Friday, May 20, 2016

You Are What You--Wear?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Scarlett O’Hara’s curtain dress, of course. When you’re talking about the best and most memorable movie costumes ever, that’s on the list. 

EVERYTHING Grace Kelly wore in Rear Window, including that little cosmetic bag.  

Slinky exec Faye Dunaway in Network, and always-icy-chic Miranda Priestly, and Rita Hayworth’s black strapless Gilda dress, and Ilse’s slouchy Casablanca hat, and …well, I’ll going to have to stop myself.

My very favorite move costume ever, though, is the dress Audrey Hepburn wore in the tennis court dance scene of Sabrina.

Or wait, maybe Julie Christie’s furs in Dr. Z?  Or Rene Russo’s backless gown in the new Thomas Crown Affair. Remember that? Anyway. Enough from me.

But that is why I also swoon over “Renee Patrick’s” new novel—featuring Edith Head! Ah. Such a brilliant idea!

So we’ll let Renee—who is really Rosemarie and Vince Keenan—tell all.


Ask any costume designer and she’ll tell you costume design is all about character. As a writer, I can get behind that. Characters become living, breathing people on the page when we convey their thoughts, their words, their actions. And of course, when we describe their clothes.

In Design for Dying, we spend a fair amount of time describing what our characters are wearing. It’s not just because we love clothes. (OK, I love clothes. Vince is largely indifferent.) It’s because one half of our detective team is the legendary costume designer Edith Head. How legendary was she? Edith had a Hollywood career spanning seven decades. She was nominated for thirty-five Academy awards and took home eight of the statuettes, the most of any woman.

The diminutive designer, consistently clad in her trademark tailored suits with dark bangs and tinted glasses, knew that character could be revealed by costuming. “The story is your Bible,” she wrote in her 1959 memoir The Dress Doctor. “First and above all, what kind of character are we dressing?”

Take Double Indemnity (1944) for example. In that film the character Edith outfitted was a manipulative woman with murder on her mind. Barbara Stanwyck plays the scheming Phyllis Dietrichson, intent on entrapping Fred MacMurray’s Walter Neff. Phyllis’ seduction of Neff is executed through wardrobe. Stanwyck’s form becomes more concealed as the film progresses; how could it not when the movie begins with Phyllis clad in a towel? In the “honey of an anklet” scene she flashes her gams. Phyllis later arrives at Neff’s apartment in a not particularly daring skirt-and-sweater ensemble—except her brasserie is visible beneath the angora, a brazen reminder of her agenda. By the time of their supermarket rendezvous, Phyllis is armored in a long-sleeved blouse with a tailored checked vest.

Poor Walter didn’t understand what Edith knew and practiced. She states it plainly in The Dress Doctor: “Clothes not only can make the woman, they can make her several different women.”

Edith didn’t save her sartorial smarts for movie murderesses or even the beautiful people of Hollywood. She offered advice to the average woman through her books, newspaper columns and regular appearances on Art Linkletter’s radio and television shows. Edith diagnosed the fashion faux pas of the ladies in the audience, teaching them how to camouflage flaws and accentuate strong points.

Such style tips provide a connection between Edith and her detecting partner, Lillian Frost, in Design for Dying. While investigating the murder of an aspiring starlet, found in a costume stolen from Paramount Pictures, Edith teaches Lillian a few things about dressing, including how to use a belt to create a makeshift peplum top, lending the illusion of curves to Lillian’s somewhat boyish frame.

“The way you dress – or package yourself – is the one thing over which you have absolute control. You can’t change the size of your feet, the shape of your legs, the color of your eyes or the texture of your hair – but you can change the way you look as easily as an actress does each time she plays a new role.” Edith Head, How To Dress For Success

I’ve certainly packaged myself in different ways over the years, changing styles more often than a con man changes IDs. Pink jeans and a leather jacket during my New Wave phase, a black mini-skirt and glossy red lipstick in the late 80’s (remember Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love video?), khaki-casual through much of the 90s (I know, what was I thinking?). Once I hit my forties though, and now entering my debut author phase, I finally know my type. These days I’d describe it as “as close to Amal Clooney as I can afford.”

 From time to time I still want to change those unchangeable aspects of my appearance that Edith catalogued but as always, she was right. No matter how often I try on the size eight slingback pumps I always walk out of the store with the size nines.

