Cecil Beaton is not only my favourite photographer, but he was also an incredible costume designer. He created the costumes of 14 movies: Kipps, Dangerous Moonlight, On Approval, The Young Mr. Pitt, Anna Karenina (1948), An Ideal Husband, Beware of Pity, Dandy Dick, The Truth about Women, Major Barbara, Gigi, The Doctor’s Dilemma, My Fair Lady and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. He won the Oscar for Best Costume Design for Gigi and, not surprisingly, My Fair Lady. He also won the Oscar for Best Art Direction for My Fair Lady. The costumes in this film are some of the most incredible and creative ones I have ever seen on screen. Really, Mr. Beaton had a great imagination and knew perfectly how to go out of limits. For the third week’s subject of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon 2015 (The Crafts), I chose to write about these colourful and unforgettable costumes: their particularities, how they change and evolute in the film, how they accompany Liza Doolittle’s evolution, etc. I read on IMDB that, even if most of the credits for art direction and costume designing went to Beaton, Gene Allen (art director) said later that Beaton only designed the women’s costumes. Is that true or not? Whatever, let’s be honest, the most interesting costumes in this film are those worn by the ladies.
My Faire Lady is a movie directed by George Cukor, released in 1964, and starring Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins, Stanley Holloway as Alfred P. Doolittle, Wilfrid Hyde-White as Colonel Hugh Pickering, Gladys Cooper as Mme Higgins, and Jeremy Brett as Freddy Eynsford-Hill. This 8 Oscar-winning film is a screen adaptation of a Broadway musical, itself based on the play by George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion. The story takes place in London during the beginning of the 20th century. Eliza Doolittle, a poor cockney flower seller, meets Professor Henry Higgins, an arrogant elocution teacher who laughs at her accent. She then asks him to help her improve her diction and way to talk. Higgins makes a bet with the Colonel Hugh Pickering (another phonetic expert) that he could transform Eliza into a great lady. Then, the lessons start for Eliza during 6 months until she’s ready to be part of the High Society.
Well, let’s now focus on the main subject of this text: the costumes. It’s interesting to see how the costumes in My Faire Lady define the social classes. At the beginning, a group of rich people comes out of an opera. They are wearing very colourful costumes with many extravagant accessories, especially the ladies. They wear orange, red, purple, blue, golden, black dresses. They wear feathers in their hair, flowers, and large hats. Then, the poor London working class is introduced. Their clothes are much more ordinary, more brown, grey or black and, overall, very simple. It’s in that type of clothes that Audrey Hepburn makes her first appearance in the story. She wears a beige dress with a green coat and a brown scarf. Her hair are disheveled and a black straw hat is placed on the top of her head. We can see those clothes are the ones of a poor lady, that she belongs to the lower London class. She makes money by selling violets. In the same scene, professor Higgins makes his entrance too. He wears a brown coat and a hat that makes him look like a detective. He’s taking notes in a notebook (he notes what Eliza is saying) and seems to know where everybody comes from. The colonel, who is in this scene too, also believes at first that he is a detective. Well, Higgins tells the crowd that he is a phonetic teacher. So, there we can see how the costumes deceive the spectator, but also the other characters of the films, on the identity of the one who is wearing them. Most of the time, professor Higgins wears brown or beige clothes, except during the ball scene where he wears a black tuxedo (like all the men in this scene) and during the scene that takes place in his mother’s house. There, his clothes are grey. What’s interesting about these brown clothes is the fact that the colour brown is also the colour of chocolate, something that Eliza loves. She loves chocolate and Higgins always tempts her with some. Brown also symbolizes the solidity. Indeed, Higgins seems to be a strong man. The colour grey can symbolize the solitude. Higgins is wearing grey clothes after Eliza has left him. What is also interesting about Higgin’s brown and beige clothes, it’s the fact that they fit with the colours of his house. That’s also the case for the maid clothes.
