Faye Dunaway: Thievery in a Fabulous Skirt - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Faye Dunaway: Thievery in a Fabulous Skirt

By Barbara Fletcher


Because Bonnie and Clyde took power dressing to new lengths. The midi skirt is back — and revamped — and is one of this spring’s must-have pieces.

In the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, a 26-year-old Faye Dunaway, along with Warren Beatty, brought undeniable style and glamor to the screen. And to bank robbery.

The landmark film was less a depiction of the notorious, Depression-era, law-breaking couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, and more a trumpeting of the arrival of New Hollywood — a new era in film bent on breaking cinematic taboos and setting trends. In real life, Bonnie and Clyde were violent criminals. But in Beatty’s and Dunaway’s hands, they were romanticized outlaws, wielding guns and breaking the law in elegant pinstripes and berets. Because really, who wants to embark on a wild crime spree if you can’t look good doing it? 

Almost 50 years later, the trend is being reinvented on the runways for 2014. The midi is back, baby.

And Faye Dunaway looked very good, pulling it off while smoking a stogie and slinging a gun. So good, in fact, that her character’s trademark threads quickly weaved their way into late-1960s popular fashion and closets everywhere. Which was a little surprising. Why? At the time, hemlines were riding sky-high — in thigh-hugging versions ranging from the mini to the micro-mini skirt. As Bonnie, Dunaway sported demure midi skirts: shin-skimming numbers that fall below the knee or somewhere mid-calf. 

On the heels of Bonnie and Clyde, dress lengths plummeted back down to ’50s and early ’60s lengths. Now, 50 years later, the trend is being resurrected on the runways for 2014. The midi is back, baby, and with a new twist on tweed.

First-time costume designer Theadora Van Runkle was responsible for Dunaway’s signature look, by marrying Hollywood chic with 1930s fashion. The result: a now-famous beret, sweater and calf-length skirt combination. The designer eschewed the advice of Hollywood’s then-costume queen Edith Head to use chiffon. (Can you even imagine Bonnie in a delicate, floaty number?) Instead Van Runkle created outfits that appeared effortless and easy to pack (good for gals on the lam) and downplayed sexuality (fancy doesn’t facilitate better bank-robbing) with a beatnik edge. The resulting Bonnie and Clyde ensembles earned the débutante designer an Oscar nomination. 

Faye thought I was trying to make her ugly.

Initially, Dunaway wasn’t thrilled with the less-than-sexy getup and needed some reassurance. In an 1989 interview, Van Runkle revealed, “Faye thought I was trying to make her ugly.” 

Which is the opposite of what happened, with Life magazine proclaiming that Dunaway “has already done for the beret what Bardot did for the bikini.” The film, one of Dunaway’s first, launched her toward Hollywood stardom and turned her into a style icon. At the Paris premiere of Bonnie and Clyde, Dunaway was celebrated like a rock star by an adoring crowd bedecked in berets and 1930s-inspired outfits. Her style was soon copied in London. She became the new It Girl. (And 47 years later, she’s still got it: In April, Glamour magazine named Dunaway the “sexiest actress alive.”)

Dunaway’s midi created a big ripple in the fashion fabric. The girl-power, decade-defining mini skirt was an emblem of newfound confidence — of women in themselves and their politics, post-1950s. The sky-high skirt lengths also reflected the buoyant prosperity of the 1960s. But in 1966-67, economic prosperity was being eroded by persistent inflation. And if you believe in the hemline index — that the amount of leg shown reflects the state of the economy — it makes sense that skirt lengths were destined to take a tumble. But Dunaway’s hemlines, in connection with the film’s strong character, fell with triumph: denoting power, femininity and glamor. Not to mention, the length was a much easier look to carry off at the office. But while fashion insiders were in love with the midi, the trend was short-lived among consumers: soon stores found themselves awash in inventory and red ink. 

The midi skirt is seeing a resurgence in 2014, but in a significant departure from the Thirties influence. This spring’s looks are still feminine but playful and vibrant, in floral prints, laces and bright colors. Gucci and other big-name designers are bringing creative and unique flair to the revisited style in “covered-up cool” from preppy to metallic edginess to grunge (flannel midi, anyone?). And great news, women of the world: The midi is flattering on most shapes. All you have to do is make the style your own — and accessorize.

Faye Dunaway? She chose a cigar.

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