Style inspiration comes from many places, but it was Doris Day, who was certainly seen as the “girl next door” in many of her movies, that the average woman could relate to. While we point to Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn as the image of the 50s, it was Doris that could really do it all. A superb actress, a dancer, and a singer, she made 39 movies over a 20 year span with virtually all of Hollywood’s leading actors, 100s of songs (Que Sera Sera being my favorite) and a dancer, particularly in many of her earlier movies in those somewhat frilly musicals produced by Warner Brothers.
However, it was 1959’s Pillow Talk that was her most influential movie of all time from the standpoint of style. It is decidedly modern–as accessible as it is aspirational. It is also quintessential Doris Day. It was her move to Universal Studies where she finally had the opportunity to play independent women in sophisticated sex comedies. Pillow Talk was the first. With her strength and style, she became a role model for a new generation of women who were working both in and outside the home.
The signature piece of her wardrobe was the sheath dress (or wiggle dress, as it is often called for its flattering fit and the way women seemed to walk while wearing it). It became hugely popular because of this film and virtually synonymous with Doris Day style. Sheath dresses and colorful clothes existed before her, of course, but no one would make them as much a part of their image as she did. Besides her own talent, much of her transformation into the role of urban sophisticate is due to the vision of Jean Louis, her costume designer (more below).
In Pillow Talk, Doris plays interior designer Jan Morrow, a career gal who proves that a work wardrobe need not suffer in the style department. It was the first of her films working with Jean (along with three-time co-star Rock Hudson) and really marked a turning point for her. “He created a sophisticated allure for Doris that launched a new phase of her career,” wrote journalist Tom Vallance. With this wardrobe, Jean highlighted her phenomenal figure with tailored wiggle dresses and brought out the sexuality in her virginal onscreen persona. Friend James Garner–who starred with her in The Thrill of It All –said Doris “exuded sex” while still maintaining her image of the All American Girl. To be sure, she carries off each costume with the grace of a runway model and the body of an athlete.
“The Doris Look” and the lessons we learn from her are attributable to her costume designer. Jean’s overarching style for his stars was sleek and simple, but elegant. He paid “meticulous attention to detail,” yet nothing superfluous ever complicated his designs. It’s for these reasons that his clothes remain so timeless today. Costumes in these lavish productions really showed Jean’s gift with color. It was one of his great talents. Cream and red, royal blue and black, kelly green and turquoise, and red and leopard skin are just some of the color combinations featured in Pillow Talk. “He had the most amazing discerning eye for color,” recalls his daughter-in-law Linda Lewis. “It was a 6th sense for him.” In a couple cases, colors come from the statement jewelry that Jean integrates into those outfits. He also incorporates luxurious fabrics like fur to evoke even more glamour where coats, capelets, hats, and hand warmers all appear as accessories.
The colors, the fabrics, and the design all bring us the romance of the 50s and 60s styles and they indeed are timeless. The appeal of her clothes comes from their body conscious silhouettes and the fact that they are fit to perfection. This made their design extremely accessible and the wardrobe inspired many women when the film first premiered in 1959–from secretaries to housewives as it does today. Doris evolved into a fashion icon and continues to set the trends today through current designers like Michael Kors. Doris has clearly had an impact on fashion both then and now and as such is included on the elite list of The Style Essentials. Here then is some style inspiration to be learned from Doris.
Go Bright and Bold
No matter the era, Day was never afraid to wear something bright and bold, like this super mod polka dot dress and matching head scarf. The next time you reach for your all black ensemble, consider adding a pop of color to brighten your (Doris) day.
Channel Your Inner Parisian Girl
If ever in a style conundrum, it’s always a good idea to ask yourself: what would a French girl do? Even Doris Day knows the importance of capturing that enviable je ne sais quoi those French girls just ooze from their Riviera-sun-soaked bodies.
Wrap Dresses Never Go Out of Style
Especially in sweater dress form. With a killer cowlneck.
Accentuate Your Eyes with a Matching Ensemble
Even if your eyes aren’t brilliantly blue, learn how to dress to highlight your pretty peepers. Blue, green and hazel-eyed-gals, consider wearing green, blue and teal tones. Brown-eyed-girls — you don’t have to stick to brown sweaters and shirts. Opt for gold tones or accessories to help accentuate your eyes.
Don’t Be Afraid of Sequins and Sparkle
Sequins and sparkle embellishments aren’t just for grandmas. They’re perfectly stylish as long as you keep it tasteful.
Diamonds Will Always Be a Girl’s Best Friend
No matter what they say about diamonds, do not be ashamed to admit that they’re your favorite accessory of choice.
Need more style inspiration. Here are a few more examples of Doris’ sophisticated style. Also check are Pinterest board on the 50s styles.