Hollywood Revue: Film Fashion Blogathon: Auntie Mame (1958)

Mame Dennis changes fashion styles almost as often as she changes her mood. Rosalind Russell plays an eccentric 20th century New Yorker in Auntie Mame(1958), whose so dedicated to style that even her house is an extension of her wardrobe and gets appropriate and timely facelifts as well.

It's the 1920s and we meet Mame for the first time at one of her wild house parties. We instantly know that this woman is a sophisticate who shuns convention, not only because of the odd ducks at her party, and not because she orders bootleg gin during Prohibition, but because of her outfit. In a day when ladies of a certain age received guests almost exclusively in dresses, Mame wears black beaded lounging pants with orange beaded robe and Mandarin collar. She handles an outrageously long cigarette holder from which she never puffs. Cigarettes are an accessory for this character.

Mame wears her version of a smoking jacket in aubergine
When Mame begins her memoirs, her wardrobe (and house) becomes slightly masculine and filled with autumnal colors. Mame bounces about the house dictating the book to her secretary in a bow tie and tailor-made aubergine smoking jacket that nips in at the waist to display her feminine curves. She has emotionally and physically linked herself with another character through fashion, since the mildly androgynous outfit mimics the beige lounging jacket worn by her co-author, Brian.
Mame's co-author wears smoking jacket

A second feminine smoking jacket, this time with ascot
At the end of the second act - still writing her book, a bust of Shakespeare in the corner - she wears a slim, floor length, bronze smoking jacket with ascot, under which she wears matching metallic slacks that catches the light. It's a deliberate contrast to her secretary's matte brown outfit with orthopedic oxfords.

Instructing her timid secretary to get out more, Mame exclaims, "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death... Live!" Flinging  the skirts  over her shoulder, Mame races up the curved staircase shouting, "Live!" It's a dramatic ensemble that effectively leaves the second act on a high note.

We see Mame's extravagant wardrobe throughout the film so that during her lean years, after the stock market crash, the difference in style is noticeable. Instead of the usual furs, jewels, opulent hairstyles and whatnot, Mame now wears a nondescript, dark, ankle-length wool coat over a plain navy blue dress as she hunts down odd jobs.

Mame and the maid share a moment and a collar style
Mame, however, is not entirely superficial in Rosalind Russell's portrayal of the character, and the film uses wardrobe to showcase her capacity to love. When her nephew scrapes together some cash to buy her a fake diamond bracelet when they are broke, the heiress tearfully cries, "That's the most beautiful bracelet I ever owned."

Her dress in this scene sports a scalloped Peter Pan collar that looks strikingly similar to the maid's collar. This not only suggests that her income bracket is now similar to that of the servant's, it also again links her emotionally to the family of non-relatives with which she surrounds herself. She's still the fun-loving, welcoming person no matter the circumstances.

Meeting Patrick's trustee in a beige suit and "halo"
Mame is very much aware of her idiosyncrasies. It's as if the world truly is  her stage and she's a player trodding the boards. When Mame is about to meet the officious trustee for her nephew, she hurriedly braids a switch to mimic a halo, and dons a conservative beige suit and pearls; she's acting the part of a dowdy society matron to gain the man's trust. It works.

Backless widow's weeds
After marrying then losing her husband in a freak accident, Mame sports widow's weeds as only she can - with a bouquet of flowers sewn on her back side. It's a neat little surprise  for the audience when the grieving widow turns around. She's not changed a bit even in grief. And we like her that way.

This post is a part of the Fashion in Film Blogathon sponsored by Hollywood Revue. Click here to read the other contributions to the blogathon!


  1. I'm so glad Auntie Mame got represented today! It's full of so many memorable costumes. Everything about that movie was fabulous, as is your post about it. Thank you so much for joining the blogathon!

  2. You're welcome, hollywoodrevue.

    - Java

  3. Great post! Auntie Mame is definitely a film to be explored when discussing fashion :)

    I've read in the past that film and Broadway star Dolores Gray lived an "Auntie Mame" lifestyle. Interesting woman, who I don't know much about.

  4. Didn't know about the Dolores Gray connection. Thanks.
    - Java


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"Java's Journey: A really fun, informative well-written blog that explores all of the things - and I mean all - I love about classic films."-- Flick Chick of A Person In The Dark Email: java-rush@hotmail.com


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