Like peanut butter and jelly or salt and pepper, Audrey Hepburn and the little black dress are synonymous with each other. As much as I love her iconic look in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or her playful black dress with matching “cat” cap in Sabrina, where’s the love for the skinny black pant? When Audrey Hepburn burst into stardom, she didn’t look like any of her contemporaries. Curvy Marilyn Monroe dominated the screen and Sophia Loren was captivating post-WWII audiences. When waif Audrey showed up, Billy Wilder famously said, “This girl, singlehandedly, may make bosoms a thing of the past.”
Wilder’s first collaboration with Hepburn was on the film Sabrina. Sabrina is also significant as it was the first time Audrey was dressed by her long-time collaborator, designer Hubert de Givenchy. What Givenchy did in Sabrina, that Roman Holiday did not was give Audrey clothes that showcased her slender figure. One of the standout looks is the all black outfit seen below. Givenchy paired a chic pair of cropped black trousers with a long sleeve deep V neck in the back shirt to create a sophisticated look that took Sabrina Fairchild from a naive chauffeur’s daughter to a woman taking charge of her own destiny.
A similar look created by Givenchy three years later in Funny Face would eclipse her status as a fashion icon. It’s a look that’s still duplicated in popular culture just as much as the little black dress.
As Jo Stockton, Audrey wears this all black ensemble in the beatnik dance scene. Because she was going to have to dance, it was designed with movement in mind. In this scene, Jo is at her most carefree. Here in the club, she’s surrounded by her people: intellectual equals and hipsters. These are the ones she believes she belongs to and with.
The all black look has taken on a life of its own. It’s timeless, elegant, and fun. Even if Audrey is dressed in all black, her spirit in that moment in the film is welcoming and infectious. You want whatever it is that she’s having that allows her to enjoy life through dance.
And it’s a look that’s often imitated. Everyone who pays an homage to Audrey is influenced by her but is never trying to take her place. No better place is this look seen than in the music video.
In Whitney Houston’s video “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” the legendary singer travels through time paying tribute to her biggest influences. In one scene, she visits Funny Face‘s Parisian nightclub and recreates the dance from the film. Houston is so adorable in this. She has the charm once possessed by Audrey and you can tell she was having just as much fun as the people who made Funny Face.
In 2011, Beyonce wore the all black ensemble for her video “Countdown.” Unlike “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” in Beyonce’s video she wears the luck and performs similar choreography instead of recreating most of the scene. Beyonce brings Audrey into the 2010’s with dancers of this era infuses classic moves with a contemporary flair. What I love about both videos so much is that women of color are showcasing Audrey’s style. Audrey’s style was accessible to everyone. Givenchy set out to create a look that would showcase Audrey’s figure and the same thing is done for both women above. For Beyonce, it’s even more special as she was pregnant at the time with her daughter Blue Ivy Carter. This outfit shows the world that pregnant women like Beyonce can still go out there, do it all, and look classic and beautiful in the process. The all black look evolved to become a celebration of the body, in all its forms.
Then three years later, Taylor Swift channeled Audrey for her video “Shake if Off.” Like Houston and Beyonce before her, Swift’s video is filled with references to different dance styles from ballet to hip hop. In a moment where she is the lead singer of her band letting loose, she wears the all black number. Instead of loafers, she changes things up with pointed black ballet flats with a leopard printbringing Audrey in front of a new audience yet again. This look isn’t showcased as much as the others so you might blink and miss it or not make the connection but having seen Funny Face countless times and other pop culture influences before it, one knows what it means and gets the idea. Like Jo Stockton in the club, Swift’s song pairs very well with the idea of enjoying and expressing yourself in life on your own terms as Jo did in Paris.
The original, often imitated never duplicated Funny Face airs Monday, June 26th at 10 p.m. on Turner Classic Movies. As a cultural touchstone, I know this look has appeared in many other places, what are some of your favorite homages to Jo Stockton? Share in the comments below. For now, I’ll leave you with Gap’s 2006 commercial used to sell the skinny black pant. I think it’s so much fun and it was made with approval from Audrey’s son, Sean Ferrer.