Written by Bertie Bowen


Dressing like… Tracy in The Philadelphia Story

Fashion stylist Bertie Bowen channels the clothes and spirit of a fictional character. This week, to mark the 75th anniversary of The Philadelphia Story, she’s turning her attention to Katharine Hepburn’s straight-talking socialite Tracy Lord.

The Philadelphia StoryThe Philadelphia Story is 75 years old yet its central character is as modern as they come. The 1940s weren’t exactly the best time for women’s equality, but this film focuses on a rich, feisty young socialite (played by Katharine Hepburn) making important life decisions while battling the many men in her life with humour and charm. Let’s raid her wardrobe and hope some of her joyous strength rubs off on us.


I realise hats were very popular in the early 40s but the downright crazy hats that Tracy sports in this film are wondrous. She dons what looks like an oversized comedy night cap when she takes a trip to the library, and on her wedding day wears a wide-brimmed floppy summer hat in a dark colour when her wedding dress is white.

It’s incredibly bizarre but she looks perfect; she manages to convince me this is a good look with her confidence and attitude. I’d never question this woman’s sartorial choices: she proves it doesn’t matter what hat you wear, just wear it with aplomb.

Dressing Philadelphia_Story_7Shoulders

Tracy wears suits (I’ll come to that later) and the jackets are fiercely padded. There is something so powerful about a sharp shoulder on a woman – graceful yet authoritative and this is precisely Tracy’s verve and appeal. She is in command yet flirty and playful. This strong business silhouette conveys cool control yet her manner and expression draw you in on a more intimate level. Tracy is in charge and I like it.


Tracy sports several trouser suits that again highlight her businesslike attitude but they also say a lot more about a woman in this era. In the early 40s, it was still not largely accepted that women would wear trousers, but Tracy (and her young sister, I would like to note) wear trousers with ease, making a quiet stand against inequality.

They don’t make a big deal out of it; Tracy is a practical and adventurous woman and trousers are simply more comfortable as we all know – why should men get all the comfort? I also love that she can ride a horse (in jodhpurs, no side saddle for this lady) and dive like a pro. She is a natural feminist and she makes it look easy.


I love that Tracy’s hair does not change styles throughout the entire film except when she hastily puts it up to go swimming (she even makes a swimming cap look good).

Dressing philadelphia cropI always admire a woman who has found a hairstyle that she knows suits her and sticks with it. I believe it shows inner strength and integrity.

There’s no need to make too much effort: yes, wear a sparkly gown for the pre-wedding party and a strange hat not dissimilar to one the seven dwarfs would wear to go to the library, but keep your hair and makeup constant. Fuck this reinventing yourself malarkey; don’t waste your time.

It even looks like she has basically got out of bed and barely run a brush through her hair on her very own wedding day. She’s probably still wearing last night’s makeup too. And she looks great. Now that’s my kinda girl.

Tracy is a girls’ girl and would be awesome fun at a party (especially if she has a bottle of champagne or three), and although she looks perfect, she is far from perfection – she is much more interesting than that. She can be a hot mess and make big mistakes but she always stands up for herself, and sticks to her guns, even if that gets her into trouble.

I think many modern women can learn a lot from this timeless character. Right, I’m off to the hat shop.


You’ve got the style nailed, but has The Philadelphia Story itself stood the test of time? Find out what Hannah Dunleavy thought here.

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Written by Bertie Bowen

Stylist, writer and mother living in East London. A clompy shoed, curly haired, Radio 4 enthusiast. www.mothershoppers.com