With a few notable exceptions, the romcom female is always an ‘everywoman’. The particular journey through which she goes on is also a journey which could quite feasibly be our own, in the right circumstances and - crucially - with the right amount of good fortune. An effective romcom convinces us that if our stars would just align, we would find true love. If we ‘buy in’ on any level to this proposition of the romantic comedy, however, we also know at the subconscious level that there is something the heroine is doing which we might not yet be so adept at. And that’s style and elegance, and a great cocktail dress!
A heroine in heels and a cocktail dress
The heroine doesn’t always need to be in expensive dresses to be elegant, but she often is. How then, do you replicate the ‘everywoman’ style? We take a look at four of the most elegant female romcom leads and you can replicate them.
‘Love Is All You Need’ (2012), starring Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm
Dyrholm’s character Ida has just undergone a mastectomy and returns home to a husband in bed with another woman. Distraught, Ida decides to proceed anyway to Italy to see her son’s wedding. Backing out of the car park to go to the airport, she bumps the car of Philip, a spry and braggadocious businessman. Initially, Philip shouts at Ida for bumping his car but - when it becomes apparent that they’re going in the same direction, Philip offers to take her the rest of the way to Italy, first-class of course. When they arrive in Italy from Denmark, the man and the woman with nothing in common except hostility end up falling for each other. The elegant final scene is of Ida strolling out into the middle of an evening party donning a peplum dress.
You don’t have to be drinking a cocktail in Italy to benefit from a peplum dress. In fact, Britain is the perfect place for it. Worn correctly, a peplum dress accentuates the natural contours of your body. This means that you do have to wear it correctly, but the visual advantages of you getting it right can often be striking. A peplum dress made of wool virgin fabric should be worn proudly to show your body off. The wool has a memory, so it will adapt over time and remember the shapes of the wearer.
‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1961), with Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard
Audrey Hepburn’s character Holly Golightly moves to Manhattan’s café scene to attract men. She’s moved from much more humble origins in the country. Being young - perhaps between eighteen and nineteen - she needs to establish social connections to make her way properly. Holly becomes attached to an older man, named in the film just as “Paul”, but he is engaged. The film sees “Paul” break off his engagement because he realises that he loves Holly more.
Holly’s socialite mystique in this now-iconic film has become synonymous with her little black dress. Today, that same dress is always referred to and recognisable as the “Hepburn dress”. The exact style and form might change a bit depending on the designer, but nobody mistakes it when they see it coming down the street. But: how to wear such a timeless and iconic piece with such a rich history? Countless designers have attempted their own take on this timeless classic. The famous photograph of Audrey standing outside Tiffany’s café on Fifth Avenue, in her little black dress, was so inspiring to Freddie Leiba that his role as the creative director of Harper’s Bazar in the 1980’s was built around it. He staged an entire editorial around it so as to properly be there for the reverberations of what was so obviously fashion’s canonic image. Wear the little black dress with a matching handbag and shoes which accentuate your height - shoes with a strap are perfect, or for day-wear you might consider the slip-on wedge shoes.
‘Pretty Woman’ (1990), starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts
Everybody knows this film, particularly its two leads. When Edward Lewis, a corporate raider, ends up in the red-light district of Los Angeles by accident, he encounters the street-walker Vivian Ward. Lewis (Gere) hires Ward (Roberts) as his social escort for his week in LA. In the luxury world to which she has been introduced, Ward struggles to keep her seedy and humble roots a secret. It seems that people can tell that she came from the streets and is heading back as quickly as she rose up through the social ladder. A hotel manager she meets helps Vivian to dress and speak like a lady, and to hold herself with dignity. Increasingly, Lewis looks at Ward the way she has come to see herself: as a lady demanding respect from the alpha male who she desires. Julia Roberts flourishes in several of the film’s most iconic scenes in a cocktail dress - not the cheap ones she wore on the street, but cocktail dresses showing her true elegance.
How do you wear a cocktail dress? Well, they’re always in style! They’re infinitely versatile so why not match it with some personal detailing, for example a clutch, with heels or fancy flats. You’re going to want to stay away from lower-body fabrics that are too casual - that don’t talk to the elegant potential of the cocktail dress.
‘The Seven Year Itch’ (1955), starring Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell
We have talked before about Coco Chanel - perhaps the woman who did more for the dress than any other by designing it perfectly at the perfect moment in history. We also made Audrey Hepburn the leading lady. But we haven’t yet talked about Marilyn Monroe, who wore a silk dress like nobody else. The movie The Seven Year Itch, directed by Billy Wilder, brings the silk dress firmly centre-stage in its famous image of Marilyn struggling to keep hers still in the wind. But how should we wear a long silk maxi layer dress - and can we feel like Marilyn in it?
You should: keep its somewhat breezy, flappy style (which Marilyn Monroe discovered can be a feature) grounded. For this, you should wear platforms which contribute to the overall aesthetic of the dress. Take advantage of its versatility by layering similar pieces over the top - for example, if you’re on your way to an evening function, wear a similar-coloured jacket. On top of the simplicity of the maxi cocktail dress, you could be selecting some eye-catching accessories.