Bonnie and Clyde: The Deco revival and the ‘Great Hemline Hassle’

Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty)
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The film 'Bonnie and Clyde' is among the most influential in fashion history, with its 1930s stylings inspiring high fashion following its release in August, 1967. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Genevieve Nardella looks at its legacy.

COSTUME REVIEW
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
• Event: 50th anniversary of release
• Director: Arthur Penn
• Cast: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman

• Run time: 1hr, 51 mins


Bonnie and Clyde is a movie whose influence and importance cannot be overstated.

Indebted to the French New Wave of the 1950s and 60s, it injected sex and especially violence into the heavily censored American film industry of the time, kicking off a new age of Hollywood filmmaking. 

The film follows Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), a seasoned criminal, and his partner Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway), a Texan waitress who is bored with her life.

The pair take to robbery and murder, sweeping in acquaintances and hostages as they travel interstate to evade the police. Of course, anyone familiar with the real-life story of Bonnie and Clyde knows that this tale doesn’t end well.

It was fifth-highest grossing movie of 1967 and was at the forefront of one of the 1970s’ most endearing trends: the Art Deco revival.

Bonnie and Clyde: The Deco revival and the 'Great Hemline Hassle'
A high fashion look from the ’70s Deco Revival

The term Art Deco more commonly refers to the 1920s and 30s architectural style, however fashion from the same time falls under the same aesthetic. Berets, midi-skirts, short hair, and double-breasted suits are staples of the era.

Theadora Van Runkle, known for costuming 1968’s The Thomas Crown Affair (also starring Faye Dunaway) and 1974’s The Godfather Part II, revived this style with her costumes for Bonnie and Clyde – it didn’t return without controversy, though. 

As the March 13, 1970 cover of Life magazine indicated, not all American women were eager to replace their miniskirts with 1930s-style midis, so a transitionary period of mixed hemlines followed.

Bonnie and Clyde: The Deco revival and the 'Great Hemline Hassle'

Life Magazine: “The Great Hemline Hassle”

For every fashionista who was now scouring vintage stores and her mother’s closet, there was another who had just spent years retooling her wardrobe to accommodate the miniskirt trend and wasn’t happy to change her look all over again.

Still, the midi would eventually take over fashion; Bonnie and Clyde inspired fashion’s Deco revival, which was carried on by other movies set in the 1930s, including 1972’s Cabaret and 1973’s The Sting. 

Aside from the transition in hemlines, the film’s main impact on fashion was its astronomical impact on beret sales. The hat was worn by the real Bonnie Parker, and Dunaway donned it so well that according to Life, she had “already done for the beret what Bardot did for the bikini”.

Fashion photography of the late ’60s and early ’70s was a haven for ’30s-inspired outfits topped with a Bonnie-style beret.

Bonnie and Clyde: The Deco revival and the 'Great Hemline Hassle'
Dunaway in a publicity shoot, 1967 (Milton Greene)

It should be noted that Beatty also influenced fashion, if not quite as obviously. After years of single-breasted suit jackets reigning supreme, double-breasted jackets came back, occasionally paired with Clyde-style fedoras.

With the nostalgic turn men’s fashion took during the late ’60s, double-breasted jackets were a perfect way for fashion-forward men to exude class and old-school elegance.    

Bonnie and Clyde reinvigorated American films, to the point where it’s difficult to believe that it existed at the same time as the futuristic mod styles of the ’60s.

Bonnie and Clyde: The Deco revival and the 'Great Hemline Hassle'
Buck Barrow (Gene Hackman), Beatty and Dunaway

The movie persuaded many women to wear vintage clothes in what is considered the most forward-looking decade in recent history, and its popularisation of midis and berets is the stuff of film fashion legend.

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of watching this landmark movie for the first time, set aside a couple of hours.