With androgyny adorning the runways for yet another season, it seems to be the perfect time to revisit the wardrobe of its original poster girl,the actress Katharine Hepburn.
The four-time Oscar winner championed the relaxed, tailored look throughout her working career. Whilst her earlier roles in such films as A Bill of Divorcement (1932), saw her, like her peers, wearing the most elegant of gowns, Hepburn’s off duty garb soon came to influence the roles she undertook, positioning herself as a real trend blazer, wearing trousers long before it was popular for women to do so.
Right: In Sylvia Scarlett (1935) and Left: On Set With Carry Grant (1938)
The prominent turning point was her title role in Sylvia Scarlett (1935). Hepburn cut her hair short and masqueraded as a boy for the majority of the film, placing her as the definition of the ‘modern woman.’ Wearing slacks with masculine tailored jackets, Hepburn was seen in direct conflict with the ‘housewife’ stereotype, popularised in the mid-century. Whilst her peers were tap dancing with Fred Astaire, Hepburn was playing golf. By shunning the publicity machine and having a habit for doing what the public didn’t expect from an actress, a string of film flops followed and she was labelled as ‘box office poison’ in the late 1930s. The public were not ready for a Hollywood starlet to wear trousers.
However her career resurgence came in The Philadelphia Story (1940) where Hepburn was back in long flowing gowns and with the odd sequin was thrown in for good measure. Moving into the late 1950s, Hepburn carved herself a niche for playing independent spinsters, in such films as Suddenly Last Summer (1959), placing herself in stark contrast to her co-star, the Hollywood glamour puss, Elizabeth Taylor.
In Bringing Up Baby, 1938
As her sixty year career continued and collecting more Oscars than any performer (ever!), Hepburn showed that she not only had the angular face, she had the personality to match. In a time of changing fortunes for women, Hepburn was highly vocal with her opinions, as she said, ‘I was totally unaware that we were the second rate-sex.’ Lets just go and burn our bras now!
Hepburn fully embodies the spirit of the androgynous woman we will become so familiar with this season: someone free spiritied, confident and fiercely independent. After all she is the very woman who said, “If you want to give up the adoration of thousands of men for the distain of one, go ahead, get married.” Hepburn herself only married when she was very young and after her divorce in 1934 remained fiercely independent. Move over Samantha Jones!
Take a look at the gallery above to discover why Katharine Hepburn is such a pivotal fashion icon.