And what of my co-writer? Some of Edith’s style savvy has rubbed off on him too. I mean, just look at these shoes.

HANK: Love this! And VInce, very very fancy forties.  So Reds, let’s talk about movie clothing! What do you love and remember? What worked for you, and why?

Los Angeles, 1937. Lillian Frost has traded dreams of stardom for security as a department store salesgirl ... until she discovers she’s a suspect in the murder of her former roommate Ruby Carroll. Party girl Ruby died wearing a gown she stole from the wardrobe department at Paramount Pictures, domain of Edith Head.

Edith has yet to win the first of her eight Academy Awards; right now she’s barely hanging on to her job, and a scandal is the last thing she needs. To clear Lillian’s name and save Edith’s career, the two women join forces. Unraveling the mystery pits them against a Hungarian princess on the lam, a hotshot director on the make, and a private investigator who’s not on the level.

All they have going for them are dogged determination, assists from the likes of Bob Hope and Barbara Stanwyck, and a killer sense of style. In show business, that just may be enough…
Renee Patrick is the pseudonym for married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington.

You can friend Renee on Facebook (, follow her on Twitter (RPatrickBooks) or find more information at her website: 


  1. I love the idea of Edith Head being part of a detective team; I’m definitely looking forward to reading “Design for Dying.”

    Movie clothing? Jeanette MacDonald in “San Francisco” is a favorite; also anything Ginger Rogers wore to dance with Fred Astaire . . . .

  2. Hank, when you mentioned Scarlet's curtain dress, Carol Burnett sprang to mind and I saw curtain rods in the shoulders!

    What a a great premise for a book--and I love Hollywood costumes, especially of the golden age. Hepburn (Audrey) in the little black Tiffany's dress, Hepburn (Audrey) in any costume from Two for the Road. The wonderful costumes of Gone with the Wind--how long did it take to get into those things! Who can forget the lace up scene in the beginning? The party clothes in The Party.

    I never thought about clothes as a plot device. It's an interesting concept and I wonder if it translates to the page as effectively as on the screen.

  3. Sounds like my kind of book.

    I love mysteries with old Hollywood... and I LOVE talking about the clothes. I used it in "There Was an Old Woman" as now 90-year-old MINA remembers her first job working at the Empire State Building: "Mina remembered wearing a straight skirt with a kick pleat, a peplum jacket, a crisp white collared shirt, and a broad-brimmed lady's fedora that dipped down in the front and back, thinking that was all it took to make her look exactly like Ingrid Bergman. Movies, the war, and where you could find cheap booze were all anyone talked about in those days."

    Movie clothing: Yellow Dresse! Ann-Margaret's in Bye Bye Birdie or The Girl in the Yellow Dress in Contact. Katharine Hepburn's office wear in The Desk Set. Torn-neck T-shirt and leggings from Flash Dance. Anything Audrey Hepburn or Leslie Caron ever wore.

  4. wonderful post! And the protagonist choice is brilliant.

    what about Diane Keaton as Annie Hall in those men's suits?

    This isn't the movies, but loved loved watching Princess Diana's clothing and hats evolve. Her wedding dress was remarkable (in a hideous kind of way) and she grew more and more stylish--such a contrast to the queen!

    As for me personally, I'm afraid the style train may have left the station:).

  5. Love this book! I always loved Bette Davis's dress in ALL ABOUT EVE. Perfection. I know it's not glamorous, but the costume design in BREAKING BAD was so insightful -- all that symbolism. Fantastic stuff.

  6. It's funny how we're all mentioning older movies--Susan mentioned Breaking Bad and I mentioned Devil/Prada--but is there nothing as memorable in contemporary movies?

  7. Happy to see so many fans of Hollywood costume and fashion! Joan - I love Ginger's dresses too. A special favorite is the beaded gown from Follow the Fleet with the heavy bell sleeves - one of them smacks Fred in the jaw on film!
    Hank - It seems like there's so little chance for glamorous gowns these days but I'm a big fan of the costume design in Brooklyn. I loved the 50's stylings. And there wasn't much of an audience for the new Man from U.N.C.L.E. but there were some chic designs throughout. Even the men got a chance to shine in gorgeous suits!

