Tag Archives: Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn – Dressed for Stage and Screen

I sort of hate posting about this exhibition, as it is closing, but despite my best intentions, I was unable to attend it until late last week. It was the Upstate History Museum’s  (in Greenville, SC) very first showing of fashion and costume, and they really did lead off with a winner. The show came from Kent State University Museum, which acquired the personal clothing of Katharine Hepburn around ten years ago. I saw this show in 2010 at Kent State, and had really enjoyed it, and since it was so close, decided to see it again.

When Kent State acquired the clothing, they learned that some of the pieces were identified with the name of the production, but others were not. Since I saw the show seven years ago, it appears that some more pieces have been identified, as there were some additions that I did not see the first time around. Someone has haved the very pleasurable task of watching Hepburn’s films with an eye out for the museum’s costumes!

Included in the show are garments Hepburn wore on stage, on screen, and in her personal life. There were quite a few costumes in her possession because if she really liked a particular garment, she would buy it when filming was completed or when the play’s run was over. In some cases, if she could not get the original, Hepburn would have the designer make copies for her personal use.

This green jumpsuit may be such a copy. It was made for Hepburn in 1939 by the designer, Valentina, and was worn in the stage production of The Philadelphia Story.  You can see Hepburn wearing it, or the original, in the photo behind the mannequin. There is also an very similar natural silk one in the collection.

Also from The Philadelphia Story, this gown was also designed by Valentina. The belt is a reproduction. Hepburn also wore this dress in 1973 (thirty-fours years later) when she portrayed Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie.

This dress was worn in another stage production, The Lake of 1934. Remember that famous Dorothy Parker quip about Hepburn’s acting, “She  runs the whole gamut of emotion from A to B”? This is the play being referenced.

Hepburn continued to grace the stage, even after she found fame in Hollywood. These three costumes are from Coco, a 1969 musical in which Hepburn played Coco Chanel. Cecil Beaton designed the costumes, but to add a bit more authenticity to the production, Hepburn went to Paris and purchased some of the real deal. The suit on the left is by Chanel; the pantsuit and gown are by Beaton.


Stage Door, 1937, gown by Muriel King. I don’t tend to think of Hepburn as the frilly type, but this proves she could carry it off when necessary.

Hepburn wore this gown in 1949’s Adam’s Rib, opposite Spencer Tracy. In the movie poster seen behind the dress the dress is tinted red so it would stand out from the others wearing black. This dress was designed by Walter Plunkett in 1949.

This gown was designed by Irene, and was worn in 1948’s State of the Union.

UPDATE: I added this photo from Liza at Better Dresses Vintage to illustrate one of the things we discussed during our visit, the quality of workmanship of Hollywood costume departments. Being able to examine the clothes this closeup really lets you see the great skills of the sewers in those costume shops.

In 1967 Hepburn made her last movie with Spencer Tracy, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. These two ensembles were not actually used in the film, but were the outfits she wore in publicity photos for it. They both show signs of additional wear, and so Hepburn must have worn them in her private life.

Katharine Hepburn also did special productions for television. These two costumes were worn by her in the 1979 production The Corn Is Green. Considering she was seventy-two years of age at the time, she had a pretty impressive figure. She did have a little help from corsetry.

I’m afraid I have to title this photo, “Costuming Gone Bad.” These two are from Love Among the Ruins, which was filmed in 1975, but was set in 1911. The green robe/coat garment was made from a lovely silk, and I really liked it, but that red!  The fabric appeared to be a cheap poly, and the trim was that stuff people used to use to trim lampshades. And so many feathers! I simply do not understand what the designer, Margaret Furse, was thinking. But what do I know? Furse won a costuming Emmy for this made for TV film.

Here’s a selection of Hepbrun’s famous slacks. There are thirty-one pairs in the collection, though not all were on exhibit. Many were custom made to fit Hepburn’s specifications. The jodhpurs were bought at Abercrombie and Fitch. The blue jacket may be the one she wore in On Golden Pond.

Hepburn also had her shoes custom made. There are six of these brown single strap shoes in the collection.

Two trays of Hepburn’s makeup, and you can barely see a hairpiece in the upper right corner.

I had some company on this visit, Liza, the owner of Better Dresses Vintage. Having another fashion history lover with whom to discuss and critique the clothes really does enhance the experience of a visit to an exhibition.

These clothes will be heading back to Kent State where they will be on view from February 2, 2018 to September 2, 2018.


