Producer Ross Hunter’s 1962 film If A Man Answers (directed by Henry Levin) is a sweet, silly and lighthearted romantic comedy featuring Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin. Sandra is Chantal Stacy, daughter of Boston businessman John Stacy (John Lund) and former Folies Bergere burlesque dancer and professional Frenchwoman Germaine Stacy (Micheline Presle). The film focuses on Chantal’s negotiation between the Boston practicality and the French passionate nature that runs through her genetic line. Bobby Darin, as fashion photographer Eugene Wright (“Mr. Wright”), finds himself in the middle of this mess as Chantal’s willing romantic victim.
Chantal’s first scene in the Stacy master bedroom after returning from a date features Dee in an ice-blue coat and white cowl-neck sweater (gowns are credited to Jean Louis), perfectly matching the walls of John and Germaine’s bedroom, illustrating via costume that she considers her place to be in her parents’ home, not outside of it. This is echoed Chantal’s arguments against her father’s urging to get married. In the next scene, she again matches the decor of the parents’ home and, specifically, her own bedroom. The walls match her pale yellow hair, and the nightgown echoes the voluminous canopy around the bed and matching window treatments.
The white cowl neck sweater is repeated in the kitchen scene with Germaine. Sandra Dee was an archetypal ingenue, and was often dressed in white to indicate her virginal nature and highlight her fair features. Later, Chantal walks into her parents’ bedroom in an ice-blue pencil skirt, again matching the walls of the room perfectly.
Chantal and Germaine’s mother/daughter relationship is highlighted continuously throughout the film, and their costumes, hairstyles and make-up is usually younger/older versions of each other. Chantal wears the iconic “swan” hairstyle favored in the early 1960s by United States First Lady and most famous wife and mother of the time, Jacqueline Kennedy. Germaine has basically the same hairstyle, just an older version of it.
The family relocates to New York City, and, on one of her first outings on the streets of Manhattan, she meets Eugene wearing a leopard coat – dressed as a predator animal on the hunt. This film features the idea of a woman treating her romantic partner in the same way as she would train a pet, and the leopard coat is the first hint of this animalistic concept. Her French upbringing and influence on her dating habits is shown via a black beret balanced on one side of the head. She again appears in the leopard coat when arriving at Eugene’s apartment for the first photography session as his model following an invitation on the street during their first meeting.
During that first session, during the conversation in Eugene’s kitchen, Chantal’s camel dress matches the more feminine aspects: the curtain fabric and dishes. Eugene matches masculine, sturdy parts of the kitchen, the pale slate blue of the walls and kitchen cabinets.
Chantal’s photo shoot costume channels Germaine’s Folies Bergere days, with its corseted lace, sheer tights, and giant fluffy pink feather boa. It is not accidental that, following Chantal’s father’s interruption of the photo shoot and subsequent return to her parents’ apartment, Germaine is clad in a pale pink robe with huge pink fur collar, matching the fabrics of the bedroom exactly as she gives love advice to her daughter.
When out dancing with Eugene, Sandra is the only woman on the dance floor in a pale shade. All surrounding men and women are in dark suits and dresses, while Chantal is in pale gold, indicating that she is standing out from the crowd, at least in Eugene’s heart, as the wooing process continues, her feathered skirt again linking to her French mother’s glamorous past in acquiring her own husband.
Chantal was clad in ice blue in the opening scenes; now, we see Germaine in the same shade as mother of the bride. After the wedding, Chantal drifts into a much darker palette, indicating stormy times ahead as she adapts to married life. Chantal’s wardrobe after school friend Tina (Stephanie Powers) arrives highlights the differences between Chantal’s single self and more comfortable post-marriage wear. She paints a ceiling while observing Eugene directing Tina in a photo shoot, green with envy in olive overalls. The sensible pants outfit in the following scene, with fringed unfitted sweater, is also lacking in the feminine closet of the earlier scenes, in contrast to Tina’s tight green bathing suit.
Chantal seeks Germaine’s advice in a deep teal suit with black trim. She no longer matches the parental home whatsoever; however, Chantal’s next few outfits do not match the matrimonial home, either. We watch as Chantal exercises Germaine’s advice by treating Eugene like a dog in order to make him behave as her husband, including the invention of a lover named Robert Swan, who sends bouquets of long-stemmed roses and calls the apartment, hanging up with a click if a man answers. This is translated literally in Chantal’s red riding hood and matching dog-carrying basket, a young woman working to tame a wolf. The cape is removed, revealing the classic, early 1960s sheath dress in the same scarlet shade, picking up the many red accents in the apartment.
This is one of several examples that suggest a Jacqueline Kennedy influence, the ultimate early-60s example of the perfect wife and mother. Kennedy, having been heavily influenced by French anything throughout the entirety of her life and a faithful Paris couture client, is a good choice of model from which to draw the early 60’s tastes of Germaine and Chantal.
As the ruse of Robert Swan, Chantal’s faux lover, evolves, regaining Chantal’s marital control, her clothes are light, mostly white and ice blue, again, with occasional belts and accessories in the orange-red of the apartment trim, and even the hat Eugene whisks her to buy during their first meeting. When her game is subsequently foiled by Eugene and his father, Chantal changes into a black dress before leaving him.
In the final scene, when Chantal’s pregnancy is confirmed, and after Eugene’s “husband training” is complete and successful, she appears in a magenta peignoir nearly identical to one seen on Germaine earlier in the film, continuing her mother’s legacy.
By Lisa Magnuson. Lisa is fond of things nostalgic in nature, particularly classic films. She edits a blog of classic Hollywood photos which can be found at Nineteen Fifty Four.
You can watch Sandra Dee in If A Man Answers at LOVEFiLM.com.
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