Unforgettable Threads

Evil Under the Sun

One of Movieline’s go-to tricks was to ask a bunch of famous people to name their favorite <fill-in-the-blank> and compile an article out of the responses.  For the September style issue in 1995, Stephen Farber asked Hollywood types for their favorite women’s costumes.  The responses range from sexy to sophisticated.

Director Sidney Lumet, in his book Making Movies, tells of sending Sean Connery to meet with costume designer Ann Roth about his clothes for Family Business. After Roth showed him his wardrobe, Connery raved to Lumet, “She’s given me the whole bloody character.” Many people probably think of costumes as decorative irrelevancies, but the best of them illuminate the characters while still managing to be sensually stimulating or breathtakingly elegant.

One of my favorite examples is in the Agatha Christie whodunit Evil Under the Sun, which has costumes designed by three-time Oscar winner Anthony Powell. The denouement of the film comes when sleuth Hercule Poirot unmasks Jane Birkin, seemingly a whimpering wallflower, as the mastermind behind the murder. Throughout the movie Birkin has worn frumpy frocks, but as she descends the hotel staircase in the final scene, she is transformed by a stunning black-and-white suit and hat into the person she really is, a devastating vixen. It’s one of the wittiest, most revelatory costumes in movies: character crystallized through a wardrobe change.

Of course, there are many other memorable costumes. In this survey I asked Hollywood professionals to talk about a woman’s costume that had made a lasting impression on them. Their answers attest to the many diverse enticements that movies offer.

1. Theadora Van Runkle (costume designer, Bonnie and Clyde) “I loved Marlene Dietrich’s first outfit as Shanghai Lily in Shanghai Express. She’s in a feather hat, and she goes to the back of the train, stands on the platform, and the wind ruffles her veil and feathers.”

pfeiffer - catwoman

2. Bo Welch (production designer, Batman Returns) “When I was working on Batman Returns, the first time I saw Michelle Pfeiffer in her Catwoman outfit, it was startling– like a live visual effect. And then, from my adolescence I remember Raquel Welch in that fur bikini from One Million Years B.C. That was a pretty striking costume.”

3. John Waters (director, Serial Mom) “The first thing that comes to mind is the sparkling red sequined evening dress that Marguax Hemingway wears at the end of Lipstick when she goes out to kill the man who raped her. Now that’s a gown to wear for rape revenge.”

4. Drew Barrymore (actress, Mad Love) “I loved Diane Keaton’s wardrobe in Annie Hall because her style was androgynous and unique–very indicative of the character she created.”

5. Gillian Armstrong (director, Little Women) “The costumes in Orlando were extraordinary, like sculptured pieces. Right after the character becomes a woman, there’s a scene where she walks through a huge room in this huge white dress, and her dress mirrored the shape of the objects in the room. But maybe the best costumes arc the ones you don’t notice. In Visconti’s The Leopard, in the big ballroom scene, everyone was in a shade of pink, but you weren’t conscious of it. You just had a subliminal sense that there were many shades of rose petals in the background. In the ball scene in Little Women, we used every shade of peach and gold as an homage to Visconti.”


6. Jean-Claude Van Damme (actor, Timecop) “The beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, with that deep cleavage, in her all-gold gown when she enters Rome in Cleopatra. Why? You have to ask why?”

7. Lily Tomlin (actress, Short Cuts) “I have a special affection for Beverly Michaels in The Wicked Woman, a movie of the ’50s. She wore a white suit with a white angora tarn and white wedgies. That was such a definitive outfit.”

8. Kate Capshaw (actress, Just Cause) “My pick is what Audrey Hepburn wore in Wait Until Dark–a tight black turtleneck pullover with a miniskirt and opaque stockings with loafers. It has influenced my wardrobe choices ever since. It was never the glamorous movie star clothes or the sexy stuff I loved, but that Hepburn outfit left the greatest influence.”

