: “Take off that hat. It’s a smug hat.” He then grabs it and takes it off himself. It is rather a smug hat. It’s small, silly, impractical, elegant and just a bit matronly. It’s not a young girl’s hat. Audrey Hepburn wouldn’t be wearing such a hat in the 50s. Hats have traditionally indicated more about the wearer’s class than any other garment. The hat, conservative and trimmed with mink, really places Mary as an upper-middle class housewife. The more bohemian Giovanni finds it repellant, because it represents Mary’s life back home, and her staid, but kindly husband. Gionvanni resents Mary for her bourgeois values. Costume is not only character but plot. Giovanni’s sensibilities seem to mesh more with those of De Sica, the director, a pre-eminent neo-realist whose essential sympathies lay with the common people, the sort of people Jones’ character unconsciously patronizes in this film.

Mary’s suit is also conservative. It’s not only double breasted but has an a-line skirt and even a tucker or blouse at the neckline. In films of this period, loose women almost always look straight-laced. Look at Farley Granger’s trampish wife in “Strangers on a Train”: Nothing is too tight, or too short, and there are no felshy bits popping out. Nowadays, trashy or scant clothing is a cinematic shorthand for “tramp”. In times past, there was the Production Code. There was no being inequivocably unvirtuous on screen.

Again, the outfit seems a bit matronly. Fitted double-breasted jackets tend to make women look more bosomy. Her hair is cropped short, as was the fashion at the time among “women” as opposed to “girls” who typically wore their hair longer. She’s wearing gloves. She looks demure but you certainly know there’s a wantonness there. Jennifer Jones was never relaxed on screen. There’s a nervous, edgy, fidgety quality about her that never allowed her to play truly confident or masterly women. Here her fidgeting is propelled by a deeply harboured sensuality with Monty Clift drawing those emotions out of her like some sort of sexual magnet — and she has no idea how to deal with it. Their chemistry is quite electric. The film itself suffers from an anemic script but I found Clift and Jones themselves worth the price of admission


Audrey goes mod and sleek in “Charade” (1963)
May 8, 2010, 6:28 am
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Audrey Hepburn had a figure that was made for the 60s, with her ballet dancer’s posture, shapely legs, flat bosom, and willowy but still feminine figure (reportedly measuring 34-20-34). “Charade” was released in 1963, among the last of the wave of fantastic films that graced Hollywood in the early 1960s. It isn’t sophisticated. It certainly doesn’t have the dark, modern, bittersweet depth of a film like “The Apartment” (1960) or the fashionable earthiness of a film like “Hud” (1963). It’s a solid, old-fashioned comic thriller. Maurice Binder’s then hip, opening sequence looks quaint and dated now but the film still delivers in terms of giggles, suspense, and sheer delight.

Throughout her early career, Hepburn was always dressed by designer Hubert de Givenchy, who would eventually become a dear friend. Givenchy began designing clothes for Hepburn starting in Sabrina (1955), her second film in Hollywood after Roman Holiday (1954). In that particular film, though iconic Paramount designer Edith Head was responsible for creating Hepburn’s drab pre-transformation dresses, Givenchy was the one who designed the ultra-chic Paris fashions that Sabrina brings back with her to America. Their collaboration lasted through all of Hepburn’s major films in the 50s and 60s. It was not until “Two for the Road” (1968) that Hepburn’s less-than-chic, housewifey, and sometime half vulgar clothes were for the most part, off the rack.

Here Audrey is chic and sleek and ready for action. She’s even wearing kitten heels which she does in most of her films. Audrey apparantly was tallish (5’7″) but she had large feet (size 10. See there’s hope for me yet). There are so many adorable 60s touches in this outfit

I’m just thinking about how fashion forward this hat looks. It’s part space helmet, part Jackie-O pillbox — somewhere between Camelot and Mary Quant. The detailing on it is fantastic. That kind of use of white in fall-winter fashion wouldn’t have been done in the 50s.

The suit is a very classic late 1950s/ early 1960s shape with the pencil skirt and the short, flowing jacket. In the 40s and early 50s, ladies’ suits tended to be nipped in at the waist, and they again became nipped in in the late 60s-early 1970s. Suit jackets tended to follow the general line of women’s outerwear. Women’s coats and jackets of this period often were not nipped in at the waist.

Again 60s touches. The buttons on her jacket fashionably are large and I suspect they may be ornamental since I believe there are around 8 of them. They are not self fabric buttons and appear instead to be velvet. The sleeves are three-quarter. Three-quarter sleeves look lonely without gloves, or bracelet — or something. They need accessorizing. They really do emphasize the daintiness of the wrist and the gracefulness on the arm. One imagines one of those old-time decorous ladies with a cigarette holder poised between her index and middle fingers. One note about the handbag. Modern handbags and usually worn with the strap over the shoulder or clasped in someone’s hand but Audrey carries hers on her forearm, again because the sleeves don’t get in the way.

Clothes are used here the way they were often used in films at the time, to give the film and sense of glamour. In the older studio days, people like Gilbert Adrian and Edith Head were paid big money to make it possible. Of course, the upwardly mobile Regina Lambert (Hepburn’s character) could conceivably spend her life in couture, but realism isn’t the priority. In only a few years films like this one would become quaintly old-fashioned, Cary Grant would retire for the screen, and the 60s, as we know them would begin in earnest