Grace Kelly’s Fashion Style and Influence on Contemporary Fashion
Grace Kelly was an actress known for her extensive work in film and stage during the 1950s. Kelly starred in many films and portrayed iconic characters including Lisa Carol Fremont in “Rear Window”, Frances Stevens in “To Catch a Thief”, and Princess Alexandra in “The Swan”. She was born on November 12, 1929 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although Kelly was born to a family of athletes, she showed interest in acting at a young age and joined several plays and presentation in school and the community, and signed up for small modeling projects. Later on, Kelly attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and continued modeling. While studying, she was featured in several advertisements and magazines.
At the age of 19, Kelly graduated from the Academy. She immediately pursued a career on Broadway but her performance was not well received. An agent discovered Kelly and she were cast in Fourteen Hours at the age of 22. From then on, Kelly was cast in many Hollywood films including Mogambo, Dial M For Murder, and The Country Girl, which earned her an Academy Award. Due to her influence, Kelly was selected to join the United States Delegation Committee at the Cannes Film Festival where she met her soon to be husband, Prince Rainer III of Monaco. Kelly left Hollywood after getting married. Prince Rainier III and Kelly had three children - Prince Caroline, Prince Albert, and Princess Stephanie. Kelly died at the age of 52 after having a stroke while driving.
Although Kelly is mainly known as one of Hollywood’s most revered actors and the Princess of Monaco, she is also admired because of her fashion style. During her time, Kelly had been included in Best Dressed lists and she received awards from Neiman Marcus because of her notable and inspiring fashion sense. Kelly is considered a fashion icon until today. Kelly’s style could be described aptly as timeless and simple but elegant. Kelly always wore carefully put-together ensembles that are minimalistic but stylish and clean. Kelly can wear casual to formal clothing without going overboard. She dressed appropriately and maintained structure and control over her fashion choices. Paramount’s chief costume designer described Kelly as someone who knows how to wear clothes (Haugland, 953).
Kelly signature style was known to wear pearl and diamond jewelry, silk scarves, clothing made from khaki, and structured yet soft and clean ensembles, including full-skirted dresses. “Grace’s day dresses have fitted bodices and skirts blossoming from the waist – a very clever fusion of the ballerina’s tutu with the American shirtwaist, and a shape that allowed her to move freely” (Jacobs). In terms of color, Kelly’s clothing palette is described as the Apollonian palette, which includes bright colors such as buttercup yellow, cerulean blue, pink, and coral (Jacobs). Her style is inimitable and her own, which is why her style is attributed to her personality. Due to Kelly’s venerable sense of style, she has greatly influenced women’s fashion throughout the years. Kelly’s influence on contemporary fashion will be analyzed in the succeeding discussion.
Kelly’s signature style includes white gloves (See Appendix A). According to Haugland (953), the white gloves symbolize Kelly’s “proper upbringing”, which also adds a touch of elegance in her simplistic outfit. Many actresses, celebrities, and public figures followed suit including Sarah Jessica Parker, Lady Gaga, and the Crown Princess Mary of Denmark. (See Appendix B)
Kelly was initially wore pearl necklace and earrings or small diamond jewelry, which matched her signature “simple but elegant” style (Appendix C). However, when Prince Rainier III gave Kelly an emerald Cartier ring for their engagement, she became accustomed to jewelry from luxury brands such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. (See Appendix D) Today, many actresses wear Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, especially on the red carpet, including Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Demi Moore, and Julia Roberts. (See Appendix E)
Kelly has also been praised for her unpretentious beauty. She always wore minimal make-up and simple hairstyles like the chignon (See Appendix F). Like Kelly’s jewelry, the chignon has also become a common hairstyle among Hollywood actresses especially during red carpet events. (See Appendix G)
The characters that Kelly played also define the “Grace Kelly look.” In her films, Kelly wore modish ensembles that also represented her personal style. In Rear Window, for instance, Kelly played Lisa Carol Fremont, a wealthy socialite who often attended social gatherings or festivities. As her role required, Kelly wore stylish garb that were clean cut and put together (See Appendix H). Recently, fashion designers including Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren, and Vera Wang, among others recreated Kelly’s iconic dresses in film for charity auction (Today). Using Kelly’s fashion as inspiration for the designs illustrates the attention Kelly receives even until today. Several people in the fashion industry attested to Kelly’s influence including costume designer Janie Bryant who is inspired by Kelly’s simple, classic, and dramatic look, and fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger who made Kelly his muse in designing for his women’s wear (Jacobs).