Filed under Museums

Exhibition Journal – Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen

This exhibition was at the Kent State University Museum in 2010 and 2011 after receiving a gift of Katharine Hepburn’s clothing from her estate.  Since then the exhibition has traveled, and it is currently showing at the Durham Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.

In 2007 the Kent State Museum contacted the estate of Katharine Hepburn as they were interested in acquiring her collection of her performance clothes.  The estate administrators agreed that the collection should go to Kent State.  There were almost 700 pieces, most of which were identified, but others that needed research in order to identify in which film or play Hepburn had worn the item.  Many hours were spent watching films and looking through publicity photographs.

There were also items from her personal wardrobe including thirty-one pairs of slacks, many of which were beige or tan.  Many of the clothes were so small that special mannequins had to be carved of foam.  In order to get a clear picture of how the costumes looked, photos of Katharine Hepburn wearing the costumes were shown as posters behind the displays.  The pieces that were on display were the most important and the ones that had, at the time, been identified.

I often take my journal on museum visits if I think the atmosphere might be right for sketching.  Kent State is rarely crowded, but they do not provide a place to sit, so I only did a few drawings.  I know the dress and jodphurs look too long and skinny, but Hepburn was tall, and the waist of her pants measured 20 inches.

I did a review on this exhibition soon after I saw it in 2011.  I don’t know if it will continue to travel, but if it comes to a museum near you, it is well worth a visit.


Filed under Journal, Museums

Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen

Last week I took the time to visit one of my favorite museums, Kent State University Museum.   The museum is a favorite because of the intimate nature of the place; one gets the feeling of viewing a friend’s collection.  There are no ropes or barriers, no scowling guards, no uptight vibe.  Instead the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, and I’ve never had to fight off a crowd in order to see the clothing.   Best of all, the clothing is positioned so one can see from different angles.

I was so happy to learn that KSUM has acquired the clothing from the Estate of Katharine Hepburn.  I’ve been looking for an excuse to travel north since the first showing of it opened in October.

When the museum received the gift, they realized that some of the clothing was identified, while other pieces were not.  They are still working to match garments with stage and screen roles.  What a chore, having to sit and watch Hepburn movies, trying to spot the clothing!  I’m joking, of course.  That would be the dream job of many people I know!

Here are just a few of the 31 pairs of slacks that were included in the gift.   Many of the pairs were custom made just for Hepburn, and the cut is very similar.  This is a woman who knew how she wanted to look, and she stuck with a formula that worked for her.  The pair of jodhpurs came from Abercrombie and Fitch.   The blue shirt was possibly the one she wore in On Golden Pond.

Can you tell how small her waist was?  Most of these have a waist measuring around 20 inches!

These are the costumes from Long Days Journey into Night which was filmed in 1962.  It was directed by Sidney Lumet, who died last week.  The costumes were by Sophie Devine of Motley.

Guess Who’s coming to Dinner was filmed in 1967, and the costumes were designed by Joe King.  The two seen here were not actually in the film, but were used in the publicity shots for it.  This was Hepburn’s last film with Spencer Tracy, who died just a few days after the filming was finished.  Was it the sadness associated with this that kept her from saving any of the actual costumes?

This dress is from the 1937 film, Stage Door.  The dress is by designer Muriel King, and is of gray marquisette and silk chiffon.  The belt is a reproduction, based on the film scene and the many photographs available for the museum to study.

We tend to think of Katharine Hepburn as a movie actress, but she was also very active on the stage and also on television.   The red robe and the green jumpsuit were designed by Valentina for the stage production of The Philadelphia Story. The wedding dress is from a major flop called The Lake, which was in 1933. Next is another dress by Valentina, made for Miss Hepburn to wear in Without love, 1942.  The last two costumes were made for the play, Coco, in which Hepburn portrayed Coco Chanel.   She actually traveled to Paris and bought two Chanel originals to wear in the play.  The black suit is by Chanel, and the white jacket and black slacks were by the play’s designer, Cecil Beaton.

To learn more about the clothes, you can view a video by museum director Jean Druesedow.  I watched it before my visit, but I was also very lucky to be there when Druesedow was giving a tour to Leonardo Ferragamo and his two children.  They were there because Ferragamo was being honored by the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising at Kent State.  So if anyone runs across photos of this event and there is a middle-aged woman in a white blouse in the background, that would be me!

Exhibition Images Courtesy of Kent State University Museum


Filed under Museums, Road Trip