Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Femme Fatale Guide to Style

For avid Turner Classic Movies watchers, the month of November is dedicated to film noir, and it goes by the punny name Noirvember. We all love the gritty, interesting stories, but the costumes are a dream as well.

Today, on the very last day of Noirvember, I'm squeezing in one last post. So much ink has been spilled about the wardrobe choices of our favorite femme fatales and rightfully so. Their dress can be a weapon or a means of disguise. And even though they tend to leave a destruction in their paths, they're so fabulous, you can sort of forgive them.They have so much to teach us, so I'm compiling it here. Take note, ladies!
The devil's in the details: Barbara Stanwyck's character in "Double Indemnity", Phyllis, isn't a sexpot straight out the gate. But remember how her soon-to-be lover notices her "honey of an ankle bracelet"?
Incidentally, I've been searching Etsy for a vintage anklet for some time
That's a little hint that there's powerful, dark sexuality hidden in the housewife nice enough to give her maid the day off. In that era, nice girls didn't wear slave, or ankle bracelets, because they suggested something wild and sexual. So when Phyllis crosses THAT leg to show THAT anklet, she's sending a very clear message. These misguided connotations as rooted in messed up assumptions about the sexual availability of women of color and the exotic other, but that is a subject for another time. It's also rumored that James M. Cain, author of the book the film is based on, had a foot fetish (read more on Phyllis' anklet here).

Silhouette is very important. The femme fatale is marked by a pronounced silhouette, a waist pulled way in for a dramatic hourglass. Rita Hayworth's Gilda is a perfect example.
Nip in that waist for maximum impact.

Black is anything but basic. We know how important contrast and shadows are to the film noir aesthetic. Black costumes enhanced that while also saying these characters are dangerous and sexual. Gilda and that dress on Ava Gardner in "The Killers" are the examples that spring to mind, but really, what femme fatale didn't appear onscreen in at least one black ensemble?

But light colors and frills are important camouflage. Veda in "Mildred Pierce" is all delicate hair flowers, curls and victory rolls. How dainty she looks, how sweet she is! These are obviously lies, as she plays everyone around her like a fiddle.

And who can forget Lana Turner's white ensemble in "The Postman Always Rings Twice"? She's is a vision in white as she throws herself on the mercy of her lover. (For an extended discussion of Lana's nearly all-white wardrobe in the film, check out this post from GlamAmor.)

A little shoulder goes a long way. In a world of booty shorts--which aren't uniformly bad!--it's easy to forget that just a touch of bareness can be effective. Naked, soft shoulders can be so elegant and sensual and our femmes play that up. See Kitty in "The Killers" and Gilda, above. These classic femmes display their necks and shoulders. No cleavage, mind, but parts that are still erogenous zones.
Sheers are perfectly suggestive. The first time we see Rita Hayworth in "Gilda" she's following the previous femme fatale style rule, a little bit of shoulder, and her sheer peignoir is a gauzy dream. The fact that we only see Gilda from the shoulders up leads me to believe she's actually naked, or mostly naked, under her nightie.

Joan Bennett's Alice Reed in "The Woman in the Window" is an angel compared to the women on this list, but she still knows exactly what she's working wit and dazzles in this sheer top. When I first saw this movie, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out whether she was wearing a camisole or just a longline bra under her blouse.

So, there you have it. Rules for dressing from some of the most poisonous, wicked and interesting female characters on film. 

(Originally posted on Pop-o-matic Deluxe

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