Trousers a la Katharine Hepburn

Last updated on May 3rd, 2024 at 11:00 am

If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.

Will it be Trousers for Women?

If you think that trousers are uninspiring, not ladylike, and a Hollywood Movie Star would never wear them, think again.

old hollywood movie stars in trousers

Trousers a la Katharine Hepburn – The Inspiration

Inspiration can be found anywhere and in anything. Mr de Merteuil usually finds his in art.

Although, he’s rarely satisfied by simply looking through the many books that we have, rather he prefers to see his muses up close and has been known to travel vast distances just to feast upon one particular painting or sculpture.

What to see in Krakow

Ecstasy by Wladyslaw Podkowinski at the Gallery of 19th Century Polish Art in Sukiennice, the Cloth Hall in Krakow.

Related: The Perfect Weekend in Krakow

A few years ago, we travelled to Florence for my husband’s birthday so he could see his favourite painting, La Primavera by Botticelli.

It was definitely worth it!

Related: The Perfect Weekend in Florence

La Primavera by Botticelli

My inspiration doesn’t usually involve such a drastic course of action, as I usually find what I’m looking for in the writings of my favourite authors or costume styling from old Hollywood films.

Trousers in Old Hollywood

Every newspaper in America carried a picture of Marlene in trousers. Telegraph wires clicked, cables carried the news to far countries, and dress-designers cursed and tore their hair. Paramount, maiking the most of what first looked like “a bad break,’ seized advantage of the ocasssion to push the greatest publicity campaign ever given a star. Word was given out that Marlene ten trouser suits; she was photographed in several of them. Department stores blossomed out in pantaloons for every size, from junior miss to stylish stoout.Advertisements blared the new ‘Marlene Mannish Styles.’ Marlene Dietrich has received more newspaper space for wearing trousers than Garbo ever got for being mysterious.

Dorothy Calhoun, Movie Classic, 1934

Greta Garbo in trousers.

Dietrich wasn’t the first star to wear pants though and as Calhoun rightly pointed out the credit should go to Greta Garbo.

Picture of Greta Garbo by my beloved photographer Clarence Sinclair Bull.

The use of the image in this post falls under section 107 of the Copyright Act, which permits “fair use” for the purpose of education and commenting.

For many years Garbo has worn trousers, not only for thouse famous solitary walks of hers in the rain but for street sauntering. Party goers were accustomed to the sight of a Greta in slacks or trousers. But nobody had ever thought of making publicity out of it. And so Garbo, the real pioneer of pants, gets no credit for her bravery in flaunting convention-and is the Metro Lion’s face red!

Dorothy Calhoun, Movie Classic 1933
Trousers in the 1930s
Trousers in the 1930s.

As it so happens, the last three films that I watched, or rather re-watched, have one thing in common, Katharine Hepburn, who is the star in all of them.

The Philadelphia Story, Woman of the Year and Bringing Up Baby, are not only hugely entertaining in their use of caustic dialogue but also visually beautiful and definitely inspirational as far as my wardrobe is concerned.

My beloved Adrian is the genius behind the breathtaking gowns in two of the aforementioned films and Howard Greer created the gowns in Bringing Up Baby.

It is not the beautiful gowns however that I would like to draw your attention to, but rather the wide-leg trousers that are worn by Kate in many of the scenes.

Katharine Hepburn-The Muse in Trousers

A strong personality on and off-screen, beautiful, intelligent and unconventional (for some even eccentric), Katharine Hepburn preferred comfortable wide-leg trousers, loafers and men’s shirts, over ball gowns.  

Katharine Hepburn is among the stars whohave lined up on the side of trousers for women. It is said that she has had the local tailor who has fitted Dietrich and Garbo to trousers make several pairs for her. Her overalls are the talk of the town – as they are no doubt intended to be. She refuses to be quoted on trousers, as on all other subjects, but one thin is certain -Katharine Hpburn would not choose to wear them because they were the style, or refrain from wearing them because they were unconventional. She does as she chooses without reference to the rest of the world

Dorothy Calhoun, Movie Classic, May, 1934
Katharine Hepburn

She made the very masculine look incredibly sexy and created a truly empowered feminine image.

Hepburn is one of my greatest inspirations, going head to head with Marlene Dietrich when it comes to looking casually chic.

How fabulous is Hepburn’s suit in the Philadelphia Story?