According to Lennard and Ewteer (76), Kelly’s wedding dress was inspired by the dress she wore in the film “High Society”. MGM’s head costume designer, Helen Rose, created Kelly’s wedding dress based on her costume in the film because Rose knew that it resembled Kelly’s personal fashion sense. “Grace Kelly wanted the dress to be traditional, with long sleeves and a high neckline” (Lennard & Ewer, 76). According to Rose, the dress suited Kelly’s fashion sense – classic and simple, which also defines the “Grace Kelly Look” (PMA press release, Jan 13, 2006).
Kelly’s influence is palpable throughout the history of fashion. In 1958, Hermes, a French luxury brand of apparel and accessories (Hermes), renamed one of its bags after Kelly. Kelly wore the bag many times in several outings, especially during her engagement with Prince Rainier III (Williamson & Davis, 137). (See Appendix I) Hermes makes the Kelly bag from crocodile skin and designs it with patented strap and hardware. The Kelly bag is a fashion statement in itself, which reflects Kelly’s graceful, feminine, sophisticated yet understated personality and style. Many Hollywood actresses, celebrities, and socialites could be seen today wearing the Hermes Kelly bag including Victoria Beckham, Beyonce Knowles. (See Appendix J)
The “Grace Kelly look” has been a standard and inspiration for women’s fashion. Furthermore, her fashion style has influenced other notable women in history. Diana, the Princess of Wales, for instance, also wore understated yet elegant ensembles. At times, Princess Diana’s outfit resembled Kelly’s style. At the 1987 Cannes Film Festival, Princess Diana wore a striking sky blue dressed that resembled Kelly’s dress in her 1955 film “To Catch a Thief”. (See Appendix K) The film is universally known to be the most stylish film in the history of cinema. Edith Head designed the costumes worn by Kelly. Staying true to her simply style, Kelly did not wear any jewelry in the film, even when she wore the elegant sky-blue dress. Princess Diana’s dress was made from similar material and color as that of Kelly’s dress in the film. Moreover, both dresses were strapless bodice with draped and tucked silk, which epitomized the image of a Greek goddess.
Famous and influential women today continue to adopt the “Grace Kelly look.” Kelly’s wedding dress, for instance, has inspired the wedding dresses made for businesswoman and heiress Ivanka Trump, actress Nicole Richie, and the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton. Kelly’s wedding dress is an epitome of elegance matched with exquisite detailing. Helen Rose designed the dress using “450 yards of material – 25 of peau de soie, 25 of taffeta, 100 of silk net and 300 of lace” (Life, 66). Rose used petticoats to structure the shape of the dress and designed it with a ten-foot train. The dress was created meticulously and was embroidered with small pearls. The extraordinary features of Kelly’s dress include the long sleeves made of lace, the reasonably long and graceful train, the high neckline, waist-cinching bodice, and a voluminous full-skirted silhouette. (See Appendix L) Overall, Kelly’s wedding dress was understated without over the top adornments, but was also elegant because of the materials used, especially the lace, the form-revealing bodice, and the pearl detailing on the skirt.
Trump, Richie, and Middleton’s wedding gowns had unique features that differentiate them from one another. However, their dresses were all inspired by Kelly’s wedding dress. Trump worked with fashion designer Vera Wang on her wedding dress. The look of Trump’s dress is similar to that of Kelly’s wedding dress essentially, exuding class and elegance. The main difference is that Trump’s wedding dress had a thinner layer of lace, which was more revealing that Kelly’s dress, a shorter train, and an lower, open neckline. (See Appendix M) In addition, the bodice of Trump’s dress was layered with lace, unlike Kelly’s dress, which was embroidered with pearl. In comparison, Trump’s dress looked more youthful but still embodied the essence of Kelly’s dress. Similarly, Richie also channeled Kelly’s wedding style. Marchesa created Richie’s dress with the similar long sleeve made of lace, cinched waist, and full skirt. The main difference, however, is that Richie’s dress has a rounded neckline and the full skirt was made of chiffon materials. The lace used in Richie’s dress also looked rougher than Kelly’s finer and soft-looking lace dress. (See Appendix N)
Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding was one of the most talked about events in 2012. Most people loved Middleton’s wedding dress, which is also reminiscent of Kelly’s wedding dress. Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen created Middleton’s wedding dress. In comparison with Trump and Richie’s wedding dresses, Middleton’s wedding dress was closest to resembling Kelly’s dress. Trump and Richie’s dress emulated their personal styles while following the structure of Kelly’s dress. Middleton’s wedding dress, on the other hand, fully captured the simple yet elegant look of Kelly’s wedding dress. Middleton’s wedding dress had long sleeves made of lace, a form-fitting waist that flowed to a full skirt with a short train. Middleton’s wedding dress had a shorter train than Kelly’s and a V-neckline but their tiara and veils had similar designs. (See Appendix O)
Carlota Casiraghi is Kelly’s niece, a model who was commissioned for the Gucci “Forever Now” campaign. (See Appendix P) In the campaign, Casiraghi models a floral scarf in the image. The scarf was inspired by Kelly as it resembles the one that Rodolfo Gucci gave the actress in 1966. The scarf was named “the flora” which symbolizes Kelly’s style. With the flora, Gucci aims to help women achieve Kelly’s simple yet elegant look. Kelly’s style inspired the print. Due to the flora’s timeless elegance, Gucci used the pattern to create a flora line of bags, shoes, and women’s clothing in 2002.
