When we think of Audrey Hepburn’s style, we picture LBDs and diamonds, the great costumes of her film career and perfectly fitted skirt suits. Unfailingly polished both on and off-screen, the actress was a steadfast champion of personal style.
In nearly all of Audrey’s roles, she is made over from a slip of a girl into a glamorous, sensual figure. Her ability to have it both ways – youthful, innocent, and quick to laugh, as well as supremely chic and cosmopolitan – was something no other leading women of her time, and very few since, have been able to emulate.
Audrey Hepburn’s fashion was rather pared-down, and certainly exemplary of the Fifties. Capri pants, flat shoes, sweaters with dainty silk scarves tied around the neck, and belted full skirts were all staple items for women of the era, and iconic of Miss Hepburn. Although she didn’t aim to be a woman of particularly high fashion credentials, Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton and, of course, Hubert de Givenchy, saw her as a muse.
Pamela Keogh, author of Audrey Style, tells the BBC, “I think Audrey became a role model because she offered (her fans) an alternative – it was another way of dressing, another way that a woman could present herself, in an acceptable and beautiful way, to the world.” She had a unique, independent take on femininity – a stark contrast to contemporaries like Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Audrey was strikingly thin and flat-chested, and not many knew that she owed her famous figure to the long-term effects of wartime starvation.
Audrey The Ballerina
Throughout her childhood, Audrey trained as a dancer in both London and Amsterdam. She dreamt of becoming a ballerina, and was devastated by the thought that her struggles during the war could prevent her from dancing. There are few photographs of young Audrey among the great deal taken during and after her film career, yet we can assume that the many years spent in ballet shoes and leotards had lasting effects on her style as well as her ever-graceful stage presence. Anyone looking to dress like Audrey Hepburn, needs only to start at the beginning: with ballet flats and bodysuits.
The Runaway Princess
In her first major film, Audrey trades satin ball gowns for crisp white blouses, neckerchiefs, and full skirts. As a princess escaping from the daily life of royalty, she falls for a dashing American man and they gallivant around Rome on his Vespa. Audrey Hepburn’s style is perfectly captured by timeless separates like those by Theory. The brand’s perennial crisp white button downs and classic Breton stripes embody Audrey’s look.
The Most Glamorous Playmate
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the story of Holly Golightly, perhaps the most fabulous fictional New York call girl ever (sorry, Julia Roberts). While this wasn’t Audrey’s first film in collaboration with Hubert de Givenchy (look back to Sabrina for round one), it certainly is the place to look for classic Audrey Hepburn outfits. Her little black dresses, accessorized with pearls, opera-length gloves, and big dark sunglasses, are pure glamour. Givenchy can still be counted on for the perfect LBD, any pair of Lanvin sunglasses look like something Audrey would wear today.
The Fairest of Ladies
Amid lots of whispering about Audrey snagging the leading role from Julie Andrews (who in the Broadway incarnation of the show), My Fair Lady was perhaps Miss Hepburn’s most fashion-centric film. Cecil Beaton designed over one hundred costumes for Audrey, and was so in love with the way she embodied each of them that he held a marathon 48-hour photo shoot to document it. An incredible 350 images and 100 outfits later, what’s the takeaway? Huge flower-topped hats, black and white stripes, fitted lace gowns, high collars, and, of course, cinched waists. T by Alexander Wang’s ultra-casual stripes offer a more wearable interpretation of the look.
After eighteen films (an unbelievable percentage of them timeless classics), Miss Hepburn was ready to rest and devote her time to other worthy projects. In 1988, she was named a Goodwill UNICEF Ambassador and spent many of the last years of her life visiting children in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and other poverty-stricken nations. Audrey Hepburn’s style at that time was driven by comfort and practicality, rather than fashion and glamour, though it’s evident her fashion tastes remained consistent into her semi-retirement. Trading white blouses for polo shirts, she devoted her time and talents to brightening the lives of children. A UNICEF press release notes:
“Often asked whether she misses the glamour and the pace of her years as a star, Audrey Hepburn responds that since leaving the cinema her life has been one of happiness and contentment.”
Miss Hepburn’s wardrobe was put up for auction in 2009 by the London fashion auctioneer Kerry Taylor. The dresses, skirt suits, and other remarkable pieces that embodied Audrey Hepburn’s style were exhibited in New York and Paris before finally going under the hammer in London. Unsurprisingly, many items, including an iconic Givenchy couture LBD, sold for two to three times the estimated value. Half of the proceeds went to UNICEF and the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund.
Audrey Hepburn’s style endures not only because of her flawless taste and iconic roles, but because of the woman herself. Her famous quote says it all:
“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”