Style Icon: Grace Kelly

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To coincide with the screenings of High Noon as part of the British Film Institute's Western season this month, we shed a light on the 20th century's most elegant style icon, Grace Kelly.

Words by Olivia Girling

From make-believe princess to real life princess, Grace Kelly has left a style legacy in her wake. Decades after she tragically passed away in a car accident in 1982, the traditional 'Grace Kelly look' is constantly being replicated in magazines and photo shoots across the globe.

From staring alongside Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby in High Society (1956), to her marriage to the Prince of Monaco, Grace Kelly lived out a lavish lifestyle mixing with Hollywood A-listers as well as in royal circles. Commended as one of Hollywood's most gifted and captivating stars, she went on to give up her acting career and Marry Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956. Today Grace's Kelly's elegant style, so reminiscent of the 1950s, has cemented her as one of the true icons of the 20th century. Reflecting elegance and poise, we reminisce about Grace Kelly as the style icon that she was.

Early Life

Grace Kelly as a child black and white
Grace Kelly as a child, PHOTO CREDIT - Dressing Vintage

Kelly was born in Philadelphia in 1929 to a well-educated and wealthy family, which is coincidentally very similar to her character in the 1956 musical film, High Society. She trained in New York with the intention of becoming a stage actress, although her classic and elegant charm immediately captured the attention of many Hollywood directors, including the famous Alfred Hitchcock, with whom she went on to work with multiple times.

Kelly's style was known for its simplicity, with crisp white shirts and tortoiseshell glasses, she was the epitome of modest and stylised dressing. With an array of pastel-coloured cashmere dresses with nipped-in waists, it comes as no surprise to anyone as to why her style was (and still is) so adored!

High Noon (1952)

Grace Kelly in High Noon (1952), PHOTO CREDIT - Stanley Kramer Productions

In 1952, Kelly got her Hollywood break-through in a Western film called High Noon, playing the protagonist's wife, Amy Kane. In many ways it pushed forward her career into a much more steady position. With layers of lace, ribbon and ruffles, paired with bonnets and Queen Anne necklines, Kelly's character was the stereotypical wife of the Old West Marshall.

Following this breakthrough, she was snatched up to star in The Country Girl (1954) alongside Bing Crosby. A role for which she was awarded an Oscar for Best Actress! Both on and off screen, Kelly dressed in such an effortlessly elegant way, with classic shirtwaist dresses, or a casual shirt paired with straight-leg trousers; she always made it look so easy.

High Society (1956)

Grace Kelly in High Society (1956), PHOTO CREDIT - MGM

Kelly's acting career spanned just six years, but she starred in eleven films during that time and was able to solidify her position as a style and film icon for many, many decades to come. Her final role was well-to-do socialite Tracy Samantha Lord in High Society, alongside Frank Sinatra and The Country Girl co-star, Bing Crosby. Her character's style was very much in keeping with Kelly's own; neutral colour palettes, nipped-in waists and lots of pleats. Never deviating from the styles that she knew suited her so well. The costumes were designed by Helen Rose, the designer who ultimately went on to design Grace Kelly's wedding dress!

The Princess of Monaco

Grace Kelly after her civil marriage ceremony to Prince Rainier of Monaco (1956), PHOTO CREDIT - Rex Features

Whilst on a business trip to the Cannes Film Festival in 1955, Kelly was introduced to Prince Rainier III of Monaco for a photo opportunity, although the two began courting and a year later they were married! Helen Rose designed the beautiful wedding dress, which is now recognised as one of the most memorable and elegant dresses of all time, and supposedly was an inspiration for Catherine Middleton's wedding gown.

For the civil ceremony, Kelly adorned a dress not too dissimilar to her traditional style; it featured a high neck, flared skirt and a fitted bodice, whereas her dress for the religious ceremony had a long, billowing skirt, and was made with 100 yards of tulle, 25 yards of silk taffeta and 125 year old lace!

Throughout her time as a real-life princess, Kelly remained true to her style, keeping with the very elegant and ladylike clothing that people had grown to associate with her. Her sudden death in a car accident in 1982 shook the world, yet her legacy lives on. Her style has gone on to inspire and be replicated by many. She was a true fashion icon, and always will be.

How to Copy Her Style

Grace Kelly style blouse capri pants loafers outfit grid

To get Grace Kelly's elegant and 1950s style, opt for full-bodied skirts, cinched waists and slim silhouettes. Lace, taffeta and tulle all featured heavily in the graceful skirts and dresses that Kelly wore during this period. If it's a less feminine look that you want to go for, you can still take inspiration from her off-duty style, Capri pants and turtle neck jumpers were a film favourite.

The 1950s saw in the conservative fashions of the 1940s with a post war appreciation for lavish and expensive fabrics. Skirts were fuller, silhouettes were more defined and a sense of elegance and glamour was injected into the way we dressed. No one embraced this more than the Hollywood starlets; hair coiffed, skirts fluffed, lipstick slicked, the chic luxury of 1950s fashion suited their slender frames well.

You can see Grace Kelly in High Noon as part of the BFI's Western month right now! Get your tickets here.

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