Women’s History Month: Audrey Hepburn- Still the Classiest

By Erica Richards

Coffee and croissant in hand at sunrise, pearls, a beehive up-do topped-off with a sparkling tiara, over-sized sunglasses—the reflection of a woman in the glass of a jewelry store. A young girl sprawled out on a tree branch over-looking a party she’s not privy to, an off-duty princess taking a rogue scooter disruptively through a town. All of these simple moments are from films that star the iconic Audrey Hepburn.  The percentage and likelihood that you have seen her image next to a cheesy inspirational quote or her face on a poster of a college age woman’s dorm room wall is absolutely certain, whether you have seen any film she is in or not. Maybe the quote was an actual quote she coined, maybe not. It is undebatable that Hepburn’s image, stardom, and influence has far outlived her life.

Hepburn defined a different idea of what a female Hollywood star could be. While she always maintained an extreme elegance and classy style—her look was attainable. This resonates with women and young girls still today. The ability to be stunning and gorgeous, but not in sex symbol type of way that other women, like Marilyn Monroe or Bettie Page, were labeled. A huge part of any celebrity’s persona, especially for women, even in today’s society is their likeability.

audrey charde
Audrey Hepburn in Charade (1963)

Stars have pressure to live up to expectations of Hollywood stardom and fanciness. Her choice prance around in flats instead of heels, her pixie haircut, and her playful smile are relatable, charming, and not out of reach. The fact that she would refuse to wear shoulder pads or stuff her bra was a choice she stood by unwaveringly. The playful personalities and stark independence in her characters make her an idol and role model for women and young girls, then and still today. She was always the charismatic girl next door, yet still glamourous.

“Hepburn’s Holly Golightly look from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”—the black dress, pearls, and sunglasses—defined her…This image has become a part of Hollywood culture—people who have never seen the film are able to recall and make the connection to Hepburn and the film.”

The memory of Hepburn’s persona and the characters she portrayed were almost always on the cusp of finding themselves, the stories revolved around the coming of age tales of girlhood and womanhood. This might not immediately ring controversial, but somehow the characters could be considered controversial, especially for that time in the 1950’s and early 1960’s when Hepburn’s career was at its height. Hepburn’s ability to embody these characters made them loveable, desirable, and even relatable.  One may think they want to live the lifestyle of a princess—Hepburn shows the audience in “Roman Holiday” that it is more fun to go rogue, cut off her long hair and fall in love with an American reporter you just met, things any normal young woman who is just trying to figure it out would do, too—princess or not.

roman holiday
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday (1953)

“Sabrina”, a story about a young woman who falls in love with a pair of brothers, one being a much older man all while finding herself along the way, is one of Hepburn’s most memorable and fashionably iconic roles. The fashion in this film, visually tells the story of her growth from girl to woman. When the audience is first introduced to Sabrina (Hepburn) she is childish, immature, and hopelessly in love.  She is dressed in a school girl dress with long dark sleeves and her hair is pulled back in a pony tail. She climbs a tree to peer into a party to spy on David (William Holden) whom she is foolishly in love with, he barely knows she exists.

“The memory of Hepburn’s persona and the characters she portrayed were almost always on the cusp of finding themselves, the stories revolved around the coming of age tales of girlhood and womanhood.”

Two years later when she returns from Paris where she was attending culinary school, Sabrina is unrecognizable to David—shorter hair and a sophisticated outfit was all it took for him to not know who she was. However—the outfit Sabrina wears to the party tells the story of her growth. Sabrina is in a white-colored strapless gown sprinkled with perfectly placed small bouquets of flowers.  These flowers signify that she has blossomed into a woman now. Of course, the whiteness of the dress alludes to her assumed virginity as a young woman, and her hopefulness to be a bride. Even today, this still remains one of the most adored and recognizable images of Hepburn.

If that image of the white floral dress and gloves is easily recognizable, then Hepburn’s Holly Golightly look from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”—the black dress, pearls, and sunglasses—defined her. This image has become a part of Hollywood culture—people who have never seen the film are able to recall and make the connection to Hepburn and the film. Really though, almost all of the other outfits she wears in this film are considered iconic, too. Even the popular HBO series “Big Little Lies” took many of Hepburn’s iconic looks and recreated them as costumes for their show—also featuring looks from “My Fair Lady”. Holly’s ability to bounce around her half-furnished apartment barely awake with a stark white top, turquoise and gold sleep mask, and purple tassel ear plugs seems effortless. Holly, although lost in her life, is never not—as said today—serving a look.

breakfast at Tiffanys
Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

All of this to say that Hepburn’s style, both in film and in her personal life, was truly iconic and influential for her and for other young girls and women. She is one of an extremely elite group of people: an EGOT—one who has an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony.  More important than her style and her trophy case, though, Hepburn contributed to the world through activism. She was a humanitarian and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush as well as the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences because of her impact on humanity.

Hopefully her humanitarian work and activism can be her legacy too, amongst the standard for poise, femininity, and classiness that she established for women until the end of time. Think about that the next time you grab a coffee and croissant and take walk down to Tiffany’s…

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