This summer, our own film editor Jason Bailey is leading a course study discussion group for TCM’s film noir class Into the Darkness (free and online), taught by Richard L. Edwards, Ph.D. of Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir podcast fame. Watching all this noir has set our fashion-loving hearts aflame. Inspired by detective tales, featuring dangerous dames and tough guys galore, noir’s greatest characters were always dressed to impress. Fashion in film noir was dazzling, but often deceptive — carefully selected to convey a character’s ulterior motives. Noir continues to inspire designers today, but we’re keeping it old school with a look back at some of classic noir’s most fashionable moments.
Dramatic, slightly eccentric, and just a little bit older than the era, Edith Head designed the fashions for Gloria Swanson’s faded silent film star Norma Desmond.
William Holden’s disheveled, down-on-his-luck screenwriter Joe Gillis in a pre David Byrne big suit.
Rita Hayworth’s Gilda has strong shoulders, but a soft heart.
Put the blame on Mame, but wear a slinky black number — the design of which was inspired by John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Madame X.
The Maltese Falcon
Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade donned a fedora and trench coat for his role in The Maltese Falcon and became a noir icon, influencing the style of the genre’s hard-boiled heavy-hitters.
The Blue Dahlia
High-waisted pants, skinny belt, rolled sleeves, and those signature Veronica Lake waves.
Murder, My Sweet
Never mind the gun; those sequin stripes on Claire Trevor’s femme fatale are killing us.
To Have and Have Not
Lauren Bacall is dangerous in a black gown with plunging neckline and sexy cutouts.
Kiss Me Deadly
Just Maxine Cooper’s Velda casually killing us — and Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer — with a nautical striped crop top and ballet flats.
The Woman in the Window
Don’t ruffle femme fatale Joan Bennett’s feathers, or she might try to poison you.
Ace in the Hole
Kirk Douglas’ newspaper reporter doesn’t wear a noir-friendly fedora, but those white suspenders are a nice throwback to the genre’s classic style.
The Big Heat
If you’re going to get revenge for having scalding hot coffee thrown in your face, wear this little black dress like Gloria Grahame in Fritz Lang’s 1953 noir.
They Live by Night
Leather is better in They Live by Night.
Ava Gardner’s femme fatale Kitty Collins is probably hiding some scripted knuckle tattoos that read “You Wish” under her elegant gloves.
The Lady from Shanghai
From long red to short blonde in satin and lace, Orson Welles gave his bombshell wife, actress, and co-star Rita Hayworth a controversial new look for The Lady from Shanghai. The director himself kept it rough and ready with an unkempt suit.
Leave Her to Heaven
When bae’s red lipstick, padded shoulders, and shady shades are on point while watching your disabled brother drown in a lake.
Barbara Stanwyck is all bangs and chic sunglasses in Billy Wilder’s influential noir.
Wishing we sparkled like Jean Gillie’s tough-talking Margot.
The Thin Man
William Powell and Myrna Loy make lounging look absolutely posh.
Out of the Past
Jane Greer giving us summer style goals.
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Noir’s baddest girls wear white. Behold the power of Lana Turner’s hip-hugging shorts, crop top, and turban.
Joan Crawford sports a strong, witchy silhouette in Curtis Bernhardt’s Possessed.
Joan Bennett’s Kitty March wears all the ruffles and all the lace in Fritz Lang’s 1945 noir.
The Phantom Lady
Ella Raines pulls off some seriously structured polo meets prison stripes glam in Robert Siodmak’s film.
Born to Kill
Hats and capes and hats and capes.
The Big Sleep
Martha Vickers wears a stunning Asian-inspired gown in Howard Hawks’ 1946 noir, but her flirty polka dot ensemble with ankle-kissed flats is super cute and a stark contrast to her troubled character.
The Big Sleep
Tailored trousers and simple loafers on one of noir’s most dazzling stars, Lauren Bacall. The feminist, liberal actress brought her own style to her character.
Bette Davis’ dress is the Stefon of dresses. It has everything: billowing sleeves, extra-wide Peter Pan collar, drapey fabric for days, and pockets for guns.
You can’t handle Peggy Cummins’ Bonnie and Clyde style.
Lizabeth Scott is the jewel of this Humphrey Bogart-starring noir.
One of horror cinema’s finest gentlemen looking debonair in a tux. The great Vincent Price was a star of many genres.
Gene Tierney’s Grecian gown.
The Razor’s Edge
Clifton Webb gets very upset when the tassels on his robe “bobble” and don’t “sway.”
The Third Man
Orson Welles dressed appropriately in black-market realness.
Touch of Evil
Janet Leigh wears pearls when visiting a Mexican border town.
Ann Savage does pretty knits and pencil skirts right.
Carnival chic in 1947’s Nightmare Alley.
Yvonne De Carlo and Burt Lancaster looking casual and cool in Robert Siodmak’s 1949 noir.
Lady in the Lake
Audrey Totter’s stylish belt-sash is everything.
Anthony Mann’s film goes heavy on the iconic noir trench.
The Night of the Hunter
Robert Mitchum-style inspiration for your witch house or neo-folk music project.
Tomorrow is Another Day
Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran in ’50s rebel-without-a-cause noir style.
It’s pinstripes and plaid for Bogie and Bacall.
The Glass Key
Veronica Lake: the greatest blonde in black.
Loretta Young wore one of her signature fur coats in The Stranger. (We hope it’s fake.)
Sweet Smell of Success
Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis in skinny ties at the 21 Club for the iconic 1957 noir.
I Wake Up Screaming
Game: count the many over-the-top hats that Betty Grable wears in I Wake Up Screaming.
The Big Combo
Richard Conte as Mr. Brown and Jean Wallace as Sarah Lowell wear formal black and white to complement the movie’s striking chiaroscuro palette.
We see that chevron skirt, Gloria Grahame.
You Only Live Once
You only live once, which is a shame since we’d wear this Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney gently scruffy getup at least twice.