Gigi's Wardrobe in Gigi (1958)

Released 55 years ago last May, the movie Gigi is still visually arresting. With director Vincente Minnelli's trained artistic eye, each frame is a beautiful composition. And the clothing, designed by Cecil Beaton, moves well within these spaces. Sometimes the wardrobe even takes a secondary role to the scenery.

Or at least it does in Gigi's case from time to time.

Gigi (Leslie Caron) is a teenaged girl who is a courtesan in training. However, her mind is so far removed from the family business you know she's not going to be quite like her grandmother, Madame Alvarez, (Hermione Gingold) nor her Aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans). The older women in the family each had great conquests in their youth and want the best "catch" for their young charge.

Gigi is first seen frolicking in the park with her young friends. She's wearing a red and green plaid bolero jacket and matching skirt. The white blouse spills out of the jacket in romantic poet's sleeves. This is her ensemble for school. A Breton hat completes the picture of innocence. She looks like a storybook illustration of a schoolgirl.

This is the outfit that she wears throughout most of the film. It's become such a trademark for the character that when she changes out of it for the last time, another character finds it incredulous that she's not wearing the plaid.

The green coat that she wears over the plaid swallows her, emphasizing her petite frame and youthful qualities.Since this is a coming-of-age film, Gigi will emerge from her juvenile costumes, making her later ensembles that much more remarkably mature.

When she's not rushing to and from school and is just lounging around the house, Gigi wears a royal blue dress. Knife pleats, Peter Pan collar, mutton chop sleeves, bright white lines running everywhere contrasting the blue... she's almost clown-like.

She's still a child, leaping around, running, cheating at cards,etc.

Friend of the family, Gaston (Louis Jourdan), a wealthy sugar heir, has a friendly, platonic relationship with each of the ladies and invites Madame Alvarez and her granddaughter for a trip to Deauville for some sea air.

While at the beach resort, Gigi's wardrobe still plays up the contrast between her physical freedom and immaturity and the lack of both in the staid, adult females around her.

An anonymous woman at the resort is so heavily corseted she stands in one spot on the tennis court and waits for the ball to come to her, becoming visibly upset when her opponent lobs the ball a couple of inches out of reach. Gigi, on the other hand, with no corsets yet, leaps about while playing with Gaston, and lies on the ground in her tennis whites.

When in the surf, Gigi and Gaston yuk it up again. While sitting on his shoulders practically drowning the man, Gigi wears a blue bathing suit with white piping that looks a lot like her blue dress at home. Again, she's a juvenile.

Back home, Aunt Alicia smells a romance cooking and decides Gigi needs even more lessons than ever in being a courtesan. This means the young lady will have a new wardrobe.

During a montage of lessons and just afterwards, Gigi wears only blue ensembles. Three of these outfits are essentially the same: a light blouse and navy blue skirt. It's a more mature version of the royal blue "clown" dress earlier. She's growing up.

Gigi wears a lot of cool colors. She must; her grandmother has decorated the place in bordello red with rococo ornamentation on the walls. More fiery, saturated colors with patterns would just be too much to look at in that house.

Notice Gigi's hair is down throughout most of the lessons montage, as it has been throughout most of the film. But in her final blue skirt, when she's deciding whether to move her relationship with Gaston out of the friend zone, Gigi's bangs are still present (the last wisp of childhood)  but the rest of her hair is in a neat bow. She's maturing and reigning in her juvenile habits.


During a brief fashion show where Aunt Alicia chooses her niece's gowns, the only one that Gigi doesn't like is the very one that her aunt buys. It's a mauve dress and jacket which turns out to be too big for her; Gigi looks like she's playing dress up. This is played for laughs, but ultimately Aunt Alicia is right.

The gowns that Gigi likes (but her aunt will not buy) are too garish. No doubt Gigi's tendency towards loud color combinations and awkward frills is her grandmother's influence. Aunt Alicia wisely chooses simple lines for Gigi and subtle coloring.

Gigi now wants to show off her new gowns. She starts with a white lace dress with high banded collar. There is a tantalizing salmon, flesh tone underlay with this dress which completely changes the sensibility of this character. This is not a child any more. Note, also, that her hair is up. She will never wear it down again in this movie, outside of her bedroom.

Note also that Gigi is no longer enveloped by her grandmother's busy decorating; she stands out from it in simple elegance and poise.

This dress gives the audience and Gaston a glimpse of the butterfly before she fully emerges. Gaston especially needs this prelude to the grand finale evening gown to have time to absorb the shocking change in Gigi.

The grande finale dress is ivory satin with black feathered ornamentation at the shoulders which our heroine wears at Maxim's. Gigi's gorgeously simple gown makes the multicolored dresses on the other women at the restaurant seem overdone.

Just as it is at home, the busyness around her no longer consumes Gigi; it frames her.

In what could be called the epilogue dress, Gigi wears mauve again. This time the dress fits her frame and it's in her new signature fabric - lace.  (Aunt Alicia is ultimately right. She simply had to find a way to make the standard style suit her niece.)


Gigi fits in with the other women during her promenade, but her bangs are still prominent (and appropriate). This suggests that she knows how to wear fashion, but there will always be a bit of a rebel in her.


  1. Wonderfully insightful! I always appreciate and love the power of Costuming and sets. Along with the wonderful enhancement of the character it can create.

    1. Mick,

      It was only after I studied the costumes of the film that I really appreciated the sets.

      Minnelli was originally a movie set designer before becoming a director.

      He never let go of his set design eye, which meant actors would spend a great deal more hours on a Minnelli set so that he could get compositions in the background "just right." Still, ultimately their sacrifice was worth it.


  2. Love this post. The costumes are truly sumptuous and memorable. Some really linger in the mind - such as her white gown (with yards and yards of material!) and her navy skirt and white blouse. Yum!

  3. Excellent breakdown of Gigi's transition from girl to woman, Java. Oh that white gown with the black feathers at the shoulder! I never thought consciously of the way it made her stand out from the busy gowns of the other women at Maxim's, but you are so right. And that fabulous lace ensemble at the end. Sigh.... Wouldn't you love to get to dress like that just once?

  4. A really perceptive take on the costumes of Leslie Caron for Gigi. I love the film but have never looked at quite so closely from this perspective (though it is hard to miss that Gigi has become a woman when she dons that lovely white ivory satin gown).

    I thought you might be interested in this post from The Vintage Costume Collector who owns one of the ensembles you featured in your piece:


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