Style Icon: Katharine Hepburn

I remember the first time I glimpsed Katharine Hepburn's style. It was in an illustrated book of classic film costumes that I was given as a child, in which she was depicted in the white and gold embellished evening dress she wears in the 1940 film The Philadelphia Story. However it wasn't until fairly recently that I recognised her as the true style icon she was. Hepburn was something of a fashion revolutionary, famously insisting on wearing trousers to be on equal footing with her male counterparts, when actresses at the time were often highly sexualised. In 1951, when told in Claridge's Hotel that women were not permitted to wear trousers in the lobby, Hepburn simply chose to use the staff entrance instead, refusing to adhere to the patriarchal diktat of the 20th century.

Over the years Hepburn made so many stunning sartorial choices that it is hard to pick which ones to talk about. However, the oversized, wide-collared men's shirts teamed with blazers and high-waisted, belted trousers undeniably set the scene for female power dressing, with her classic shoulder pads coming back half a century later in the eighties. Then there was the turtleneck and beret combination, which, whilst sophisticated and feminine, still retained an androgynous edge, and the sporty tennis dresses teamed with plimsolls for a laid back, athletic look.

Even whilst wearing more glamorous evening wear in some of her movies, Katharine still remained boyishly cool. Tulle gowns, ruffles and polka dot prints looked relaxed and effortless on her slender, elegant frame, rather than overtly sexual and feminine as women's clothes often were back in the day. One of my all-time favourite photos of Hepburn shows her clowning around on set with Cary Grant, balancing on his shoulders. My favourite thing about this photo? The fact that she is doing this whilst wearing a long black dress and pearl necklace, confirming that her restrictive feminine attire was not going to stop her having fun.

When Hepburn passed away in 2003 aged 96, she left behind an amazing legacy from her roles as both an actress and as a style icon. During her fruitful film career she produced many hits including Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, The African Queen and Bringing Up Baby, all while epitomising the modern female during the 20th century. Rebellious, assertive and outspoken, Mary McNamara concluded in the star's  Los Angeles Times eulogy, 'More than a movie star, Katharine Hepburn was the patron saint of the independent American female.', a fitting description of a wonderful icon.


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