Posted in Fashion History, Film, Vintage

Vintage Fashion Movie Icons – Part 1 – Bonnie and Clyde by Carolyn Hair

I am delighted to welcome my first, fantastic guest blogger, Carolyn Hair. Carolyn works as an online marketing officer for an environmental charity based in Bristol, UK.

Carolyn blogs at Culture Darling ( where she writes about vintage and eco fashion, film, photos, books and any other cultural trips that take her fancy.

Talk fashion and film with her on Twitter @carolynhair


By Carolyn Hair

Bonnie and Clyde DVD cover from 1967 film. Warren Beatty (Clyde) and Faye Dunaway (Bonnie)

Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

What makes Faye Dunaway’s style so memorable in the 1960s movie Bonnie and Clyde? Its place in fashion history is won as it teaches about vintage style itself – how to manage that tricky balance of distilling the essence of period whilst updating with elements of the contemporary. Bonnie’s look reworks 1930s Depression era fashions with 1960s French New Wave chic.

Bonnie to ‘Brigitte’ Parker

To understand the power of the look, let’s go to France and Brigitte Bardot’s recreation of Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie Parker (rather than the ‘real’ Bonnie Parker) in Serge Gainsbourg’s song about the duo. Whilst the US film looked to French New Wave or Nouvelle Vague cinema (Truffaut and Godard were prospective directors), the costume design combined rustic 1930s with 1960s French style. So just as fashion recycles we go full circle; from the true-life story with its roots in American folk history to the 1960s US cinematic version influenced by the French New Wave (which itself played homage to the 1930s Hollywood gangster film) and finally inspiring French pop and movie stars.

Creator of the movie’s style – Theadora van Runkle

Revisiting this vintage movie look is timely with the death late last year of its creator – the self-taught designer and Oscar nominee, Theadora Van Runkle.  Bored of working as a commercial artist, a chance meeting with Oscar-winning costume designer, Dorothy Jeakins, and a subsequent job offer couldn’t have come at better time. Although Jeakins dismissed her after only a month (Theadora later said it was jealousy) she suggested Van Runkle for the Bonnie and Clyde post.

Warren Beatty, who produced the film and played Clyde, rejected her first designs as too faithful to the 1930s, whilst Faye Dunaway felt that her look was rather low-key.  According to Van Runkle, “Faye thought I didn’t care how she looked. Faye thought I was trying to make her ugly.” (8th November 2011, The New York Times)  How wrong Dunaway would turn out to be and the pair formed a firm, fashion friendship with Van Runkle designing for the actress in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and her 1968 Oscar appearance for Bonnie and Clyde.

Playing with period

The Bonnie Parker style works because it plays with period. Van Runkle uses the 1930s as a foundation and adds European 1960s chic resulting in timeless appeal. Attention to period detail through costume and set design in cinema often adds to its veracity bringing the world alive for us. However in the case of Bonnie and Clyde, just as the film plays with their ‘true’ story – reworking it for a 1960s audience – the fashion does the same.

So how did the design play with the times? The first outfit Dunaway wears shows 1930s rustic style ─ a long, figure-hugging, white button-up tea dress, nipped at the waist with ties. In the 1920s women’s greater freedoms were expressed through fashion: shorter skirts, casting off the corset and the looser, drop-waisted flapper dress. The 1930s brought a return to a more feminine shape in clothes with a slimmer, fitted look though the bias cut.

The longer length skirts of the 1930s contrasted sharply with 1960s film-goers’ micro-minis. Van Runkle played against the hemline index. It seems that as our purse-strings tighten, skirt lengths get longer, whilst when our economic confidence grows, so does our desire to show more leg. After the Wall Street crash of 1929, it’s said that skirt lengths increased almost overnight. Thrift was a necessity and fashion invention came up with adding extra fabric to update the shorter skirts of the 1920s. Jump to the economic boom of the 1960s and of course we get the era’s defining style – the mini. The recent revival of the midi skirt, a key part of the Bonnie look, perhaps nods to the current world financial crisis.

The essence is Depression era vintage but Dunaway’s outfits would look just as fitting on a young student on the Left Bank. After Bonnie and Clyde, 1930s styles met a new audience with cardigans and berets noticing a post-movie boost. A beret was worn by the real Bonnie Parker but in this context it adds Parisian New Wave style. Bonnie’s back-combed hair styling and kohl eyed make-up adds a finishing touch of Hollywood via Nouvelle Vague chic.

Time and space shift to create this movie fashion look. Both the director Arthur Penn and van Runkle turned to France for inspiration. Just as Penn drew on French New Wave film techniques, van Runkle channelled the attitude of disaffected French youth into her Depression era look. There may be issues with the film taking liberties with the reality of the Bonnie and Clyde story and further mythologizing it but in fashion it’s spot on.

Who is your favourite movie icon? Is Faye Dunaway as Bonnie one of your style heroines too? Get in touch and let us know.

In Part 2 – how to get the look!


Social historian, based in the UK.

2 thoughts on “Vintage Fashion Movie Icons – Part 1 – Bonnie and Clyde by Carolyn Hair

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s