How Italy Influenced an Icon: The Style of Audrey Hepburn

By: Mariana Bockarova
Often considered the epitome of grace, Audrey Hepburn was – and remains – an icon to be reckoned with. With her classic beauty and feminine charm, she captivated millions through film and thousands through her helping hands. In the twenty year anniversary of her death, just as the ‘Audrey a Roma’ exhibit dedicated to showcasing Hepburn’s long-standing relationship to Italy closes, the world continues to admire the unparalleled beauty that exuberated from her mind, the kindness that leapt from her heart, and the goodwill that came from her soul. What she is perhaps most admired for is her fashion sense, however Hepburn’s style came from an amalgamation of her troubled past, present work, and her philosophy of life:
“For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others.”
Born in 1929 Brussels to a British father and a Dutch Baroness, Audrey spent her most formative years as a ballerina, dancing throughout the Second World War. Her fame as a film star, however, began in 1953 with the film Roman Holiday. Filmed entirely in Italy, she played the part of Princess Ann, a guarded royal who yearns to break away from her otherwise precautious and structured life. In this light, Hepburn herself was introduced to the world, and introduced the world to Rome: “With that movie, [she] became the icon of a jaunty Roman lifestyle, touring the world on a Vespa scooter.” Twice after, Hepburn would return to film in Rome; first, to film War & Peace in 1956 and subsequently, three years later, for The Nun’s Story. These years shaped her fashion sense considerably.
Following the birth of her first son, Sean, in 1960, Hepburn met and married Italian psychiatrist, Andrea Dotti. Along with their new son, Luca Dotti, the family of four swiftly settled into Rome. In the role of mother and wife during the near-twenty years she left the limelight and embrace la dolce vita, Hepburn was “a woman who [loved] to take long walks with her dogs and take her sons to school.” Growing fond of the siesta, Hepburn adopted the Roman lifestyle during her life in Rome: She would often be found walking her Yorkie, Mr. Famous, in the streets of Parioli, eating in Piazza Navona, and adopting the Sunday “pastarelle” tradition, while befriending famed actors Alberto Sordi and Renato Rascel: “If the photographers happened to capture her, perhaps it might be in a little road near the Campo de’ Fiori in the moment her husband was waiting for [his] mother-in-law to open the door for Sunday lunch.”  This describes Hepburn’s laissez-faire attitude to daily formality, which translated into her daily fashion choices at the time – a simple dress with a belt cinched at the waist.
During her eleven-year marriage to Dotti, his influence similarly bore witness to the emergence of a highly introspective Hepburn who had come to terms with her troubled past, which undoubtedly gave way to her work ethic. Hepburn herself notes, “If you want to get psychological, you can say my definitiveness stems from underlying feelings of insecurity and inferiority.  I couldn’t conquer these feelings by acting indecisive.  I found the only way to get the better of them was by putting my foot down, by adopting a forceful and concentrated drive.”
It was perhaps in the time she spent in Italy that Hepburn realized her deep compassion for others, which she spent the rest of her life pursuing as a UNICEF International Goodwill Ambassador, her self-proclaimed greatest role. While her psychological insight may have been influenced by Dotti, her iconic fashion can certainly be attributed, at least in part, to Rome: It was within the character of Princess Ann in Roman Holiday, in fact, where Hepburn sought the formations of her beloved style, including the white blouse which found its way as a wardrobe staple throughout her life. Similarly, in this role, the bold accessories she often preferred to gaudy jewelry emerged. She wore wide-brimmed hats, large dark sunglasses and often donned scarves tied around her neck, or covering her hair, as had been customary at the time in Rome. The influence Italy had on her style, however, was reciprocal: The post-second world war era Hepburn found herself in showed the re-emergence of Italian fashion, undoubtedly due to the influence Hepburn and other key actresses held. For instance, her “GG” monogramed Gucci handbag quickly gained popularity, as Hepburn was often seen carrying a classic and practical bag. She simultaneously made the house of Salvatore Ferragamo a household name, with the notable kitten heels and ballet flats Hepburn had been so fond of coming from Salvatore Ferragamo himself. At that time, he was simply a shoemaker from Bonito: “[Hepburn] remained a loyal customer for the rest of her life, wearing his heels as a young starlet and his blue and white driving moccasins in her sixties.”
While Italy helped launch her acting career, Hepburn today is not remembered merely as the actress of her decade, nor credited simply as a fashion icon, but continues to be, for millions, the hallmark of human compassion and goodwill. It was her inaugural grace, humble nature and most importantly, charity towards others that propelled her and will sustain her presence far beyond us today, a presence profoundly influenced by la dolce vita she so openly embraced in Rome.
5 Ways to Steal Audrey’s Style:
Find What Fits: Audrey was often seen wearing simple shift dresses, tailored to perfection. While tailoring your own clothes may seem expensive and unnecessary, wearing clothes that look tailor-made is the art to well-dressed women everywhere – a secret Audrey knew well.
Basic is Best: A black turtleneck paired with capri pants and ballet flats can look extraordinary, as Audrey proved in her trademark look. While in theory, this look may seem drab, it’s incredibly slimming and can be worn on a number of different occasions.
Simply Accessorize: Whether it’s sunglasses and a scarf, or a statement bag and wide-brimmed hat, accessories complemented the simplicity of Audrey’s outfits. Think of the little black dress she donned in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – it wouldn’t be complete without the glasses and hat!
Collared Shirts: Whether plain or in bold prints, they never go out of style.
Feminine Flair: At times, Hepburn chose otherwise masculine clothes, such as fitted suits. Her impeccable grooming, however, softened and feminized her looks. Make sure to invest in the details – regular haircuts, manicures, and healthy skin goes a long way.

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