Kelly’s influence in contemporary fashion is also palpable on the upcoming generation’s sense of style. Moreover, Kelly not only influenced other actresses and celebrities but also fashion for regular people. According to Haugland, “The stylish image of Grace Kelly was everywhere including department store windows” (Jacobs). Even female fashion bloggers recreate Kelly’s looks and sometimes add a contemporary style touch to create a fashion statement. (See Appendix Q) Kelly’s influence continues because people today are usually exposed to her style. The Grace Kelly look has inspired many magazine spreads, which are people’s regular source of information about fashion. (See Appendix R)
Overall, Kelly has clearly influenced contemporary fashion for women. During the early 1950s, Kelly’s work on films and endorsements elevated her popularity. She became famous because she worked in the media and everyone knew her. Furthermore, the films helped reinforce her image and persona. For Kelly’s character in the movie, Hitchcock instructed the costume designer of Paramount, Edith Head, to use the costumes of Kelly’s character to create the right setting and atmosphere in the movie. Hitchcock specifically wanted to Kelly to wear appropriate clothing to her character’s social stature (Haugland, 953). According to Head, “There was a reason for every color, every style, and he [Hitchcock] was absolutely certain about everything he settled on.” Similarly, Kelly’s character in the movie dressed as she would in real life. For this reason, Kelly’s work in film helped establish her as a fashion icon. Moreover, media exposure extended Kelly’s influence in fashion. Her high profile relationship with Prince Rainier III of Monaco made her even more famous. The Prince and Kelly’s life was all over the media and she was featured in many news outlets. Thus, people knew where she went, who she was with, and what she wore. Because she was a Princess, everyone wanted to imitate her so people also follow her sense of style. Her life inspired people around the world and illustrated “the American dream of possibility and wealth. The headlines proclaimed that even a little girl from Philadelphia could become a princess” (Ingraham, 61). Kelly’s influence on contemporary fashion is a result of her timeless sense of style, image or reputation, and status in society. Today, Kelly’s life is commemorated in a biopic being filmed about her. Nicole Kidman plays Kelly in the film. Narrating Kelly’s life in the film could have sufficed but due to Kelly’s influence in fashion, the film crew endeavors to duplicate the actress’ signature wardrobe. On set, Kidman is seen wearing clothing identifiable as depiction of Kelly’s sense of style. (See Appendix S)
Studying Kelly’s influence on contemporary fashion shed light on what makes a fashion statement influential and resonate among women and throughout the fashion industry in the modern world. Moreover, Kelly’s influence also illustrates the important role that media plays in establishing a fashion statement and in contributing to the standard that determines what factors e elements make these statements fashionable. Kelly dreamed to be an actress and she accomplished her dream by studying acting as well as gaining experience through modeling. Her experience in modeling might have contributed to her impeccable taste in clothing and accessories. When Kelly started making films, her characters inspired her sense of style, and similarly, Kelly sense of style was conveyed in the characters she played. The consistency of her guise and persona in film and in real life helped establish her image, reputation, and identity, as well as her physical presence. Kelly consistently wore clean and scrubbed ensembles that were simple yet elegant. In addition, Kelly used little make up and wore clothing and accessories that displayed her fashion statement (e.g. white gloves, pearl necklace and earrings, small diamond earrings, scarves and shades, simple leather bag, etc.).
When Kelly was engaged to Prince Rainier III, the public’s attention on her escalated. The media took photos and videos of Kelly wherever she went so everyone saw what she wore, especially in major events and functions. The kind and level of exposure in the media also helped establish Kelly as a fashion icon. Of course, it helped that Kelly had a good sense of style worth emulating. For this reason, women like Trump, Richie, and Middleton were inspired by Kelly’s fashion or the “Grace Kelly look”. The simplicity and elegance of Kelly’s style inspire contemporary fashion because hers is timeless and could be worn by women of all shapes and sizes. Overall, the history of fashion, as illustrated by Kelly’s influence on contemporary fashion, is shaped by the fashion statements popularized by notable and influential women in history. Furthermore, the history of fashion proves that timeless style that exudes simplicity and elegance is adoptable throughout the years.
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