“You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it” was one of Edith Head’s famous quotes. And she certainly lived up to it. She started her career as a language teacher and ended up as the most famous Hollywood costume designer of all time.
Edith Claire Posener was born October 28, 1897 and received her Master’s degree in Romance Languages from Stanford. After teaching French at the Hollywood School for girls, she was offered a position to teach art as well. So she began taking night classes in drawing. Because she had no income in the summer months, she decided to anwer an ad for costume sketch artist at a movie studio that was later to become Paramount. Unfortunately she couldn’t draw human figures, so she used some classmates’ sketches, with their approval, to bluff her way into the job. Even though she misrepresented herself, she was still able to break into the film industry, working first with costume designer Howard Greer and eventually with designer Travis Banton. And when Banton left the studio in 1938, she became the first female head designer of a film studio.
She is responsible for the iconic looks of many of Hollywood’s most famous actresses, including Clara Bow, Mae West, Jean Harlow, Dorothy Lamour, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Ginger Rodgers. She won eight Academy Awards for costume design and still holds the title for the most Oscars won by any woman.
Edith, herself, had her own signature style. Her blunt bangs, dark glasses and neutral tailored suits created a distinctive understated image. Her trademark round framed “sunglasses” began as blue-lensed glasses that she used to see how colors would show up on the black and white screen.
Below is a photo of Dorothy Lamour in The Jungle Princess 1936. Edith Head designed the figure hugging sarong that started a tropical fashion trend for women.
She won two Oscars in 1951 for “Sampson and Delilah” and “All About Eve”
Edith Head also worked on many films for Alfred Hitchcock, dressing his “Hitchcock Blondes.”
Below is a photo of Grace Kelly wearing a blue chiffon Edith Head gown in a promo shot for To Catch a Thief in 1955. About the beautiful actress, she said, “I’ve dressed thousands of actors, actresses and animals, but whenever I am asked which star is my personal favorite, I answer, “Grace Kelly.” She is a charming lady, a most gifted actress and, to me, a valued friend.”
Edith Head is the one responsible for the fashion trend started by Audrey Hepburn’s cropped black pants in Sabrina (1954).
And thousands of teenage girls bought prom dresses inspired by Edith Head’s dress designed for Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun(1951) .
Edith Head’s creations graced the screen in over 400 films and many of her designs sparked major fashion trends. She was a master at capturing the essence of the character and placating even the most difficult actresses. In 1959 she published a book called “The Dress Doctor”, an autobiography and style guide. One of her most famous bits of advice, “Your dresses should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show you’re a lady.” Couldn’t agree more!
What are your favorite iconic looks designed by Edith Head?