Edith Head: Style Icons
A word of advice from fashion icon and costumier to the stars: “You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.”
Nowadays, many people outside of Hollywood may not recognize the name Edith Head, but forty years ago that was a different story. Born in 1897, Edith Head was an American costume designer who worked first for Paramount Pictures and then later Universal Studios in a career that spanned 58 years. Her first film was the silent flick The Wanderer in 1925 and her last was Steve Martin’s Dead Men Dead War Plaid, which came out the year after her death in 1982. Over her career she was much celebrated, in fact, nominated for 35 Academy Awards, Ms. Head remains the most nominated women in Academy history and she is close to the record for most wins by a woman with 8 awards.
Ms. Head worked on countless films (really too many to list in entirety here) with some of the biggest stars and directors of the times. Alfred Hitchcock and Nelson DeMille are two directors she worked with, while Mae West, Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Doris Day, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren are just some of the well known leading ladies she dressed. Some of the films she worked on included: Roman Holiday, Sabrina, The Ten Commandments, Funny Face, A Place in the Sun, All About Eve, To Catch a Thief, and The Sting.
There are two things that stand out about her career (among many others). Firstly, was the way in which she worked with actresses to design their wardrobes. She often consulted with the stars she was dressing to create their looks, which was in stark contrast to many of her male contemporaries in the consume world.
The other significant aspect of her career was exactly how influential she was in determining the fashions of the moment. She became one of the authorities on what was in style and how to wear it. She had advice columns in newspapers and magazines across the US and even produced two books–The Dress Doctor and How to Dress for Success. She was know for her zippy and to the point one-liners, including:
“You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.”
“Your dresses should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show you’re a lady.”
“The cardinal sin is not being badly dressed, but wearing the right thing in the wrong place.”
Her career was not without controversy though. Probably the biggest was the claim that she took credit for the Academy Award she won for the film Sabrina, when some felt it was not deserved. It was considered that she won based on the Parisian costumes, which were actually designed by Givenchy and chosen by Audrey Hepburn.
Some of the looks Edith Head is best remembered for include:
The dress worn by Bette Davis in All About Eve. Seen here as a sketch by Edith Head.
Here is one of the designs by Givenchy from the film Sabrina. Some have taken issue with Edith Head winning the Oscar for this film based on the designs from Givenchy.
You can see Audrey Hepburn wearing the dress in a film clip from Sabrina below.
This is a sketch by Edith Head of a dress worn by Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
Here is a picture of Edith Head herself who, in addition to dictating what was in and dressing stars, was actually a style icon herself. Most notably for her her jet black hair, which was styled in a dutch boy, her round glasses and tailored suits.
By Jen Wallace