What is especially interesting about this film is to see the evolution of Eliza’s clothes. As I said, when we first see her, she’s wearing rags, but when she decides to go see Higgins, we can see she tried to dress up the best she could. She’s wearing a large hat with big feathers on it, but her dress remains very sober. These clothes are more synonyms of “exaggeration” than “elegance”. Wearing a big hat doesn’t make you a classy lady and that’s perfectly shown in this scene. She somehow seems to wear a Halloween costume. Then, after she has taken her bath, she wears a simple, but pretty grey dress. It’s still a very simple dress, but the shape is more elegant. Her hair is also well combed. At this moment of the film, she hasn’t really improved her language yet. In this scene, her father comes to Higgins house and he first doesn’t recognize her daughter. During the Rain in Spain‘s scene, the first time Eliza speaks correctly, Audrey Hepburn wears a very pretty green dress, well adjusted to her waist. She wears a necklace (that’s the first time she’s wearing one in the film) and some little flowers are fixed on the dress. That’s the first moment of the film where she really seems happy. We also believe that’s when she falls in love with Higgins. She’s now ready to visit the high society.
The moment where the costumes of the films are at their best is probably during the horse race’s scene. Here, all the ladies’ costumes are black and white, but the forms, the details, the big hats were created with so much creativity and are all very diversified. We can notice that the dresses are straight and very chic. The ladies are wearing pearls, feathers, lace, white flowers, and frills. We can also notice some striped dresses. Most of them are also holding an umbrella. In this scene, Eliza wears a real high society dress. This one is made of white lace and is decorated with black and white striped patches. She also wears a big hat with a big feather like all the ladies in the crowd. We can notice the presence of a red flower on her hat. This is a way to show that she is not perfectly compliant with this group. Remember, this first entrance in the high society is a fiasco. First, because she exaggerates too much her way of talking and then because her bad language habits eventually come back when shes shoot at a racehorse: “Come on, Dover! Come on, Dover! Move your bloomin’ arse!” In this scene, all the men wear the same grey suit except for professor Higgins as I said sooner.
During the ball scene, Eliza now really looks and act like a real lady. She wears a very simple, but wonderful shiny beige dress with diamonds on it, a large necklace made of the same precious stones, and a tiara also made of diamonds. She also wears long white gloves and has a complicated hairdo. To go out, she wears an elegant red coat. In this scene, she really looks like a princess or a duchess. Remember, she dances with the prince during this scene. She finally is a great lady. The other dresses in the ball scene are more colourful than the dresses during the horse race’s scene. However, these are pastel colours. The ladies are still wearing feathers and flowers in their hair, but also tiaras, like Eliza, instead of big hats. The men are all wearing black tuxedos and Higgins doesn’t make an exception. When he’s back home, this one is wearing a white scarf and he’s now very elegant.
After she has been disappointed by the professor who seems to not really care about her, Eliza leaves the house. In this scene, she wears a pink salmon skirt with a white shirt and a salmon jacket. She also wears a simple but elegant straw hat with pink flowers on it and a lilac ribbon and little white gloves. These are very simple traveling clothes, but they prove us that she knows now how to dress up and what kind of clothes she should wear depending on what she’s doing. With these clothes on, she decides to go back where she comes from, in the poor working class of London. Unfortunately, nobody recognizes her. That’s a sad moment. The final dress Audrey Hepburn wears in this film is a very vaporous candy pink dress. She also wears a very elegant hat of the same colour. There, she is very classy and knows perfectly how to act with high society people. She’s now part of their world. She became a real fair lady.
So, as you can see, it’s very nice to see the progression of the costumes in this film. Cecil Beaton did a remarkable job and I really wonder where he found all these incredible ideas, especially for the costumes in the horse race’s scene! We can see some very extravagant costumes, but also some very elegant and refined ones. Audrey Hepburn was lucky to wear all these clothes! As Eva-Marie Saint says in North by Northwest, “patience is a virtue”, and I imagine you must have a good patience to design all these wonderful clothes. Cecil Beaton’s Oscar was very well-deserved. It rewards a long and hard work that participated brilliantly in the visual aspect of the film. It’s interesting to notice that there are not many close-ups in My Fair Lady. That’s was probably because they wanted us to see these wonderful costumes as much as possible. These next images are promotional pictures of Audrey Hepburn for the film. I believe they were taken by Cecil Beaton. An interesting thing about these pictures is the fact that these costumes are not wearing by Audrey Hepburn in the film, they were only used for the promotion. However, I’ve noticed that some of them are worn by extras in the film.
One more time, it was a pleasure to participate in the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon. Make sure to read the other entries!