Costume Design

Iconic Costume Designs: Holly Golightly

Audrey Hepburn created an iconic character as call girl Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. As Helen Beaumont is about to explain, the costume designs that were developed for Holly Golightly aided Audrey Hepburn in depicting a character for which this silver screen legend is now synonymous.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the 1961 movie adaptation of the eponymous novella written by Truman Capote. It chronicles the tale of naïve, eccentric socialite Holly Golightly, as gets into trouble living in New York City, while falling in love with a young man who has moved into her apartment building. It was a resounding success, bagging various honours, including a ‘Best Actress’ nomination for Hepburn.

Holly Golightly is an absolutely fascinating protagonist. At first glance, she seems like the ultimate extrovert – a real party girl, leading people to initially believe that she lacks substance. However as Breakfast at Tiffany’s goes on, the audience learns that Holly Golightly has previously fallen on hard times. As a result, yes she is manipulative, but she’s just a survivor and she does have the ability to feel genuine affection, especially for her brother Fred, turning her into a sympathetic character.

Tackling the challenge

How do you take on a character as complex as Holly Golightly? According to Classiq, Capote didn’t want Hepburn cast in the role, due to her innocent public image, preferring the worldlier Marilyn Monroe. The latter’s agent turned the role down, believing it would be bad for Monroe’s reputation but Hepburn embraced Holly Golightly, seeing the character as a chance to reinvent herself.

Audrey reportedly said that “I should be a stylish Holly Golightly. Even if that’s all I can contribute” to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, illustrating the importance she placed in costume design. In the film, several parts of Hepburn’s costume became associated with high style, reflecting the Golightly character. This includes her high chignon hair style, over-sized cigarette holder and Manhattan sunglasses.

Black sheath dresses

However, the most iconic element of Hepburn’s costume in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, was undoubtedly the black sheath dresses which served as staples of Golightly’s wardrobe. For the production, the legendary Hubert de Givenchy designed two black sheath dresses, with the first perhaps being the most memorable. It was a straight lined, low-backed, black satin gown, which Hepburn wore with long black-satin gloves, the sunglasses, strands of Tiffany pearls and a diamante hair ornament.

Commenting, Givenchy’s Creative Director Riccardo Tisci, once said: “It was 1961 and this dress is in a way very sixties. The front is severe, elegant, very clean, but at the back there is the very interesting neckline, somewhere between ethnic and Parisian; a softness that other designers in that time didn’t have.” Three copies of the dress were made, with one being sold at Christie’s in 2006 for US$923,187.

The second black sheath dress designed for Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly was a cloqué silk affair. It boasted a flared frilly skirt and Hepburn teamed the piece with various accessories, including a wide-brimmed hat, low-heeled alligator shoes, enormous broaches, lampshade hats  and of course, the Manhattan sunglasses. With this dress, it became even clearer to audiences that Holly Golightly was a stylish, good-time girl, allowing Hepburn to create a kooky, yet charming character.

Costume versatility

In Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly, we see how the strategic use of accessories alongside wardrobe staples, allows an actor to create a versatile, nuanced character. The legendary black sheath dresses served as the foundations of Holly’s wardrobe, establishing her as a style icon, with the various over the-top accessories sealing the deal. When Hepburn said that all she could be was a stylish Holly Golightly, she went on to create a character who changed global fashion forever.

About Helen Beaumont

Helen Beaumont’s career started at Camberwell College of Art, where she studied the History of Art and Design, specialising in costume during her final year. After completing study, Helen became a costume buyer for theatre and opera. She has since become a professional costume designer, with a keen interest in period clothing. Throughout her career, Helen has created authentic costumes for prestigious companies such as the Universal Studios, Disney, BBC, Tiger Aspect and the Young Vic Theatre.

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