The Glamourous 50s – Dressing “Dial M For Murder”

I’ve been lucky with costumes for all my shows because I have a mother who will sew just about any pattern I pick out, including some of the finicky vintage ones. I get the fun job of picking the patterns and the fabric, and she does all the actual construction.

With “Dial M for Murder”, we have a new challenge, however; how to compete with the beautiful costumes in the famous Hitchcock version of the tale, starring the lovely Grace Kelly.

Grace Kelly's stunning red dress in Hitchcock's "Dial M For Murder".

Grace Kelly’s stunning red dress in Hitchcock’s “Dial M For Murder”.

In most of the production shots I’ve found online from other theatre company’s performances, they’ve kept Margot Wendice in that iconic red dress. “The Woman in Red” concept has a lot of connotations however, and I’m not sure that they fit the play as well as they do the film (watch both and you’ll notice a key difference in the first scene, I won’t ruin it for you now). So after deciding not to put her in red, I looked for a colour that would be a standout on our actress. With ebony hair and green eyes, I settled on forest green.

A forest green dress for Margot Wendice.

A forest green dress for Margot Wendice.

When doing women’s period costumes it’s important to remember a couple key things; women in the 1950s were built differently than we are today (often shorter and a little heavier) and they wore undergarments that really accentuated an hourglass figure (ie. a corset or girdle and those awesome pointy bras). To really get the right look, you not only need the right dress on top, you need the right things underneath.

Dressing the men has been a little more difficult. While sticking everyone in a suit and giving them a fedora may be the simplest way to get an overall retro look, there’s a lot more to men’s fashions than the general idea that everyone back then looked “classier”. The biggest thing I wanted to achieve was a nice contrast between Max (the tv writing American) and Tony (the British ex-tennis star). I think both men need to be attractive and well dressed, but in completely different ways. Tony is posh and wants to be upper class, while Max is casual, cool and all-American. Choosing to put Tony in a double-breasted suit and Max in a sports jacket and dress pants, I hope, helps to convey this idea.

As we get together the last of the costumes I’ll start to post some pictures of the finished products. Til then, adieu!