9. Angie Dickinson (actress, Dressed to Kill) “Lana Turner in her white turban in The Postman Always Rings Twice. I must have been 10 or 12 when I first saw that, and to this day I can’t wrap a towel around my head without thinking about her. My favorite costume that I wore was in The Art of Love with James Garner. Ray Aghayan and Bob Mackie designed for me a gold pantsuit with beads on chiffon that was to die for. It was really the first costume of its kind, the first time that a pantsuit became total glamour. People may not realize today how revolutionary that was. But I remember as late as the ’60s, I was not allowed in the clubhouse at Dodger Stadium because I was wearing pants.”

10. Joel Schumacher (director, Batman Forever) “I thought the costumes in Queen Margot were particularly beautiful. At the end, when Isabelle Adjani comes to plead with the king for her lover’s life, she’s wearing this white dress. The King is sick, and he’s sweating blood, and when she holds him, red blood stains appear on this white dress. I love that scene because it’s costume used as a part of storytelling–not just to cre¬ate period and atmosphere, but also to build an emotional response.”

11. Chris Eigeman (actor, Kicking and Screaming) “I immediately think of Marlene Dietrich in Morocco–the only time a tuxedo ever looked sexy to me.”

12. Nora Ephron (writer-director, Sleepless in Seattle) “I still remember the little black sweater and beige vest that Audrey Hepburn wore in the bookstore in Funny Face. It was the perfect outfit of the mouse who was actually beautiful. And it was such a perfect Hollywood idea of what a person working in a bookstore would wear.”


13. Jon Stewart (host, “The Jon Stewart Show”) “Jane Fonda’s costumes in Barbarella blew my mind– I was 11, for God’s sake! You know, even when I blink I still see her.”

14. Lowell Ganz (screenwriter, Forget Paris) “In Some Like It Hot, there’s a scene at the end where Marilyn Monroe is singing a slow song. It’s shot close, and her dress has a sparkling quality that gives almost an illusion of nudity. That stunned me, no doubt augmented by the fact that I saw it when I was 13 and slightly out of my mind,”

15. Albert Wolsky (costume designer, Bugsy) “I remember Marlene Dietrich’s first appearance in Shanghai Express, wearing black feathers and a veil and gloves. Then there’s the scene in Some Like It Hot where Marilyn Monroe is singing, and the way the light comes down on her, it appears she is almost naked. It’s the most startling effect. Those were very theatrical costumes. Unfortunately, we’re not so theatrical today. For the last 20 years, we’ve been into realism.”

16. George Axelrod (screenwriter, The Seven Year Itch) “My favorite is the white dress Sharon Stone wore when being interviewed by the cops in Basic Instinct, Second on my list would be the white dress Marilyn Monroe wore in The Seven Year Itch–the one that blows when she’s standing over the subway grate.”

Some Like It Hot

17. Ellen Mirojnick (costume designer, Basic Instinct) “The first one I think of is the dress that Marilyn Monroe wore at the end of Some Like It Hot. It’s a see-through beaded dress that looked like a naked dress. That’s just an incredible costume.”

18. Tamlyn Tomita (actress, The Joy Luck Club) “In Funny Face an unseen Audrey Hepburn calls out to Fred Astaire from behind a white statue atop a white marble staircase to tell him to let her know when he’s ready to photograph her. He calls. ‘Go!’ and she descends the staircase in that red Givenchy gown, white opera-length gloves, and floating high above her head is a red chiffon scarf. We, as well as Mr. Astaire, are stunned by this bird of paradise descending toward us. He fumbles with his camera and cries, ‘Stop! Stop!’ She answers, “Take the picture! Take the picture!’ If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one is worth a million.”

19. Lawrence Paull (production designer, Blade Runner) “The one that comes to mind is the outfit Sean Young wore when she walked into Tyrell’s office in Blade Runner, looking very austere in a black suit with broad shoulders. It’s the first time Harrison Ford sees Young, and the image of her in the suit, so severely cut it’s almost geometric–combined with the geometry of the set–absolutely made a powerful visual impact. Another great costume is the glittering white gown and matching turban that Barbra Streisand wore in one of the flashback sequences in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, where she flirts across the dinner table with a stranger. Streisand’s never looked better, but then it was the only film where she was dressed by Cecil Beaton.'”

