To Catch a Thief_Grace Kelly, Cary Grant_Black beach wear_front full.bmp © 2011 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

To Catch a Thief: Grace Kelly’s Beach Wear

This is the most conspicuous outfit Grace Kelly as Frances Stevens wears in To Catch a Thief (1954), principally because there is little narrative justification for it being so elaborate.

Her 18th century lamé gown, for example, is deliberately ostentatious. It is costume designer Edith Head’s show stopping finale, intended to throw all attention onto Frances as part of her and John Robie’s (Cary Grant) elaborate ruse. This exotic beach wear, however, is jarringly visible for no other reason than because Frances enjoys attention; far from ingratiating her to Robie, or us, she is presented as self-admiring and rather childish.

Note how Frances pauses for a moment on entering the hotel lobby, that absurd wide brimmed hat balancing unsteadily on her head. The gaze from passers by, generally older women in twinsets and summer frocks is both admiring and mocking. Speechless Robie (Grant oddly choosing to fasten both buttons on his blazer) is noticeably embarrassed. Nonetheless, as is so often the case, silly is also spectacular. Frances is a grand spectacle, even if she does know it:

Black beach or ‘resort’ wear: black Capri pants rolled up; black halterneck beach top with round neckline; black edged drawstring tie skirt in ecru silk or white linen, calf length and left open at front; white straw, wide turndown brim hat with crown removed; black turban (likely velvet); high wedge sole sandals; large white beach bag.

While this is a fun look and certainly daring for Head, it was obviously demanding for Grace Kelly to actually wear. She walks stiff, like an anxious student at finishing school. For once it was not footwear that caused the problem, but that oversized, crownless hat. Grace is wearing a flesh coloured skullcap, commonly favoured by dancers, to keep the hat from slipping off her turban. The overall affect is somewhat clumsy and awkward, though does contribute to the uneasy beats between Frances and Robie. Plus director Alfred Hitchcock had a close working relationship with Head, approving every costume for Frances individually. Evidently he must have been content with the result; he was not a man known for settling.

The outfit resembles early 1900s cycling wear, even if in the context of the story it is clearly intended as beach attire. The slim leg trousers look like pedal pushers though are actually very fifties’ capri pants turned up slightly. Cut to the beach itself and Frances has changed into a plain halterneck swimsuit, where she soon has a catty confrontation with Danielle Foussard (Brigitte Auber).

Compared to cheeky Danielle, who is wearing a hipper, more playful variation on the halter neck, a floral trimmed bathing costume with fitted cups and gold bangle, Frances is staid in all black – definite contrast to earlier in the hotel lobby. This is a different audience now, however; a free-spirited opposite, younger and apparently even more audacious than Frances.

This would all change in the proceeding scene when Frances turns the tables on shameless youth by taking control of the situation and deftly wrapping Robie around her little finger; Frances’ most ‘Grace’ outfit yet is to come…

You can watch Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief at LOVEFiLM.com.

    © 2011 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.

  • http://www.clairekennedydesign.typepad.com ClaireOKC

    OMG – I love this outfit…yest it was ostentatious and yes, it was self-aggrandizing, but what a way to go. Edith had a head and eye for ostentatious without being tricky – which sounds sort of like an oxymoron, but this outfit was so classic, so filled with just being out there in your face, that it works as an attention-getter. I love it cause it simply says, I’m so hot you can’t touch me look without a lot of hullabaloo going on. For that it’s honest. Frances was honestly out for Robie and no bones about it.

  • http://writingwithhitchcock.com Steven DeRosa

    Initially Francie was going to be wearing this outfit in the earlier scene in her mother’s suite. The decision to delay it until the lobby scene came during location filming. Hitchcock had unit manager Doc Erickson telegram Edith Head indicating that an additional costume would be needed for the earlier scene, bringing the total costume changes for Kelly to eleven.
    Script-wise, the reason that Robie appears awkward in the lobby is that he believes he’s being closely scrutinized, but of course it’s Francie’s outfit and sun hat drawing all the attention.

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      Very interesting point about the sudden additional costume, Steven. Thanks for sharing that information.

  • AmyLynn

    Velvet urban? I tend to disagree, that would be so oppresively hot. Possibly a scarf? I’ll have to pop my film in and take a look! :) I have always thought this was such a great costume and wonderful for this character. And a girl needs an “absurd wide brimmed hat balancing unsteadily on her head” to keep from freckling or getting skin cancer, you know :)

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      I know, it would certainly seem like an odd choice, though do consider that costumes are generally chosen for how they look on screen in the moment rather than how they could actually be worn in real life.

  • http://writingwithhitchcock.com Steven DeRosa

    My pleasure, Chris. Love your site. And always enjoy the amount of detail you uncover. When interviewing screenwriter John Michael Hayes for “Writing with Hitchcock”, we discussed how particularly in TO CATCH A THIEF careful attention was paid in the script to the clothing of nearly every character—from the opening scene where Robie eludes the police at his villa by requesting to change his clothes….to the scripted close-up of Francie’s bathing suit draped over the back of a chair…to the costume ball where two sets of two characters wear the same clothes. It’s no wonder Edith Head wrote that it was her favorite film.

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      Wow, that must have been a fascinating discussion. I appreciate the kind words and thanks again for your expert analysis.

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