From a very young age, Katharine Hepburn was a sporting enthusiast. She relished time spent outdoors playing golf, tennis, and swimming. In her film and stage career, she did many of her own stunts; even advancing age didn’t deter her. This love of movement and comfort greatly influenced her personal style. She held fast to her own informal style even while becoming one of Hollywood’s glamorous movie starlets.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Hepburn was becoming a true Hollywood fashion icon. On-screen she was wearing some of the most beautiful costumes of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Femininity and flare were constants. Off-screen, however, Hepburn preferred slacks, button-up shirts, and simple, practical shoes. She loved her practical style so much that she frequently had multiple pairs of slacks and shoes made up in the same styles and fabrics so she could rotate them in and out of her wardrobe.
Even as she clung to her classic style of slacks and button-front shirts, Hepburn still admired the fine creations of the great costume and fashion designers. For years, she patronized the New York designer, Valentina, who sometimes copied outfits from Hepburn’s film wardrobes so the actress could also have them for her personal use.
Although Hepburn’s personal style was perceived as original and even shocking in the 1930s and 1940s, by the 1950s the idea of women in pants had become more acceptable. Slacks were still considered inappropriate in the workplace or in formal settings, but casual slacks for every-day wear were growing in popularity and acceptance. By the 1970s and 1980s, the same casual pants and shirts that made Hepburn appear avant garde 30 years earlier, now made her a conservative Yankee, wearing patched and faded clothes.
To see some of Hepburn’s iconic slacks and shoes, as well as the magnificent costumes that she wore when performing, visit "Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen," a traveling exhibition from the Kent State University Museum, which will be on view at the Connecticut Historical Society through September 13. The accompanying catalogue, Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic, is available at the CHS museum shop. On May 10, just in time for Mother’s Day, "Kate Couture: A Hepburn-Inspired Fashion Show" will feature models from Miss Connecticut and fashion experts from Clinton Crossing Premium Outlets.