  8. Hank, in terms of contemporary film, I love the designs from Tim Burton and Baz Lurmann... But even a film such as SPOTLIGHT, set in Boston in the early 90s, has important things to say through costume design.

  9. Oh, I loved Rosalind Russell's outfits in Auntie Mame -- talk about using wardrobe to show character! And, in the modern era--The Devil Wears Prada. That one montage in which Streep throws one gorgeous coat after another on hapless Hathaway's desk -- oh my. I love coats.

    And, dare I say it? Sex and the City, the TV show. I still get a kick out of watching reruns. Half the time, Carrie's outfits drove me crazy (I don't remember women running down the street in NYC looking like hookers, unless they were hookers...), but it was just interesting the way wardrobe dressed the four characters. Back in my NYC days, i was friends with one of the buyers. That's right, her job was to shop for the show! Can you imagine?

    Hello, Rosemarie! :-) So glad to discover your book here today--definitely goes on my list!

  10. Renee Patrick,

    Congratulations on your new book! I met you at my first Malice. I am happy to report that my local independent bookstore has your books on display!

    Love the clothes in old movies from the 1930s. Although I prefer silent movies, the clothes in the talkies makes it worthwhile to watch.

    Loved the kids' clothes on the tv show, Full House.

    Regarding movies, I love George Clooney's clothes. He always looks well dressed. I liked Rose Byrne's clothes and Susan Sarandon's clothes in a recent movie.

    Thank you, Susan, for a great post!


  11. I'm excited about this book! A now-gone but much-loved friend was a costume designer in Hollywood for many years, during Edith Head's later career. Clotilde used to teach at sewing shows and conferences, sharing some of the millions of things she learned over her time there. Fashion is one of my passions, anyway, and Edith Head was a genius.

    Does anyone else remember seeing the animated Pixar movie "The Incredibles"? It's about a family of superpower-enabled members, and they go to one Edna "E" Mode to get new costumes. Edna's character is based on Edith Head, and she's by far the most entertaining part of the movie. To me, anyway. I love it when kids' movies have jokes and references that go way over the kids' heads, but thoroughly entertain the adults dragging along with them.

    I'm a big fan of period costumes, which includes Mad Men. The bloggers Tom & Lorenzo analyzed the costumes on that show for all seven seasons, and it was fascinating. Janie Bryant did a brilliant job. Now they're doing the same thing with The Outlander series based on Diana Gabaldon's books. Terry Dresbach is the wonderful designer behind it, and she's doing a fabulous job.

  12. Oh, I can't wait to read this! I am a huge Edith Head fan, and of old Hollywood when it was so glamorous. And, a fan of clothes. My two favorite style icons - both the Hepburns. Katharine in her perfectly flowing pants and silk shirts and Audrey in her perfect Little Black Dresses.

  13. My movie-going has taken a hit of late. The last movie I saw in a theater was Whiskey Tango Foxtrot with Tina Fey. However, as for movie costumes, I LOVED that white shirtwaist dress Kathleen Turner wears when we first see her in BODY HEAT.

    I have a question, if that's okay. Edith Head is a real-life figure of our relatively recent past. Did you have to get permission to use her name and aspects of her life? Thanks!

  14. I love the women's fashions from the 30s and 40s. So elegant! Anything Myrna Loy wore or Jean Harlow. And the men too, bless their punkin heads. I always thought Bette Davis was beautiful in an un-Hollywood way. She must have been interesting to dress. I understand she was well endowed but refused to wear a bra. The costume designers had to work around that. Right now I'm fixated on the outfits Phryne Fisher wears on that mystery series. Fabulous.

  15. Rosemarie and Vince, Design for Dying sounds like quite an adventure, and the Edith Head connection makes it fascinating. The two-woman team appeals to me, too. Smart women working together to solve a murder!

    Like so many others here, I'm a fan of the older, golden days of Hollywood where costumes are concerned. In addition to the ones already mentioned, there's Marilyn Monroe's dress when she sang "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," and there was Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief, and then Audrey Hepburn bringing fashion to the forefront in Funny Face. Oh, and what about those icons of sexy, Mae West and Ava Gardner in films. And, like Hank, I loved Julie Christie in her furs in Dr. Zhivago, and like Lisa, I enjoyed watching Sex and the City for Carrie's different outfits. The wedding dress in the Sex and the City movie was amazing. Meryl Streep's wardrobe in Out of Africa was interesting to me, and in a movie you might not remember, Peggy Sue Got Married, I loved the wardrobe of 1960 that Kathleen Turner wore.

