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Icons of Fashion: Grace Kelly

‘Grace brought into my life, as she brought into yours, a soft, warm light every time I saw her, and every time I saw her was a holiday of its own.’ James Stewart on Grace Kelly 

Although she made her mark as an Old Hollywood icon, Grace Kelly soon exchanged the alluring flash-bulb lights and glamour of the silver screen for the regal principality of Monaco, when she became its princess on the 18th April 1956. 

Born on 12 November 1929, in sunny Philadelphia, Grace Patricia Kelly was born into a wealthy, Irish Catholic family.

In her youth, she dreamed of a career as an actress. Fortunately her uncle George Kelly was a playwright and encouraged her acting career. In 1947, she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and her first major role was the female lead in August Strindberg’s The Father. This production was crucial for Kelly as it led to her breakthrough performance in High Noon, which she starred in alongside the infamous Gary Cooper. 

After her successful Hollywood debut, Grace became an icon of the silver screen, appearing in many of Alfred Hitchcock’s beloved films, Rear Window, Dial M for Murder and To Catch A Thief, alongside beloved male co-stars such as Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, William Holden, and more.

Grace Kelly photographed on the set of High Society, PA Photos

Grace reached the peak of her career as an actress in 1955 when she was awarded her first Academy Award for George Seaton’s Country Girl (1954), which follows the journey of an alcoholic actor who is given a chance to resurrect his career. 

Everything changed for Grace when she encountered the young Prince Rainier at the 8th Cannes Film Festival. They spent the day together on May 6th 1955, walking around the gardens of the Palais Princier and it is believed that upon this initial meeting, Grace remarked that the Prince was ‘charming’. Afterwards, Grace and Rainier established a long correspondence which resulted in their engagement in January 1956 and her infamous wedding the following spring.

‘After that, I had his [Hitchcock’s] confidence as far as wardrobe was concerned, and he gave me a very great deal of liberty in what I wore in his next two pictures,’Kelly said. Those two movies were RearWindow and To Catch A Thief.

One of the most memorable aspects of Grace Kelly was not only her kindness and caring soul but also, her impeccable style. Grace’s entrance in Hitchcock’s Rear Window, immortalised her image as an ethereal style icon. Clothed in an elegant pair of crystal white gloves and her ‘Paris’ dress, which consists of a white tulle skirt, cinched in at the waist with a black bodice, her presence as Lisa Fremont echoed Dior’s New Look of 1955. As Jimmy Stewart’s character, L.B Jeffries expresses: ‘she’s too talented. She’s too beautiful. She’s too sophisticated…’

Grace understood how to hold and present herself in the garments she wore. They never overpowered or wore her and with a childhood of ballet training by her side, Grace was equipped with the posture and elegance which helped her whilst wearing designs by designers like Helen Rose and Christian Dior but also for her infamous film roles.

‘The numerous dresses printed or embroidered with flowers evokes her own dried flower arrangements and taste for gardening. The appeal of flowers was a passion that the princess shared with Christian Dior’ from Grace of Monaco: Princess in Dior 

After Monsieur Dior’s passing in 1957 and following the departure of Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan became the fashion house’s artistic director and the ties between the Palace of Monaco and Dior became stronger. Bohan designed a plethora of beautiful garments for the princess up until her passing in 1982 and saw Grace as the ideal embodiment of femininity and elegance. Inside Florence Muller’s book, Grace of Monaco: Princess in Dior, you will find a treasure trove of personal photographs, sketches and snapshots of dresses that the princess wore.

Grace photographed with the Hermès ‘Sac à Dépêches’
Picture credit: ©

Grace’s Hollywood style is characterised by elegant couture inspired ball gowns made from tulle, satin or chiffon and embellished with delicate floral embroidery, finished off with a statement piece of jewellery. Many of Grace’s on-screen looks are simple but evoke timeless elegance. Edith Head and Helen Rose often clothed Grace in a palette of pale blues, soft pinks and monochromatic colour schemes. Grace’s off-screen attire was paired back and she was often photographed in a high-waisted pair of trousers and elegant shirt. 

One of Grace’s most iconic off-screen looks emerged when Kelly wore the Hermès ‘Sac à Dépêches’ (now known as the infamous Kelly bag) in 1956, cleverly positioned to hide her pregnancy from the paparazzi. 

Staples to Achieve Grace’s Look: 

A pair of white gloves 

An elegant evening gown with a tulle skirt 

A faux fur bolero/capelet 

High waisted, tailored trousers 

An iconic, staple bag (of course it would be lovely to own a Hermes Kelly but this isn’t realistic!)

A cashmere cardigan 

A cute co-ord set 

An elegant lace embroidered dress

Sunglasses – particularly after her marriage to Rainier, Grace was often photographed wearing an iconic pair from Oliver Goldsmith 

Grace’s Film Looks:

Picture credit: © IMDB

1. Grace in her character’s wedding dress in the film High Society, (1956) designed by Helen Rose and made of silk organza, with floral embroidery, puff sleeves which she wears with an elegant pair of white gloves.

Picture credit: © Bud Fraker/John Kobal
Foundation Getty Images.

2. Grace in her ‘Paris’ dress for the film Rear Window (1954), the dress has a fitted black bodice, and layers of chiffon and tulle designed by Edith Head.

3. Grace in a white lace ruffled dress, designed by Helen Rose for her film The Swan (1956).

Picture credit: © IMDB
Picture credit:

4. Grace in an elegant floor-length ice blue chiffon evening dress, cinched at the waist with spaghetti straps, worn with a matching blue clutch bag, white open toe sandals and blue chiffon scarf designed by Edith Head in Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief

Grace’s Off Screen Looks

Picture credit: © IMDB 

1. Grace clothed in a sea-blue satin bow gown and fur stole

Picture credit: © Howell Conant

2. Grace in a pink silk satin and chiffon dress by Maggy Rouff. The photograph was taken on the steps of the Prince’s Palace in 1960.

Picture credit: © Getty, Corbis 

3. Grace in an elegant flower embossed dress designed by Helen Rose at the 28th Academy Awards in 1956

4. Grace’s iconic wedding dress was designed by Helen Rose. The dress consists of a lace bodice, a pleated silk faille skirt that incorporates a smoothing petticoat, ruffled petticoat, and foundation petticoat; a triangular tulle and lace train insert; and a pleated silk faille cummerbund.

Picture credit: Getty Images

5. Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly greet well-wishers in the Monte Carlo palace courtyard prior to their civil ceremony, April 18, 1956. Grace is wearing a pale blue chiffon day dress designed by James Galanos. She accessorised the dress with a small headpiece of matching blue ribbon, white gloves and the same Morabito needlepoint bag she carried to the Academy Awards in 1955.

Picture credit: Reg Birkett / Getty Images

Fruzsina Vida is the Arts & Culture Editor at The Yorker. If you have any questions or queries, please contact her at arts@theyorker.co.uk.