20. Jackie Beat (actor, Grief) “My all-time favorite outfit in movie history is the leopard-print bra and matching half-slip that Anne Bancroft, as Mrs, Robinson, revealed to Benjamin in The Graduate. Even her hair, a swinging salt-and-pepper cre¬ation, screamed. ‘Do me!’ There is nothing sexier than a woman in her forties and this scene ached with the same suburban sexuality of the ’60s that my mother effortlessly oozed. Watching Anne, as she smoked and stripped, for a split second I thought I might be straight.”

21. Anna Hamilton Phelan (screenwriter, Gorillas in the Mist) “Maybe because I’ve seen it recently, the first costume that comes to mind is that outfit made of rubber flip-flops that one of the transvestites wears in The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I almost died when I saw that. That costume came from a truly dement¬ed mind. Then I also recall the clothes worn by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot. Why is it that the first women’s clothes I remember are on men’s bodies? Get me to a shrink!”

Breakfast at Tiffanys

22. Lizzy Gardiner (costume designer, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert) “It’s hard to top Audrey Hepburn opening Breakfast at Tiffany’s–that black dress, the dark glasses, the opera-length gloves and the tiara. That’s one of the most famous costumes in the history of movies. But I also have a special affection for Divine’s pink dress in Polyester. America hadn’t really explored bad taste before that film.”

23. Ashley Judd (actress, Ruby in Paradise) “In Roman Holiday Edith Head proved her unequalled skill with the skirt and white shirt ensemble that Audrey Hepburn wore for the bulk of the movie. It was a casual outfit yet believable as suitable for the proper princess. It lent itself captivatingly to the romantic setting–what with the full skirt–and even managed charming variety– the sleeves were eventually uncuffed and the collar flipped. The ensemble served the fairy-tale setting and story beautifully. It was simultaneously down-to-earth and wildly magical.”

24. Alan Rudolph (director, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle) “Barbara Loden, who played Warren Beatty’s sister in Splendor in the Grass, wore a great flapper costume in the party scene. I remember seeing that movie at the La Reina theater in Sherman Oaks. I was a teenager, and that costume really hit me–she had adult breasts.”

25. Herbert Ross (director, The Owl and the Pussycat) “The first thing that comes to mind is Barbra Streisand’s costume in The Owl and the Pussycat, that outrageous black lace negligee with purple hands painted over the breasts and a silver heart on the crotch. When I was preparing the film, I found that costume in a sleazy sex shop in Times Square. I told Ann Roth, the cos¬tume designer, to imitate that because it was exactly what I wanted. Then, later, I was looking through a book of theater photographs, and there was a picture of Nancy Walker from a Broadway musical called Look, Ma, I’m Dancing. And she was wearing an almost identical outfit with a heart on the crotch. Well, I had played her husband in that show when I was just starting out as a dancer. I had totally forgotten the costume, but something obviously clicked when I saw it again.”

26. Michael Tolkin (writer-director, The New Age) “I’d have to choose Barbara Stanwyck’s incredibly beautiful white outfit in Meet John Doe. It’s the scene where she’s sitting at Edward Arnold’s table the night of the John Doe rally. She sold out so hard, so fast, so elegantly, and it’s all expressed in that costume. Everyone wants costume to express character transformation. That’s almost too extreme a transformation, but it works because she looks so great.”

Ursula Andress - Dr. No

27. Ron Shelton (writer-director, White Men Can’t Jump) “When I was 17, I saw Dr. No. I think everyone fell in love with Ursula Andress walking out of the sea in that white bikini, as did I. But in a way, what made an even stronger impression on me was Sean Connery’s gray suit. After seeing that movie, I went out and bought a gray suit for my graduation. I thought if I wore that, I would behave and score like Sean Connery. It didn’t work.”

28. Jasmine Guy (actress, “Melrose Place”) “My first answer was going to be Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, with her pinafore and ruby slippers. But ultimately the costume that made the biggest impression on me was Dorothy Dandridge’s off-the-shoulder black blouse and tight red skirt in Carmen Jones. Seeing that, I realized how simple sensuality could be.”

