Katharine Hepburn

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Alfred Eisenstaedt more Agency Prints (Katharine Hepburn)

The first lady of menswear.

On screen, Katharine had a unique style that embodied the American look, but in her personal life she was a lover of menswear. She showed the world that masculine clothes can also suit women and elegantly accentuate a feminine body shape.

Born in 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut, to eccentric and political parents, Hepburn was encouraged to be confident and outspoken from a young age. She was taken on ‘Votes For Women’ marches by her Suffragette mother, and as a tomboyish child, she liked to wear her hair short. 

While her inexhaustible, aggressive energy defined her screen presence, her fashion – which no doubt was an expression of her sensibility – raised more than a few eyebrows. In her early days on set, one studio, so outraged by her blue jeans, confiscated them while she was filming, and she insisted on roaming in her underwear until they were returned. She challenged ridiculousness where she saw it, even if her attitude was ahead of its time.

Hepburn was discerning as hell. In fact, she was a snob. Miraculously, it’s what caused audiences to fall in love with her stubborn characters, and their funny clipped New England accents. This discernment also meant she refined her wardrobe with hawk-eyed precision, into a collection of wearable and classically handsome clothes to match the life she led. A keen tennis player with athletic arms, she bought only from designers who favoured large armholes. She liked to wear a pair of thick white American sports socks, on and off-court. With a sweater flung over her shoulders, she was the pioneer of the American sportswear look – Calvin Klein adored her.

Robert Taylor, Katharine Hepburn

In older age, Hepburn wore turtlenecks, starched white shirts, suede clogs and occasionally, Nike trainers – always achieving that enviable feat of comfort and poise combined.

One constant throughout Hepburn’s lifetime was a skill in projecting utter confidence. Despite winning four Oscars throughout her 60-year career, she attended the ceremony only once, aged 67 in 1974, to present an award to a friend. Dressed in black slacks, a matching nehru jacket with its mandarin collar folded once, she was the coolest person in the room. With her grey hair piled atop her head and flat black sandals, Hepburn showed that your clothes should always elevate, rather than overshadow your ability to get the job done.

 

 Katharine Hepburn was a rarity in the golden age of Hollywood, when the industry’s most bankable actresses were expected to be feminine, submissive and soft. Instead she was strong-willed, unusual, eccentric and outspoken. She was, and continues to be, a muse to many.

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