Saturday, April 23, 2016

Behind the Dress: Audrey Hepburn's "Princess in Disguise" outfit in "Roman Holiday"

Roman Holiday (1953) is one of my favorite movies. It has everything going for it: a great script, fantastic actors, gorgeous on-location shooting, and some of the best costumes in Hollywood history. In fact, not only did Roman Holiday garner a Best Actress Oscar for newcomer Audrey Hepburn, but it also won a Best Writing Award for the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo and the (still relatively young) Best Costume Award for Edith Head.

Multiple Award-Winning costume designer Edith Head was the first Hollywood designer to dress Audrey Hepburn, who was about to become a legendary icon. In the book Edith Head's Hollywood by Paddy Calistro with excerpts by Edith Head, Hepburn is described as the antigoddess, the "antithesis of anything that fit the sexy 1950s stereotype (Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor). She was skinny in an era of voluptuousness, flat when everyone else was round. Her neck was too long, her face too innocent.  By 1950s standards she was all wrong, yet she was about to enchant the world" (101).

Here are Head's words about meeting Audrey:
I was completely enchanted by her. She was intelligent and had a strong sense about fashion, but what impressed me most was her body. I knew she would be the perfect mannequin for anything I would make... when clothes are designed for art's sake you need a shapeless body to display them (102).
Here is a video of Edith Head talking about the process Hollywood designers go through when beginning to costume a film, including a personality test and wardrobe tests for Roman Holiday.

My favorite outfit from the film is the simple blouse and skirt Audrey wears to explore the city of Rome. But there's more behind the dress then you might think. Let's see how Edith went about designing it:
To create the contrast (from Her Royal Highness Princess Anne to Anya), I put her in funny little flat shoes, a gathered cotton skirt, and a plain blouse with the sleeves rolled up... Suddenly she is the kind of girl you wouldn't look at twice. It sounds easy to do, but it wasn't. Trying to make someone like Audrey, who has so much hauteur, look anything but chic is very difficult.
As you saw in the video above, she had to create an outfit that could be transformed on screen. Audrey goes from a buttoned-up proper girl to a carefree girl having a holiday.

Fun Fact: Simoa of Define Dancing told me that this dress was used as inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's dress in the Disney film.

Let's take a closer look at the costume itself.

Before and After

Another "before" shot with low pumps.

A good look at the sandals.
 The skirt is usually shown as light blue or tan when colorized.
I think it was tan, though I prefer light blue.
Scarf and blouse detail. The scarf is usually pictured as red and white.

This outfit is so iconic it was immortalized as a Barbie doll a few years ago. The Barbie has a new face mold and skinny body. I bought one - the face isn't quite as pretty as pictured here.

Actress Lily Collins channeled Hepburn in a photo shoot for Talter Magazine.

Hope you enjoyed this latest edition of Behind the Dress!


  1. Lovely post! Roman Holiday is my favorite movie of all time, and her dress & skirt is also my favorite from the film. I tried recreating it last November when I saw the movie in theaters. :) This was also my first time reading that second interesting! Another reason I love this outfit is because it was used as inspiration for Princess Aurora's peasant gown in Sleeping Beauty, which is also my favorite Disney Princess dress.

    1. Thanks! One day I hope to go to Rome and I will put together an outfit like it (I already have the shoes!).

      That's so cool about Aurora's dress! I love that movie and that dress! I'm going to add that tidbit to my post :)