Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Grace Kelly & Edith Head: A Perfect Fashion Marriage

If I had to pick a favorite actress (which I don't really like to do, but people always want to know), it would be Grace Kelly.
So says Edith Head, in a quote from her unfinished biography which was completed by Paddy Calistro and became Edith Head's Hollywood (see sources below for more information). She goes on to say: "We don't have many great women stars anymore, but in the 1950s Grace was tops. She was an ex-model and she knew how to wear clothes."

Edith liked to build relationships with the stars she dressed. She wanted them to be comfortable and happy and she worked closely with them to ensure this. "Sometimes she [Kelly] would come into my salon with her lunch and the two of us would talk and laugh for hours at a time. It was always a pleasure to see her kick off her shoes and relax...she felt safe in my salon, as if it was a quiet refuge from the studio commissary" (Head, 108-109).

Edith Head dressed Grace Kelly in four films. The first film they worked on together was in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954). Edith remembers, "Grace was cast as a high-society type, so her part called for an extremely stylish wardrobe. Hitch wanted her to look like a piece of Dresden china, something slightly untouchable. So I did that. Her suits were impeccably tailored. Her accessories looked as though they couldn't be worn by anyone else but her. She was perfect. Few actresses could have carried off the look the way Grace did (Head, 109). When people think of Grace Kelly, it is usually wearing one of the costumes (of which there were only six) from this film - either THAT black and white gown or THAT green suit.


To see some of the dresses in action click here (clip 1, 3, 4, & 10) and here.

The next film was The Bridges of Toko-Ri (1954) which "wasn't really a costume picture" and of which Grace only appeared in for a whopping 15 minutes. Following that was The Country Girl (1954) which Edith was excited to be assigned to - until she read the script: "The character had absolutely no resemblance to Grace Kelly. I put her in housedresses and skirts and blouses, and made her look dumpy (Head, 108). However, Grace ended up winning an Oscar (more on THAT dress later) for her role in the film as "a woman who had been married for ten years and has lost interest in... everything" (Spoto, 155).
Their next collaboration (and final film together) was To Catch a Thief (1955). "When people ask me [Head] who my favorite actress is, who my favorite director is, and what my favorite film is, I tell them to watch To Catch a Thief and they'll get all the answers. The film was a costume designer's dream. It had all the ingredients for being fun, a challenge, and a great product... Grace played the part of possibly the richest woman in America, with the most fabulous clothes and the most fabulous jewels" (Head,109). Filmed on location in the south of France, the film has a broad spectrum of costumes, from a bathing suit to a driving outfit to a ridiculously fabulous ball gown. Edith and Grace also enjoyed several shopping trips together while in the fashion capitol of the world.

You can purchase a replica of this gown here.



When the 1955 Academy Awards rolled around, Grace of course was in need of something to wear. At the time, Grace was under suspension at MGM and when she went to the studio to discuss her outfit for the Awards was told she was she was unwelcome. Grace just "smiled, adjusted her white gloves and asked if she could make a telephone call" (Spoto, 195). Of course it was Edith whom Grace called and though Edith had several obligations to fulfill, she set aside time to help Grace. Together they designed a "slim, floor-length aquamarine gown of French duchesse satin with a matching cloak and pastel blue slippers. White opera-length gloves completed the outfit" (Spoto, 196). Grace was also featured on the cover of Life magazine a few days later wearing the same dress.


A little over a month later, Grace would meet for the first time with Prince Rainier of Monaco and on April 19, 1956 they were married in what was described as "the wedding of the century." Though Edith hoped she would be asked to design Grace's wedding gown, Grace asked Helen Rose, costume designer of her home studio, MGM (she also did the costumes in High Society - 1956). Instead, Edith designed Grace's going-away suit as a gift from Paramount. The suit was light gray silk and "was topped with a white overcoat and worn with a tiny white hat and long white gloves.


Nearly all of the costumes Edith designed for Grace Kelly have become iconic and synonymous with the epitome of glamour. Their collaborations will always be remembered in the history of film fashion and continue to inspire the dresses that the stars of today wear on the red carpet. Some of them have even been immortalized as Barbie Doll fashions. There was truly something perfect about those dresses. It was indeed a perfect fashion marriage.

Wedding gown (Helen Rose), dress worn to meet Prince Rainier, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief.
Diane Kruger in Grace Kelly inspired gowns


Spoto, Donald. High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly. Harmony Books, NY. 2009.

Head, Edith & Paddy Calistro. Edith Head's Hollywood. E. P. Dutton, Inc., NY. 1983.

This post is part of The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon (in honor of her birthday) by The Wonderful World of Cinema. Be sure and read all of the other posts celebrating this iconic actress!


  1. Loved reading this! (I just did a review on one of Head's biographies that I didn't like nearly as much as Edith Head's Hollywood)

    1. Thanks! :) It was fun to write. I just started "Edith Head's Hollywood" (stopped though to read "High Society" which is easy to read). The other Edith Head books I've read are "The Dress Doctor" and "Edith Head: The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood's Greatest Costume Designer" which was good but had several typos (I'm talking like at least a dozen).

  2. Thanks so much Phyl for this wonderful post! I really enjoyed reading it. It was informative and it was interesting to have Edith Head's point of view! Grace Kelly truly was a fashion icon!
    Thanks also for your participation to the blogathon :)

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for hosting!! It was fun :)

  3. Fascinating piece and some lovely photos! I just watched The Bridges of Toko-Ri and thought her clothes were quite glamorous in that, but the breathtaking gowns here are even more so.

    1. Thank you! The white strapless gown is my favorite.

  4. I just love this post! its perfectly perfect! I'm writing my own post about Grace and Edith and read yours first for a background brush up! (Dont worry I'm not copying you!) But I seriuosly adore every bit of this post!!!

    1. Aww thanks!!! I just added a few more photos of Grace's going away suit a few weeks ago! At the time I published it I hadn't been able to find many :) Looking forward to reading your take!!