These eleven stars from classic Hollywood made their mark on the fashion world with revolutionary style and personalities. See which one fits you best, and don’t be surprised if you find that your own attitude echoes a few of these film icons.
Lauren Bacall — The Femme Fatale
“I think your whole life shows in your face, and you should be proud of that.”
Being Humphrey Bogart’s on-screen and real-life gal meant was just as tough as her male partner in crime(stopping). Bacall’s start as a pinup model trained her to have the sultry “I-know-more-than-you-want-me-to” eyes that characterized her as an adequate match for sharp-minded detectives and underworld gangsters in some of the top noir films of the 1940s and ‘50s. Her wardrobe was darkly seductive — stocking dresses and veiled hats heightened the sexy mystery she represented. Off the screen, she paired elegance with a laid-back attitude by wearing sweaters, slacks and her hair always in that perfect wave.
Rita Hayworth — The Coy Goddess
“I think all women have a certain elegance about them which is destroyed when they take their clothes off.”
Best known as Gilda in Charles Vidor’s 1946 film, Hayworth was a sexual oasis in Hayes Production Code-era Hollywood. She exemplified sexiness when the censors fussed over two unmarried people kissing on screen — just watch her sing “Put the Blame on Mame,” in which she makes taking her gloves off seem dirtier than anything seen at the VMAs. Hayworth was known for mile-long legs that she showed off in slit skirts and pinup shorts. She also was famous for her red hair, which she died from its original black when she first arrived in Hollywood.
Audrey Hepburn — The Sunny Intellectual
“I believe happiest girls are the prettiest girls.”
Innocence and sophistication met in Hepburn’s round face, wide eyes and eloquent speech. As both a fashionable beauty and advocate for children in poverty through her own charity and UNICEF, she continues to be a role model for young women looking to change their world and be happy while doing so. Although she was a trendsetter off the screen, her on-camera costumes continue to inspire fashion. The classic gown in the opening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s established the importance of the Little Black Dress, and her bohemian slacks-and-turtleneck ensemble in Funny Face inspired Gap’s 2007 campaign for the “skinny black pant.”
Katharine Hepburn — The Feminist Elitist
“I never realized until lately that women were supposed to be the inferior sex.”
As a brazen snob with a Connecticut upbringing (her mother was a suffragette, her father a urologist and the whole family artists), Hepburn never shied away from sharing her opinion, no matter how unpopular it might be. She promoted female equality and encouraged other women to live outside social convention but never be ashamed of their class. Hepburn didn’t just wear the proverbial pants in her on-screen relationships. Off set, she would be seen wearing men’s trousers tailored to her willowy build, which caused quite a stir in 1930s and ‘40s society. Her look was one of New England superiority — think Ralph Lauren prep with a tired journalist’s blazer.
Lena Horn — The Soulful Fighter
“They were too busy seeing their own preconceived image of a Negro woman. The image that I chose to give them was of a woman who they could not reach and therefore can’t hurt.”
As an African-American woman making her name in the film and music business during the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, Horne encountered bigotry and discrimination. This led her to extend her voice to the civil rights movement, through which she worked with people such as Paul Robeson, Eleanor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy to promote equality for all races. In the fashion world, she made the skin-tight mermaid dress a couture commodity and was a pioneer as one of the first Black style icons.
Grace Kelly — The Regal Princess
“My father had a very simple view of life: you don’t get anything for nothing. Everything has to be earned, through work, persistence and honesty.”
While Audrey Hepburn played a princess in Roman Holiday, Grace Kelly played one in real life. After a stunning film career that spanned all genres, she married the prince of Monaco in a dress echoed by modern day princess Kate Middleton’s wedding attire. Anything designer and ultra-feminine was game for Kelly’s costuming and red carpet appearances. Her makeup and hair emphasized her soft femininity, and she often channeled regality through A-line skirts, sleek evening gowns and elegant jewelry.
Eartha Kitt — The Exotic Naturalist
“I’m a dirt person. I trust the dirt. I don’t trust diamonds and gold.”
Kitt’s voice can be heard purring through Christmastime department stores asking Santa Baby for Tiffany trinkets and a Mercedes, but that was far from who the dazzling star really was. Orson Welles called her the “most exciting woman in the world,” and she made a name for herself through cabaret acting and singing (and terrorizing Gotham City as Catwoman in the 1960s Batman TV show). Petite and feisty, she was an alluring Hollywood face that represented exotic ethnic beauty. In the fashion world she created a hybrid out of jazz style, wild prints and fur trim.
Sofia Loren — The Worldly Girl-Next-Door
“Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical.”
As an Italian star, Loren had a European mystique that made her very popular with American audiences. Her vava-voom figure, sultry eyes and long limbs made her an international symbol for exotic beauty, and her acting talent in some of the top foreign films of the 1960s made her a vintage icon. Big hair, arched brows and how-low-can-you-go necklines characterized her as a fashion influencer in the late 1950s. She continues to be a beauty, saying “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” Pasta never had a better endorsement.
Marilyn Monroe — The Platinum Bombshell
“If I’d observed all the rules, I’d never have got anywhere.”
Monroe is arguably the most iconic woman in Hollywood history — from her posthumous endorsement of Chanel N˚5 to the most recent Oscar-winning portrayal of her by Michelle Williams in “My Week With Marilyn,” America is still in love with Norma Jeane Mortenson. While predecessors such as Rita Hayworth were subtly suggestive, Monroe was the first to be open about (what was considered then to be) her sordid behavior. She used style to flaunt her curves and charmed with her laugh and screwball sense of humor. Bright red lips, high-arched brows and platinum blond locks coupled with figure-hugging outfits made her a timeless fashion inspiration.
Elizabeth Taylor — The Glamour Queen
“I feel very adventurous. There are many doors to be opened, and I am not afraid to look behind them.”
Violet-eyed and violent-tempered, Taylor became an icon at a young age and grew into stardom beside some of Hollywood’s leading actors. Her roles were always that of dynamic, steadfast women who knew how to get what they wanted out of those around them. Taylor’s bold eyebrows and unique eye color captured the attention of her fans, and her love of bling set her apart from many of her fellow stars — as she once said, “Big girls need big diamonds.”
Still haven’t found your Hollywood icon? Leave us a comment with other vintage stars we haven’t mentioned.
Kate Everson is Chicago journalist and University of Missouri alumna. By day she is an associate editor for four HR industry magazines. By night, she reviews films, outlines fiction novels with tough female leads and dreams of being the first person to win two Oscars in the same night for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay. When her fingers aren’t getting exercise bouncing across her keyboard, she’s reading Palahniuk and Vonnegut, practicing her Batgirl skills in the dojo or waiting by the mailbox for her Hogwarts letter. As Katharine Hepburn said: “Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting.”