How to Dress for Success by Edith Head

Edith Head (October 28, 1897 – October 24, 1981) was one of the greatest Hollywood costume designers of all time. She won eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, starting with The Heiress (1949) and ending with The Sting (1973). She was nominated 35 times, and holds the record for the woman who has won the most Academy Awards ever. Head famously worked extensively with Alfred Hitchcock, dressing leading ladies such as Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1946) and Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954), in addition to Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (1957).

Grace Kelly wearing an Edith Head dress in Rear Window.

Grace Kelly wearing an Edith Head dress in Rear Window.

In 1967 Head wrote an interesting little book called How to Dress for Success, an advice book for women influenced heavily by her design philosophy including illustrations by Head herself. I would contend the book is timeless and relatively relevant to the modern woman in a fun albeit not literal way. Although some advice is certainly a bit outdated such as Chapter Two, “How to Dress for a Man and Keep Him,” which includes passages that say things like, “Conservatism in your wardrobe will stand you in good stead with [The Shy Conservative Man]. Shy away from plunging necklines, black lace textured hosiery, above-the-knee skirts, figure-revealing silhouettes and wild hairdos.”

Edith Head surrounded by 700 of her sketches.

Edith Head surrounded by 700 of the costume sketches she designed throughout her career, 1967. Copyright: AP.

However, other  chapters such as “How to Dress for Success in Business” include more modern advice such as, “When every other girl in the office has decided to wear her hair up or teased or straight to the shoulders–that’s the time for you to achieve a new and distinctive look when the current make-up theme is ‘doe eyes’ or ‘two pairs of lashes resist–desist–and be yourself. Wear the make-up that does the most for you while everyone else in the office projects a single monotonous pattern.” Interestingly, the book inspired Vogue to apply her thoughtful, twentieth-century advice to the twenty-first-century wardrobe.

Head suggests: a smart suit and tote—in which you can stash a superglam accessory for evening. Vogue suggests: Stella McCartney’s boyfriend blazer and wool pants with Proenza Schouler’s PS11 tote for day, plus Chloé’s embellished ankle-strap sandals for night. Copyright: Condé Nast

Head suggests: a smart suit and tote—in which you can stash a superglam accessory for evening.
Vogue suggests: Stella McCartney’s boyfriend blazer and wool pants with Proenza Schouler’s PS11 tote for day, plus Chloé’s embellished ankle-strap sandals for night.
Copyright: Condé Nast

Head suggests: a short evening dress. Vogue suggests: Short drapey red dress from Lanvin with Marc Jacobs’s patent leather clutch. Copyright: Condé Nast

Head suggests: a short evening dress.
Vogue suggests: Short drapey red dress from Lanvin with Marc Jacobs’s patent leather clutch.
Copyright: Condé Nast

Head suggests: a day dress, day coat, and day bag. Vogue suggests: Marc by Marc Jacobs’s full-skirted dress with Dries Van Noten’s coat and a casual Fendi baguette. Copyright: Condé Nast

Head suggests: a day dress, day coat, and day bag.
Vogue suggests: Marc by Marc Jacobs’s full-skirted dress with Dries Van Noten’s coat and a casual Fendi baguette.
Copyright: Condé Nast