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High Couture 101: Audrey Hepburn’s Style Secrets

Put your lipstick on before you read this!

When Audrey Hepburn says, “Hand me my purse, darling. A girl can’t read this sort of thing without her lipstick,” in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, she might as well be speaking for every woman. Holly Golightly is preparing herself to get dumped, and our hearts clench because we recognize ourselves. Seriously, who hasn’t bought a sexy new dress right before the breakup? Or fortified shaky confidence with four inch heels?

It’s a knee-jerk response, right? A sort of, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, but look good while you do it” kind of thing. But Audrey Hepburn’s version definitely rocks it: Take lemons and make STYLE.

First, about those lemons. Audrey’s family had money, and mom was even a baroness, but success and titles didn’t stop her dad from going out to get cigarettes. For thirty years.

As a result, Mom moved Audrey and her two half-brothers around Europe a lot. Did I say a lot? Audrey learned to speak five languages because of it. They finally settled in the Netherlands, trying to avoid Hitler’s invasions, but invade he did, cutting off all food supplies. To survive, they ground up tulip bulbs to make flour. The starvation Audrey endured left her with that supra thin silhouette, a lifetime of frail health, and a desire to help kids in dire situations. So much so, she spent the last five years of her life as a UNICEF International Goodwill Ambassador, aiding children struggling for survival and reporting back to world leaders on their situations.

Second, concerning the style. In 1953, fashion centered on voluptuous with a capital “V,” a la Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. Then came “Roman Holiday”. Audrey charmed everyone, winning an Oscar for her princess’s day out portrayal, and suddenly, a less than well-endowed woman became the ideal female. Score one for diversity!

But that was only the beginning. Audrey’s drool-worthy clothes, and the way she wore them, made as big a splash as a lemon lobbed into the cinema punch bowl from fifty feet. In other words, KABOOM! Her next film, “Sabrina”, featured the transformation of a dowdy chauffer’s daughter into a Parisienne of exquisite taste. Certain only a French designer could effect that transformation, Audrey flew straight to Paris to ask up and comer Hubert Givenchy for his help. Alas, he was busy, so she tried on a few things he’d left hanging around in the back room—you know, no big deal. Once again, a la Audrey, she accomplished the unthinkable: a movie star fitting into a model’s sample dress. From then on, Givenchy designed Audrey’s clothes, on and off the screen, and their collaboration—well, let’s just say that becoming best friends with a French couturier is ALWAYS a good idea.

Even if you’ve never seen “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, (Bucket List!) you know the photograph of Audrey in front of the Tiffany’s window, wearing the most famous little black dress of all. She adored a boat neckline because it covered up her protruding collarbone, and that style was renamed the “Sabrina” neckline after the film. Don’t forget her button-down white shirts, cigarette style black pants, capris (patterned and otherwise), belted dresses, trench coats, ballet flats, striped tops, and of course, little black dresses tied at the shoulders. Pretty much everything she wore, we now wear on any given day. Even the white sunglasses. Except not the Tiffany Diamond because she’s one of only two women known to have worn it. Like, ever.

audrey-hepburn-white-button-down-shirt

Tiffany Diamond aside, Audrey’s style can be summed up in one word: simplicity. “What is more beautiful than a simple sheath, made an extraordinary way in a special fabric and just two earrings?” (Audrey preferred pearls, btw). Always purely herself, Audrey never tried to be provocative. Provocative wouldn’t have worked on her. But elegant did, and she firmly believed that “Elegance is the only beauty that never fades.” Meaning she played to her strengths. She understood it’s best to “find your own look and stick with it.” Obviously a good plan—even Jackie O claimed Audrey Hepburn as her style muse.

So find your best look, be charming, and give back to the world. Challenge the norm—take those lemons and make style. Hand me my purse, darling! A girl can’t read this sort of thing without a little Givenchy!

 

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