Audrey Hepburn’s on screen wardrobe

Collage of three photos of Audrey Hepburn wearing her infamous little black dress, one from the side, one portrait and one full length from the front.
Collage of three photos of Audrey Hepburn wearing her infamous little black dress, one from the side, one portrait and one full length from the front.

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Audrey Hepburn has long been a favourite actress of mine; my love of vintage film paired with my adoration of fashion and costume in film makes Hepburn, one of Hollywood’s most glamorous starlets an obvious icon.

Not only a pretty face Hepburn was a humanitarian and an appointed Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for were work with UNNICEF and posthumously awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitatian Award.

Hepburn is an inspiration for many reasons, but she is remembered by most as an icon of classic film, alongside greats such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. Her striking appearance meant that she was adored by designers and in her film career she wore some stunning costume.

Her most infamous piece is by far the original ‘little black dress’ she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s as Holly Golightly. The floor length Italian satin sheath gown was designed by Hubert de Givenchy who worked with Hepburn on several films. The dress is gathered at the waist and includes a cut out detail back, interestingly the dress was originally designed shorter but was considered to show too much leg and was the lower half was redesigned by costume designer Edith Head.

Although the dress is undeniably iconic and has been reproduced and reimagined a hundred times over, the accessories are arguably just as infamous. The dress was paired with extravagant jewellery, a glittering tiara and several heavy strings of pearls worn around the neck. Hepburn also wore a long pair of black gloves in which she held an oversized cigarette holder.

The ‘little black dress’ was sold at auction in 2006 for £467,200, several times its estimate. This was the highest price ever paid for a dress in film until Marilyn Monroe’s infamous Seven Year Itch ‘subway dress’ was sold for over $4 million.

I couldn’t discuss Hepburn Hepburn’s on screen wardrobe without mentioning her costume in Funny Face. Hepburn portrays ‘Jo’, a shy book shop clerk, whisked along by fashion editor Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) as an amateur model.

Again Hepburn gowns were custom designed by Givenchy, she is quoted as saying “His [Givenchy] are the only clothes in which I am myself”. Givenchy designed several exquisite gowns for the film but two of my favourites are the strapless red chiffon gown that Hepburn wears running down the steps of the Louvre and the beautiful 1950s wedding dress with a boat neckline and huge ballerina skirt. Hepburn wears the wedding dress in a lovely scene with Fred Astaire, where the pair sing He loves and she loves.

Audrey Hepburn strikes a dramatic jumping pose wearing an all black outfit

Image via

Arguably less impressive but probably more Hepburn’s style is the black outfit she wears as Jo, visiting French jazz bars. A simple black turtle neck paired with cropped black trousers have never looked so chic. They perfectly define Hepburn’s sleek gamine figure.

A look at Edith Head: costume designer

Two sketches of dresses sit either sides a black and white portrait of Edith Head
A black and white portrait of Edith Head holding two dressmakers dummies

Edith holding two dressmakers dummies. Image via

You may not know the name but you will undoubtedly have seen her work before. Edith Head was an American costume designer who worked from 1924 when she was hired as a costume sketch artist by Paramount Pictures, until her death in 1981. She is also the woman who inspired Pixar’s The Incredibles character, Edna Mode.

When Head was hired by Paramount Pictures she had no art, design or costume design experience. She was only hired because she had borrowed sketches from art school classmates which impressed the head designer so much Head was hired on the spot.

Over her long career she amounted eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design from 35 nominations, a feat which no one else has matched. It is important to note that the first Academy Award for Best Costume Design wasn’t given until 1948, already well into Head’s career and that her eight awards are the most Oscars ever won by one woman.

Head designed for numerous actresses on over 1000 productions, creating gowns for all of Hollywood’s golden girls. Some of the most notable are; Veronica Lake, Ginger Rogers, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Tippi Hedren and Katharine Hepburn.

Perhaps the most outstanding work from Head are her designs in collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock. Head designed for 11 of the directors films in her later career including The Birds (1963). Head designed Tippi Hedren’s pale green skirt suit which has become an icon of the film and style of the time.

A sketch of Audrey Hepburn in an extravagant white dress

Head’s sketch of Audrey Hepburn for Roman Holiday. image via

10 years earlier, Head was also costume designer for Roman Holiday (1953), Audrey Hepburn’s breakthrough film. In the film Hepburn plays a princess tired of her boring and restricted life, she escapes her guardians and falls for an American newsman in Rome.

In the below film, Edith Head answers the question “How do you go about changing actresses appearances with their wardrobe?” by discussing the work she had done on Roman Holiday with Hepburn. Her first costume is a ‘casual, informal’ which she wears while pretending she is not a princess. Head then describes her transformation to a princess in a regal dress, of ‘real lace’ as head called ‘transformation through wardrobe’.


Although Head actually won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in Sabrina (1954), Audrey Hepburn’s costumes were actually designed by Givenchy who was uncredited. Head was hired as costume designer for Sabrina but was then told that Hepburn was having Givenchy design all of her gowns which was quite an offence to such an established costume designer. To prevent Head from quitting the film, director Billy Wilder and Paramount Pictures gave her full screen credit for Costume Designer.

Givenchy got his own back in 1961 for Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Again Givenchy designed all of Hepburn’s gowns while Head designed all of the other characters costumes (bar Patricia Neal), but Givenchy ensured that Head was only credited as ‘wardrobe supervisor’ which was an insult to a designer of her stature.

Edith Head’s packed career is one unlikely to ever be rivalled. The costume designer is immortalised in her creations which span over half a century, and adorned Hollywood more glamorous actresses for decades.