29. Bruce Davison (actor, Longtime Companion) “The fur bikini outfit that Raquel Welch wore in One Million Years B.C. made quite an impression on me when I was growing up. I don’t think I have to tell anyone why.”

30. David Paymer (actor, City Hall) “As a kid, I saw The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and I’ve never forgotten how Bette Davis looked in those giant hooped skirts, clown-like ruffled collar with her extreme white makeup and shaved head–she scared the hell out of me! Another costume I remember clearly is Daryl Hannah, wearing nothing on top but her strategically placed hair, in that fishtail getup in Splash. It’s silly but sexy.”

31. Gina Gershon (actress, Showgirls) “Jane Fonda’s costumes in Barbarella come immediately to mind. They were innovative, sexy, hip and showed a real sense of humor.”

Gone With The Wind

32. Douglas Day Stewart (screenwriter, The Scarlet Letter) “I remember the first time I saw Vivien Leigh in the red velvet gown she wears in Gone With the Wind. She walks on-screen and she’s so stunning in it, so memorable, no man could resist her. And, if you recall, Clark Gable can’t–that’s the scene where he carries her off in his arms, up the giant staircase to their bedroom.”

33. Alfonso Cuaron (director, A Little Princess) “In Fellini’s Amorcord that very fat woman in the tobacco shop had an amazing outfit–a sky blue angora sweater and a tan skirt. It made her kind of threatening, and yet you felt lust for her at the same time.”

34. Ken Adam (production designer, The Madness of King George) “I thought Helen Mirren was exceptionally well dressed in The Madness of King George. I particularly liked the beautiful black cloak she wore when she runs after King George’s carriage as he is being dragged off. Then I remember Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, particularly the takeoff on Garbo in Anna Karenina at the train station, where Hepburn’s wearing the most elegant brown outfit by Givenchy.”

35. Polly Platt (producer, Broadcast News) “The next to last outfit that Judy Holliday wears in Born Yesterday is astonishing. It’s sort of a harem-type outfit in three pieces. She’s wearing a see-through blouse with frilly sleeves. Over that is a bodice connected to a long taffeta skirt that’s open in the front, and she’s wearing matching trousers. Only in Hollywood would they create such an outfit, but it’s actually pertinent to the theme because it’s almost the last piece of the former life–her life as a concubine–that she’s discarding. The costume expresses the emancipation of this woman. Another great outfit is the frilly white, polka-dotted net dress that Katharine Hepburn wore in Bringing Up Baby. It’s the middle of the day, and it’s wonderfully inappropriate for baby-silting a leopard.”

36. David Brown (producer, The Verdict) “I remember Rita Hayworth’s dress for the ‘Put the Blame on Mame’ number in Gilda. It was a form fitting, black satin dress that outlined her figure most provocatively. And the other one that conies to mind is Marilyn Monroe standing over the subway grating in that white pleated summer dress in The Seven Year Itch.”

37. Barry Sandier (screenwriter, Crimes of Passion) “A great costume is Elizabeth Taylor popping out of her ‘Sunday chapel dress,’ as Richard Burton refers to it, in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It’s the costume she puts on after coming home from the party. She’s bulging out of the lop, and her hips arc bursting the seams of her tight Capri pants. It’s a pure character costume, and it’s funny and gaudy. I think there were only three costumes in the whole movie, and yet it won the Academy Award, so that tells you something.”

38. Lili Fini Zanuck (producer, Wild Bill) “Vanessa Redgrave’s macramé wedding gown in Camelot was the first movie dress for the hippie movement. It had an almost organic quality.”

Mary Poppins

39. Olivia d’Abo (actress, Kicking and Screaming) “I love it when, in Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews goes from wearing those very plain, very sensible outfits to that beautiful while dress with the matching hat and parasol–it’s so fun when you see a character transformed by playing dress up. For that reason, I also love the costumes Audrey Hepburn wears–first as a Cockney flower girl and then later as the belle of the ball–in My Fair Lady.”

40. Wes Craven (director, Vampire in Brooklyn) “Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot dress in My Fair Lady was the most elegant outfit she ever wore.”

