Sunday, August 9, 2015

Dressing the Stars

Costume designer Edith Head (1897-1981) secured her legacy as Hollywood's best-known costume designer when she received the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science nomination for best Costume Design for the movie Airport '77.  Head worked on more than 1,100 films, received 35 Oscar nominations, and took home eight awards.

In 1923, she was hired by Paramount Studios as a sketch designer, some say using another's sketches. By1938, Head had become that studio's chief costume designer, a position she held until 1967, when she moved to Universal Pictures.

Her first Oscar nomination came in 1949, for the 1948 film The Emperor Waltz, starring Joan Fontaine and Bing Crosby.  Head's first Oscar win came in 1950 for her work in The Heiress, starring Olivia de Haviland.


Her trademark "sunglasses" were in fact not sunglasses, but blue lensed glasses.  Using such a lens was common practice during the days of black and white movies. This gave the costumer a sense of what the color would look like on-screen. Head took this one step further and had glasses made to save herself straining to see through just a single lens.

Her career was not without controversy.  For the film Sabrina (1955 winner), Givenchy designed many of the clothes worn by Audrey Hepburn, but was uncredited.  At that time, Givenchy worked for Edith Head. When the Oscar-winning costume designer was announced, Edith Head accepted the statue without mentioning Givenchy's work.  Hepburn was appalled by the snub to her friend, and vowed she would not allow that to happen again. In 1961, Givenchy designed a Little Black Dress for the opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany's. His original version showed most of Hepburn's leg, and the studio vetoed the dress.  Edith Head, still head designer, reworked the skirt and filled it with horsehair and lead weights to make it fall the way she wanted.  In this case, however, Givenchy was credited with the design and Head as "costume supervisor."

pictures via

In addition to The Heiress, Edith Head won Academy Awards for the following films:
All About Eve 

Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, George Sanders
photo via

Samson and Delilah 

Hedy Lamar

A Place in the Sun

Elizabeth Taylor

Roman Holiday
photo by Paramount Pictures

picture via


(some sources say this dress is a Givenchy design)

The Facts of Life

sketch for Lucille Ball,
The Facts of Life

The Sting


 Many classic films list as Edith Head as Costume Designer:  Rear Window, Vertigo, The Birds, To Catch a Thief,  Sweet Charity, Notorious, Rooster CogburnButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and White Christmas.  She is credited as the designer who put Dorothy Lamour in a sarong.

Below are a few of Head's costumes from the above mentioned films.



 Dorothy Lamour in The Hurricane, 1937
Silver Screen Collection

Grace Kelly - To Catch a Thief

 Katherine Hepburn in Rooster Cogburn

Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in Notorious
photo from Archive Photos/Getty Images 

Kim Novak in Vertigo

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas


 Tippi Hedren in the The Birds

Shirley McClaine in Sweet Charity

Grace Kelly in Rear Window

Upon winning her last Oscar for The Sting, her acceptance speech was brief: "Just imagine dressing the two handsomest men in the world and getting this.  I simply couldn't be more happy or more grateful."

Once asked who was her personal favorite actress to dress, she replied, "Grace Kelly.  She is a charming lady, a most gifted actress, and, to me, a valued friend."

Despite all her accolades and Oscars, the project of which she was most proud occurred in the late 1970s, when she designed a woman's uniform for the U. S. Coast Guard. The growing number of women in the military resulted in a need for suitable uniforms.  For this, Head received the Meritorious Public Service Award.

picture from

Here are some lovely patterns designed by Edith Head offered by members of the Pattern Patter Team on

Advance 8048 from  SelvedgeShop
Advance 8049 from FloradoraPresents
Advance 9296 from ErikawithaK
Prominent Designer A895 SoVintageOnEtsy

Vogue 1560 from allthepreciousthings
Vogue2040 from GreyDogVintage
Vogue 2041 from mbchills
Vogue 2220 from CloesCloset

by kinseysue on etsy



  1. Thanks for a great article about one of the best!

  2. Lots of really neat information, Thanks for posting!

  3. Always informative, such a great career this talented designer had.
    Thank you for sharing Edith Head's achievements.

  4. She is credited with this quote:
    ..."your dresses should be tight enough to show you're a woman and loose enough to show
    your a lady......."

    "THE STING"---My all time favorite movie. Newman and Redford didn't need much help but yes...she made them look drop dead gorgeous in those Roaring 20s suits.

    Wonderful write up about this fabulous designer. And how lucky we are some of her classic patterns are still available.

    1. No, Redford & Newman didn't need any help looking good! Imagine draping your tape measure around them...for two movies.

  5. Love Edith Head! I have her autobiography on my nightstand at the moment...

  6. I do believe that really IS a Givenchy dress in Sabrina, BTW, even though Head got the costume credit.

  7. Great information! I have a few Edith Head patterns that I bought for resale, but now I can't bring myself to part with them~