    Here's a piece of information I came across about Meryl Streep and her wardrobe in Out of Africa. "Streep ran into a spot of bother on set when a huge beetle crawled into her high-collard shirt, and got trapped during a scene. Like a true professional Streep carried on - then ripped her jacket off after the take."

  16. Not a dress from a movie, but from My Fair Lady on Broadway. I was probably 12 or 13...the startlingly white blouse, the shiny black belt, and the emerald green skirt worn by Liza Doolittle singing "I Could Have Danced All Night"... Oh my, what a memory!
    Thank you for reminding me with these posts.

  17. FInally back! yes, I loved all the coats in Devil Wears Prada--and Andi's Chanel boots! And yes, the hoes in Sex and The City--UNWEARABLE! But fab.

    Elisabeth, I remember that outfit---amazing. And the hats at Ascot.

    Susan, you are so right--the wardrobe in Spotlight was perfection. I was part of that era--and remember it well.

    The Outlander clothes! Incredible. I want a big knitted cowl like Claire wore in Season one. The Paris clothes? Yeesh!

    have you seen the show The Catch? It's secret fun for me--because I hve some of the exact clothes the main character wears. (I have some of Alicia Florrick's too--:-) ) It was really hilarious to see them in my clothes!

  18. Back at the computer after racing around New York City (Vince and I are here celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary!). Of course we stopped at every bookstore -- we picked up some great old Hollywood memoirs. Nothing like combining vacation and research!

    Diana - Isn't Malice terrific? We had such fun this year. And great to hear that your bookstore is spotlighting Design for Dying!

    Edna Mode is our favorite part of The Incredibles, of course, dahling.

    Rhonda - Edith's status as a public figure made it easy on us.

    I also love the costumes in the Miss Fisher Mysteries - so elegant. And I always thought Meryl Streep was the ultimate trouper. That story about the beetle proves it!

  19. Thanks for the interesting blog post. Best costumes? Recently, Miss Fisher. Total glamour. And I loved the costumes in Mad Men. I remember some of those styles,including one dress I actually had. (No kidding. Brought it to college with me) But from Edith Head's Hollywood? Every single thing Audrey Hepburn wore in Sabrina.Still the epitome of style after all these years.

  20. Triss--you are so right -- that little travel suit? Ah. Xxxx

  21. I loved the idea of Dying to Design when it was first mentioned at Malice and am looking forward to reading it. I've watched Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire over and over just to see the clothes.

  22. Loved this post! Enjoyed DESIGN FOR DYING very much.

    Ok, clothes: Audrey Hepburn's little black dress in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. All of those gorgeous tailored suits in the other Audrey Hepburn (and Katherine Hepburn, for that matter) films and in Doris Day movies. (DOWN WITH LOVE has great clothes in homage throughout, too.) And those purses!

    Also loved the costumes in MOULIN ROUGE, AMADEUS, and PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT.

    And, of course, Miss Phryne Fisher's *everything.*

  23. Thanks, everyone, for the kind words about Design for Dying!

    All this talk about gorgeous costumes is making me want to watch every Audrey Hepburn movie again! And I agree, one look at any Mad Men outfit brings back the era immediately.

    I don't think anyone's mentioned the costumes from The Thomas Crown Affair. Sigh. Both the original (1968) with Faye Dunaway and the remake with Rene Russo (1999) have chic, elegant wardrobes that would look perfect hanging in my closet!

  24. Is anyone else a fan of the Miss Fisher Murders? I would watch those just for the clothes - especially the hats

  25. The other half of Renee Patrick weighing in here. Let me echo Rosemarie in thanking everyone for their kindness regarding Design!

    I have to put in a word for men's costumes, which understandably don't get as much attention. Rosemarie already cited the big-screen version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in which Henry Cavill wears a suit that knocked me out of the movie. I watched the Leonardo DiCaprio/Russell Crowe film Body of Lies a second time just for the tailoring on actor Mark Strong as an intelligence officer.

    The recent movie that most impressed with its sartorial flair? Carol, in which clothes not only reveal character but, in the form of a pair of exquisite gloves, jumpstart the plot.