Film Fashion: Elizabeth Taylor in Elephant Walk (1954)

When rewatching Elephant Walk (1954) for this blog entry, I was hoping to find a progression of wardrobe that coincides with the growth (or even regression) of the characters. I didn't find it. As far as I can tell, clothes-wise, Elephant is simply a fashion show by Edith Head.

Edith Head was a costume designer with a long, illustrious career in films and outstanding marketing skills. In addition to marketing herself to the stars and gaining friendships with them (though I do not suggest that her acquaintanceships were for purely mercenary reasons), Ms. Head also penned a few books, giving advice to the "average" woman.
Edith Head

For Elephant, Ms. Head has put together a beautiful catalog of wasp-waisted outfits for Elizabeth Taylor, emphasizing the waist, of course, and the bust and hips - some of the star's most well-known physical features below the neck.

But first, we see Ms. Taylor's character, Ruth, at work in a bookshop, wearing some kind of smock or jacket to protect her work-a-day clothes. This is before she marries a wealthy plantation owner, John (Peter Finch) from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
Even when Ruth is dowdy she's not really dowdy.

After this, the two get married, stop in Paris for a honeymoon and Ruth emerges with a beautiful wardrobe. Let the fashion show begin.

The honeymooning couple arrives at John's estate, Elephant Walk, wearing the same shade of khaki. You could say this means they are close and of one mind, but that might be pushing things; lots of people wear khaki in warm climates.
Here you get a look at the full outfit. She's dressed for the climate (flowing skirt, 3/4 sleeves), and is stylish as well.
Ruth exploring her new digs while wearing her traveling suit.

This is Ruth's first night at Elephant Walk. She has found that her husband keeps sycophantic friends of his father around the house and is a little depressed. It's kind of like when Millie discovers she has brothers-in-law in 7 Brides for 7 Brothers (1954), except these are wild, juvenile drunks that you wouldn't want to have around.
This bodice is so tight it seems she must have been sewn into it. The lovely white skirt suggests innocence. One could say that the purple atop the white suggests tainted innocence, she didn't know what she was in for when marrying the guy, etc., but that might be stretching an idea beyond plausibility. It's just a nice gown.

Ruth wears lots of light colors, including this peach nightgown that I would so totally wear. Her husband is downstairs playing with the guys instead of upstairs with his wife. He must be crazy. She's depressed.
Art is reflecting life again - Ms. Taylor's real first honeymoon trip was pretty horrible as well.

A full-skirted, shirt-waist, off-white dress, with short sleeves. For accent, a golden scarf at the waist and a lovely belt with a curly cue design that compliments her mansion's entryway. I'd be too afraid of soiling this one.

She's kind of waiting around for something to change in her life, but John insists on ignoring her. While waiting, she dons another lovely dress for dinner. A pink gown with halter-top and small golden belt emphasize her shoulders and waist.

You know, for someone who's so depressed all the time, she sure doesn't let her wardrobe go down. I'd probably walk around in this dressing robe all day. But even it looks lovely. There's no way she could reflect her blues in her clothes, other than rending them in two and wearing ashes.

I love the contrast of Ruth's white robe against the dark door, where family secrets are kept locked away. Innocence and darkness.
Ruth, the Sleuth

Absolutely gorgeous red and white striped dress with asymmetrical collar and matching red belt. Here Ruth is getting news from the doctor about her husband's condition after he has broken his leg while in a drunken stupor. She's dressed like a candy striper - those volunteers who used to work in the hospitals.
The couple is having an argument here, but they are still both dressed in the same color - blue.

After a "friend" makes a pass at Ruth, she feels uncomfortable when John tries to make amends. They are not wearing the same colors any more. Maybe there's something to the color scheme, maybe not.

The climax to her wardrobe is this white, one-shoulder gown with golden belt, which she wears at her late father-in-law's birthday party. It is very reminiscent of the earlier off-white day dress with the curlicues on the waist. This is possibly my favorite movie dress ever.
Husband and wife are again wearing similar hues, does that mean they have returned to each others' good graces? I doubt it; he's about to slap her.

The one piece of wardrobe that I can say, without fear of equivocation, furthers the plot is that elephant necklace she's wearing. It's a family heirloom that seems to be choking her.

After John slaps Ruth, she jerks the necklace off and throws it at his feet. She then seriously contemplates leaving the guy. Will she? Won't she? The 3rd act begins after that.

Though they are much maligned by some critics for a lack of depth, what-will-she-wear-next movies have their place in film history. If nothing else as pit stops for the stars as they wait for their next film. Elephant Walk is the warm up for Elizabeth Taylor's other new-bride-fights-old-family story - the smash hit, Giant (1956).


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