TBT: To Catch a Thief’s 18th Century Masquerade (1955)

13

To Catch a Thief (1955) is a great movie for a lot of reasons — Alfred Hitchcock directs! Cary Grant and Grace Kelly star! Edith Head‘s costume designs! Gorgeous shots of the French Riviera! It’s a fun, entertaining movie about two Americans trying to catch a cat burglar in the south of France. And yes, it’s a contemporary movie, set in the period it was filmed. But near the end of the film, there’s an extended sequence set at a masquerade ball (during which the thief is expected to strike again), and suddenly we’re in crazy 1950s-does-18th-century land!

Let’s take a look at all the technicolor glory of the masquerade scenes, and admire Edith Head’s amazing designs!

According to Jay Jorgensen’s biography of Edith Head, the masquerade ball

“was the most expensive costume scene Edith had ever done. One of the biggest challenges for Edith was designing dresses for the extras that allowed for the cameramen to shoot close-ups of the glittering necklaces the actresses were wearing. The necklines had to allow a clear view of the jewelry, but if a dress was strapless and the camera shot too tight, the actress could appear as if she were wearing nothing at all. Edith was able to design gowns with simple lines that still gave Hitchcock the elegance he sought to show off the gems. Hitchcock instructed Edith to dress Grace as a ‘fairy princess’ for the ball. Edith created a ball gown with a huge skirt of gold mesh adorned with fabric birds and accessorized with a golden mask, and topped Grace’s head with a golden wig.” (Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer)

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Gotta start with our leading lady, Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly). She’s in the most 1950s-influenced outfit — all gold lame, strapless, sweetheart neckline, with a HUGE skirt.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Here’s Edith Head’s design for the dress, in which you can see that those sleeves are actually elbow-length.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Apparently she was originally going to wear huge feathers and a mask, but I don’t believe either are seen on screen.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

She’s got over-the-elbow gold gloves, sculptural gold hair, and gold birds strategically placed.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

The back goes WAY low, and laces shut with a pretty wide lacing gap.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Gorgeous!

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Here you can see those sleeves, which ARE attached at the underside of the armscye.

Golden Dream Barbie 1983

I just can’t help but think of my Golden Dreams Barbie c. 1983 when I look at that lame!

To Catch a Thief (1955)

I love how the morning after, she’s lost her wig and her hair is in perfect 1950s waves.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

There’s an extended sequence where various characters and extras make grand entrances. This dress is relatively 18th-century appropriate, minus the curved bustline.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

And sewn-in stomacher.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

I THINK this is the original design? Note black children as attendants — racism! How quaint!

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Love the onlooker in green, just because that bright acid shade is SO 20th century and Technicolor!

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Here it is from the back. Pretty much everyone has a fitted, back-closing bodice — they were clearly going for French court gowns rather than any other 18th-century style.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

I love the color combo of green with pink on this rando.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

More onlookers. LOVE the lady who’s kept her cats-eye glasses and cigarette! The biddy to her right is holding a more period-appropriate lorgnette. Not that anyone is worried about being historically accurate here.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

The center couple are the hosts. She seems to be channeling Catherine the Great, don’t you think?

To Catch a Thief (1955)

But those sleeves just look 1830s to me! Check out Mr. Pink (sorry, can’t remember the character’s name)!

To Catch a Thief (1955)

She’s going full shower curtain!

To Catch a Thief (1955)

It’s very Gone With the Wind, isn’t it? Ah yes, more silent black servants!

To Catch a Thief (1955)

LOVE THE TAN contrasted with the blond hair and the powder blue. Not a good look.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

So much that’s entertaining, including pink (is that supposed to be a Russian kokoshnik hat?) and Little Biddy Peep in front.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

She brought the dogs as accessories!

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Wait, they let REAL people of color in here? SO glad they’re rocking the “exoticized” look rather than the same style of costumes as everyone else.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Ah yes, who doesn’t want to wear their shepherdess outfit, complete with crook, to the ball?

To Catch a Thief (1955)

The original design.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

I’m pretty sure her compatriot in blue is in the bottom right.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

And from the back, with inaccurate-to-18th-century split in the skirt in back too.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Another Catherine the Great type. This time they went for it with the black servants, which is just so wrong on so many levels.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

The original design.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Finally, Frances/Grace shows up with her mother Jessie (Jessie Royce Landis).

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Mom is in blue velvet with a huge blue wig and allllll the feathers!

To Catch a Thief (1955)

The original design. LUST!

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Their silent attendant may be wearing a mask, but this REEKS of blackface, which is never okay.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Even the staff is costumed, and I love the behind-the-scenes shot with the van parked in the background.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

The design for the waitresses.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Just a few more extras.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

And yet more!

 

What’s your favorite over-the-top look from To Catch a Thief‘s masquerade scene?

Tags

About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

13 Responses

  1. picasso Manu

    I love how everyone smokes like crazy… surprised no one took fire with all the polyester around. I think the blackface with Grace is actually Cary Grant. Oh, and I’m not that much into gold lamé and think Mom’s costume is better: She’s rocking that blue velvet and I WANT THAT WIG!

    Reply
    • Barbara Shaurette

      Seriously, all that smoking around all that satin just makes me cringe. I wonder if all the costumes came away from that production with random cigarette burns?

      Reply
    • Penny H

      I wonder if there would have been all that much polyester fabric around in 1955. Polyester drip dry shirts for everyday wear, sure. Don’t know what the cheapo costume fabric of choice would have been. Anybody know?

      Reply
  2. Donna

    Forget the crook … that shepardess has sheep as accessories (look behind her escourt)

    Reply
  3. Aleko

    I know that using black children as accessories is appalling to us now, but we have to admit that it’s doubly authentic – splendidly-dressed black child attendants really were all the rage in the 18th century, and most filthy-rich socialites on the Riviera in the 1950s wouldn’t have had a qualm over hiring a couple of them to add pizzazz to a fancy-dress ball outfit. (Actually they probably still wouldn’t now, if they could count on pictures not being leaked.)

    Reply
  4. Violet1211

    That brocade on the center figure in the next-to-last shot looks . . . almost right for the mid-1700s. I’d love to see the dress close up.

    Reply
  5. veu

    wonderful movie and wonderful costumes. Grace Kelly is the most beautiful woman ever seen at the cinema. Good costumes, I like all of them, especially the one of Princess Kelly and the one of her mother.

    Reply

Feel the love

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.