Grace Kelly: Dress to Impress
Exclusive Post by Mary Mallory, Author of Living with Grace
Grace Kelly resembled and acted like a Princess long before she actually married Prince Rainier of Monaco. Serene, elegant, and so unforgettable, she is the epitome of the definition of the word “grace,” bringing polish, flair, and simplicity to each day. Humanitarian, actress, and fashion icon, Grace offers a perfect role model for how to achieve style and success in living, which “Living With Grace: Life Lessons From America’s Princess” delves into.
For many, Grace remains a model on how to dress to impress in a simple but elegant way. Her innate sense of style made her one of the World’s Best Dressed Women for years and helped popularize the casual All-American look in the 1950s. A classic beauty, Grace reigned as a fashion queen from her earliest days.
Dressed in classic fashion by her former model mother, Grace also learned valuable fashion lessons from former fiance and designer Oleg Cassini as well as good friend and head Paramount costume designer Edith Head, which she carried to the end of her days. From each person, she learned style lessons any one of us can follow.
1) Buy the Best You Can Afford
Margaret Kelly purchased her children’s clothes off the rack at Philadelphia’s best department stores, well-made quality garments with classic looks that would never go out of style. She dressed her children impeccably, mimicking the fashion of the blue blood main-line Philadelphia crowd just out of their reach. Grace continued the practice even after she became famous, buying every day clothes at high end department stores and having them tailored, saving designer duds for fancy occasions. Quality products ensured a better fit and more classy look while lasting for years. As the Associated Press wrote in 1955, “Grace Kelly, a nice girl from a nice family, has made good taste, glamorous.”
2) Show Yourself Off
From the beginning, Grace wore classic, understated clothes that accentuated her graceful figure and played up her coloring and vulnerability. Picturegoer magazine called her “…an artist in underdressing.” Oleg Cassini emphasized that “…her beauty should be set off like a great diamond, in very simple settings. The focus was always to be on her.” Wearing sleek, elegant outfits emphasized her and not the clothes. Never copying fads, Grace followed her own innate sense of good taste, reflecting a timeless sense of fashion that always looks good.
Edith Head also played up this simple element, designing no-frills, exquisite costumes for Rear Window and To Catch a Thief by focusing on single colors, fitted silhouettes, lush, flowing fabrics, and long lines. These details accentuated Grace’s slender frame and delicate, graceful looks. Head described this wardrobe as “Simple, beautifully tailored clothes giving an air of genuine elegance.”
3) Always Look Your Best
You don’t need to spend a million bucks to look smashing. Grace achieved her stylish look by always appearing organized and classy. Meticulous and pulled together, she sported sparkling hair, natural makeup, and spotless, crisp clothes. Grace’s professional presentation was simple but impeccable, with Women’s Wear Daily defining the “Grace Kelly Look” as one that was crisp, naturally unpretentious, and polished, reflecting the American spirit.
Head considered Grace’s good grooming one of her best assets. Her background as a former model and dancer gave her perfect posture, making her stand tall and erect, showing herself and her clothes to best advantage. Being clean, neat, and groomed allowed Grace to feel at home in what she wore, allowing her to feel confident and act like she owned the room.
4) Dress to Impress
Grace always strove to be taken seriously, aspiring to great things, and looking spotless, sharp, and classy, she was. Oleg Cassini described her special style by saying that Grace “represents the new appeal, a combination of the All-American type with aristocratic bearing.” Many admired her. Swimsuit designer Fred Cole stated, “Today the ideal is the ladylike look personified by Grace Kelly. And people are discovering that ‘lady-like’ doesn’t mean sexless.” Grace dressed to impress those higher up the social and career ladder, looking like a serious actress by differentiating herself from the buxom, full-figured bombshells through classic, understated clothing. Gary Cooper acknowledged her impact when he stated, “She’s a refreshing change from all these sex girls.”
Women’s Wear Daily also praised her fashion sense and good taste. They described liking Grace as “an indication of greater maturity both in motion pictures and in public standards, an appeal that is not based on too blatant curves, too tight dresses, too lavish furs, or jewelry only noteworthy for its abundance.” Her impressive taste put her at the top of many Best Dressed lists around the world in the 1950s.
5) Casual Doesn’t Mean Sloppy
Long before the Gap came along, Grace appeared to be modeling their classic wardrobe of crisp Oxford cloth shirts and fitted jeans, the perfect business casual look. MGM fashion designer Helen Rose called this “stylish simplicity.” Grace successfully mixed both high and low fashion, combining expensive suits with simple scarves and silk shirts with khaki pants. Grace looked neat and smart, with not a hair out of place. Edith Head called Grace fastidious, in that she ensured everything was clean, pressed, and perfect before heading out the door. She personified the All-American look, fresh and natural. Clean and uncluttered, Grace appeared carefree and relaxed. Women’s Wear Daily wrote, “…she illustrates how to be casual without flying shirttails, how to formal without looking bizarre.”
6) Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize
While Grace wore understated, simple clothes, she added sparkle and pizzaz to her outfits with accessories. Hats, gloves, and belts were one of the cheapest and best ways to brighten and modernize her wardrobe, with gloves becoming one of her signatures while in Hollywood. These items added color and flair in a subtle way by finishing her outfit without overpowering her natural look or wardrobe.
They also sometimes led Grace into spending sprees. Paramount costume designer Edith Head remarked that “Gloves and shoes are the only things where Grace loses count of money.” After she became a princess, Grace first carried around a large Hermes handbag to hide her pregnancy, which soon was renamed the “Kelly bag” and is still one of their more popular items.
Grace learned her fashion lessons well from her mother, Cassini, and Head, never making a wardrobe faux pas. She remained a style icon all her days, never following fads or overpowering with her wardrobe. Grace’s superb fashion sense reflected her aristocratic bearing, setting the stage for her later life as Monaco Princess.
–Mary Mallory for Classic Movie Hub
Mary Mallory is a film historian, photograph archivist, and researcher, focusing on Los Angeles and early film history. She is the author of Living with Grace: Life Lessons from America’s Princess. She also co-authored Hollywood at Play: The Lives of the Stars Between Takes (with Stephen X. Sylvester and Donovan Brandt) and writes theatre reviews for The Tolucan Times and blogs for the LA Daily Mirror. Mallory served on Hollywood Heritage, Inc.’s Board of Directors, and acts as a docent for the Hollywood Heritage Museum. You can follow her on twitter at @mallory_mary.
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