Katharine Hepburn style

Katharine Hepburn style

I put on pants 50 years ago and declared a sort of middle road.

Katharine Hepburn, 1981 interview with Barbara Walters.

The image falls under Fair Use, section 107 of the Copyright Act.

How to Wear Vintage & Retro Trousers

As you may or may not know, depending on how long you’ve been reading my blog, my wardrobe consists mainly of true vintage garments from the 1930s to 1950s.

To my consternation, however, one particular piece of vintage garment from the 1940s has thus far eluded me, in the right size and colour, it is a pair of trousers.

Despite this, my lack of true vintage trousers shopping success, she says wiping a tear from the corner of her eye, I stand by the motto, Never give up until you’re dead!

For the time being, however, I would like to take the time to focus your attention on… Vintage-inspired slacks and how to wear them!

I own very few clothes from contemporary designers and all of them are inspired by the glorious fashions of the past.

There is Vivienne Westwood with her fantastic vintage-inspired trousers along with Victorian-inspired jackets, as well as Wheels and Dollbaby with fantastic pencil skirts, retro sweaters and cardigans.

The Marie Antoinette Cardigan Wheels & Dollbaby

In the picture, I’m wearing The Marie Antoinette Cardigan by Wheels and Dollbaby paired with 1980s trousers

My favourite vintage-inspired Vivienne Westwood trousers, Wittchen shoes and a 1930s brooch.

I wear my sort of clothes to save me the trouble of deciding which clothes to wear

Katharine Hepburn
vintage inspired slacks

Trousers a la Katharine Hepburn Look

1940s Femme Fatale

The Vintage Trousers a la Katharine Hepburn

I’m wearing my favourite 1940s blouse paired with 1980s slacks and SPITZ loafers in the picture.

Femme Fatale in Trousers

Related: How to dress like a 1940s Femme Fatale.

Photography by Gregory Michael King

Proper foundation garments under vintage clothes are a real game-changer.

Orchard Corset paired with Dita von Teese bra.

The Retro Trousers a la Katharine Hepburn

For those of you who are new to the wonderful world of vintage, and are more comfortable with contemporary clothes, here is my vintage-inspired look that I believe, Katharine Hepburn would approve of. For this (2007 does 1970s does 1940s) look, I opted for the following;

Vintage inspired slacks
  • Biba wide-leg trousers and silk blouse from the A/W 2007 collection designed by Bella Freud
  • Jimmy Choo pumps

Photobombed by my child Isia-Lilith.

Katharine Hepburn Inspired Look from the Philadelphia Story

I wear my sort of clothes to save me the trouble of deciding which clothes to wear.

Finding interesting vintage clothes that will be the right size, in good condition and reasonably priced, is becoming more and more of a challenge now that the general population has caught on to what we insiders have covered for years.

So, alternative tactics need to be employed in order to get the look and I can see only two options, which are as follows;

  • Buy a vintage sewing pattern and find an excellent seamstress who will be able to create the desired outfit.
  •  Look among contemporary designers who are as inspired by vintage fashion as I am.

As I’m still on the look for a skilled seamstress, I have to resign myself for the time being to pair the old with the new. Being so inspired by Katharine Hepburn’s immaculate, stylish look in every film she made an appearance in, especially in The Philadelphia Story, I wanted to find something similar to what her character Tracy Lord wore in one of the first scenes of the film.

A very relaxed, casual country chic look that would be suitable to wear when meeting friends for lunch or for a stroll in the park with the dog. So…

For the Vintage Look with a Modern Twist, I opted for the following.

  • Ralph Lauren jacket
  • Vintage Mansfield Originals-Cache D’or trousers
  • Valentino silk top
  • Versace reading glasses
  • Vintage bowler hat by Lock & Co.
  • Janroll shoes 

The vintage look with a modern twist was inspired by Katharine Hepburn.

vintage look ala Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn style

Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story.

One Stays Feminine, One Goes Masculine & Both Have Glamour

Nobody wants to be a play girl any more but everybody deserves a holiday. Your summer clothes ought to be gay and comfortable, ready for that day of relaxation! Colorful slacks for every woman whose figure allows.

Ladies Home Joarnal, 1942
women wearing pants in the 1930s

Masculine, Feminine or both?

Which look do you prefer more?

One stays feminine, one goes masculine and botha have glamour!

Movie Classic May, 1933

What do you think?

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