Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is the cruel and doggedly ambitious title character of Joseph Mankiewicz’s and Darryl Zanuck's masterpiece All About Eve (1950). Eve stops at nothing (even intimating that she would commit murder) to usurp Margo Channing’s (Bette Davis) place as the star of New York theaters.
The prolific, Oscar-winning costume designer for Bette Davis in this film is Edith Head, whose credits include wardrobe for Elephant Walk (1954) and White Christmas(1954). The rest of the cast was costumed by a number of other designers, including Charles LeMaire. Let’s track the costumes and see what they tell us about Eve.
In Eve, we first encounter the title character on a stormy night. Margo describes her as “the mousy one in the trench coat.”
The unemployed young lady’s rumpled coat stands in stark contrast to that of the mature, well-tailored ladies of the theater who do not give a second thought to throwing around expensive furs. Eve discusses her impoverished upbringing and the film begins a twisted Horatio Alger plot.
When Eve becomes Margo‘s personal assistant, the young lady wears nondescript blouses and skirts. Then one day, she enters the room wearing one of Margo's hand-me-downs.
The suit was given with her employer’s permission, and while Eve’s wardrobe is a getting a much-needed boost, the doppelganger factor makes the whole situation creepy (especially after she‘s caught playing with one of Margo‘s stage costumes).
The crucial point of the Margo-Eve relationship occurs at a party, where the usurpation of her life is becoming too much for the drunken star. Here Eve is in her finest outfit to date: a dark dress with ¾ length sleeves and a wide-necked, almost off the shoulder, collar.
Margo wears a similar dress, with mink-lined pockets, of course. It is partly by accident that the two ladies are wearing dresses of a similar neckline. There’s a famous story that Edith Head made Bette Davis’ dress too small. The sleeves wouldn’t reach the shoulders and there was no time to fix it, so Head gave Davis an off-the-shoulder look instead.
It is not accidental, however, that the two are positioned face-to-face. When Margo finally blasts Eve for her deceptions, the staircase railing is in the middle of the frame, further dividing two ladies who formerly had a more pleasant relationship. The physical division and similar costumes give a near mirror effect. They meet in the middle as Margo’s career descends and Eve's career ascends.
One of Eve’s outfits puzzles me. In the scene where she optimistically talks about a new career opening up, Eve is decked out in widow’s weeds, complete with dark veil.
the self-seeking, ruthless Eve ...would make a black-widow spider look like a lady bug."
Since ladies on a tight budget in movies too often look as though they’ve stepped right out of the Dior showroom [See It Started With Eve (1941) and any Doris Day movie], Eve's wardrobe is remarkably and appropriately lackluster. As she ascends in her career, the clothes begin to catch up with her ideals.