41. Susan Arnold (producer, Benny and Joon) “Audrey Hepburn’s black-and-white Ascot dress and hat in My Fair Lady embody such incredible elegance.’

42. Dana Delany (actress, Live Nude Girls) “Barbra Streisand always had a great sense of style. In Funny Girl I love her costume in the scene where she goes to have dinner with Omar Sharif, and he’s trying to seduce her. She’s wearing a lacy lavender number that I still remember. Maybe because I was 13 when I first saw it, it seemed to me like the height of taste.”

43. Michael Schiffer (screenwriter, Crimson Tide) “I discard Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind as too obvious, and I come up with Lauren Bacall in one of her tailored suits from the ’40s. There’s a great black-and-white checked suit that she wears in The Big Sleep. That suit seemed to have a life of its own. It had attitude, it had secrets. And not since Rosey Grier have shoulder pads been so imposing,”

44. Charles Lippincott (producer, Judge Dredd) “I would have to say Ornella Muti’s first costume in Flush Gordon. Despite the rest of the movie, that is one of the greatest entrances I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s like something out of a biblical story. She looked almost like Nazimova in silent films. She was wearing these odd-shaped gold pieces placed strategically all over her body, and the way they moved and sparkled as she walked gave her this slithery quality. It’s rare to see that kind of sensuality in films.”

Bullets Over Broadway

45. Donna Roth (producer, Benny and Joon) “I love the black-and-white striped coat that Dianne Wiest wears in Bullets Over Broadway when she’s sitting on the park bench with John Cusack. That coal was like a work of art.”

46. Nancy Meyers (writer-producer, Father of the Bride) “Faye Dunaway’s costumes in Bonnie and Clyde had great beauty and great style,”

47. The “Lady” Bunny (organizer-performer, Wigstock: The Movie) “I love the modeling scene in Blowup. There are about six women, and each creation is more imaginative than the next. They all wore big hair, heavy makeup and trippy ’60s outfits, which satisfies every one of my requirements.”

48. Paul Mazursky (director, Moon Over Parador) “I have to say that the most memorable costume is the black dress that I wore in Moon Over Parador. Originally I had cast Judith Malina to play Richard Dreyfuss’s mother, but her agent misunderstood when she was supposed to be in Rio, and it turned out she was directing an opera in Hamburg at the same time. So we tried to get Zoe Caldwell, and she wasn’t available. I was desperate, because we only had the opera house for two days, so I asked Albert Wolsky to design the dress for me. He said, ‘I can make you the dress, but what about the shoes?’ Luckily, we found a Brazilian shoemaker to make me the shoes. I also had a feathered hat. That outfit was a knockout.”


Stephen Farber wrote about movie critics in doubt for the October 1993 Movieline.


Posted on September 1, 2016, in Movieline Articles, Movies. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I love this! This is so much more interesting than a “20 Iconic Costumes” type of article, because there are some unconventional choices on here. Marilyn’s dress in The Seven Year Itch is iconic, but you never see shoutouts to the costumes in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

    If I had to pick, my answer would probably be Heathers. My favorite represented here is probably Bonnie and Clyde – which is weird, because I should hate it, because they didn’t bother to make it a period piece at ALL, but the costumes are SO stylish and gorgeous. It becomes a different period piece, because it’s such a perfect representation of 60s style instead.


    • Glad you enjoyed it.

      I have been prepping the Movieline articles for the month and if you like this, you have a lot to look forward to. September was very fashion forward with the annual Style issue. Next week, we’ll be running an article with a very similar type of list but instead of asking Hollywood celebs, they asked celebrity fashion designers. Some of the same costumes are mentioned, but there’s an equal number of curve balls as well. There’s lots of other fashion-friendly topics as well. Hope you like them just as much.


  2. Another great Movieline article. I have seen Evil Under the Sun multiple times, and although the movie as a whole isn’t that great, Jane Birkin’s change of costume has exactly the effect that Farber has described.

    An awful lot of Audrey Hepburn mentions in the list.


  3. I have to go with the Michelle Pfeiffer catsuit; good kitty!


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