TBT: Some Like It Hot (1959)


We had a wretched heatwave recently, so I got literal and rewatched one of my favorite flicks, Some Like It Hot (1959). This is such a hilarious movie, it’s perfect when you’re flopped out on the couch and a little brain-dead from the heat. Which isn’t to say it’s a dumb movie — it’s not! There’s clever wordplay and great acting, but the story is wacky fun and not some labyrinthine mystery. Also, it’s a decent frock flick with 1920s costumes by the master Orry-Kelly!

The basic gist of the story is that, in February 1929, two jazz band musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) accidentally witness a mob murder (modeled on the St. Valentine’s Day massacre) and need to skip town. They disguise themselves as women called Josephine and Daphne so they can join an all-women band that’s headed by train to play a show in Miami. The band’s featured singer is a blonde bombshell Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), who they both have the hots for but, of course, can’t let on that they’re really guys. Hijinx ensue, including another visit from the mobsters in Miami. I don’t want to talk to much about the plot in case some of you haven’t seen it, because YOU MUST watch this movie, it’s funny and still holds up. And while using men cross-dressing can be a hackneyed cliche, here it’s done deftly and subversively.

So on to the costumes! Orry-Kelly was originally hired for and is credited on screen as designing gowns for Miss Monroe. Curtis and Lemmon were supposed to wear dresses from costume stock. But Jack Lemmon reportedly said:

“We did put our feet down when we wanted better dresses. They wanted us to select off-the-rack stuff from the costume department. We said we wanted dresses done by Orry-Kelly, who was doing Monroe’s costumes.”

And Tony Curtis agreed:

“I didn’t want to look like Loretta Young. You know, those high-waisted things, and I wanted a new designer dress of my own, not one of those used things. I went to Billy [Wilder, the director], and I told him Jack and I wanted Orry-Kelly dresses, too. He said, ‘Okay.’”

Lemmon also really got into his part and collaborated with the makeup artist Harry Ray on the right look for Daphne. One of the reasons director Billy Wilder shot the film in black and white was he thought color film would be too garish for Curtis and Lemmon’s drag act, while black and white would aid with the suspension of disbelief.

It’s a good thing Orry-Kelly did design the costumes for Curtis and Lemmon because these are the ones that have the most 1920s style of the whole film, giving a nod to the period. Of course, the straight, drop-waist style of the period is relatively flattering on these male figures without extensive padding.

The first time we see Josephine and Daphne, they’re wrapped in coats (it’s winter in Chicago) and running for the train.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Josephine and Daphne always have correct ’20s cloche hats, even if their shoes and bags are more ’50s in style. Still, they do have all the required accessories, down to gloves and jewelry.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

I tried to find color promo pix just because they’re interesting & show costume details, even though this is a black-&-white film.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Underneath those coats, Josephine and Daphne are wearing blouse-and-skirt combos, that are briefly seen on the train. Josephine’s blouse, in particular, does have a good period style.  The wigs are kinda tragic, but then, the hair on the women is standard 1950s as well.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Their other daytime outfits are these pastel ensembles, which do nail the ’20s shape. They’re a bit dowdy, and those purses and shoes are ’50s, but I think this shows a solid 1920s daytime drag.

Tony Curtis & Jack Lemmon, Some Like It Hot (1959)
Some Like It Hot (1959)

A shot on the studio set shows what Billy Wilder was going for by using black-and-white vs. color.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Within the film, the men using female accessories becomes a plot point.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

The other cross-dressing look is the black beaded gowns that Josephine and Daphne wear for the band’s performance. This is actually a uniform that the entire band wears, and you can see the other musicians wearing the same gown, necklace, and earrings. But Daphne shows her outfit off more during the evening.

Some Like It Hot (1959)
Some Like It Hot (1959)

This might be the best Daphne’s wig ever looks. The curls give it a flapper-ish Betty Boop look.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

The mesh fingerless gloves give a sleeve illusion.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

It’s a classic slip dress, which works in this context.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Though the beige illusion fabric at the cleavage is a bit floppy.

Oh and there are one last set of outfits Josephine and Daphne wear — PJs! Which aren’t especially historical, but they’re cute :)

Some Like It Hot (1959) Some Like It Hot (1959)

Alright, let’s look at Marilyn Monroe’s dresses. They’re supposed to evoke a “flapper” style with a lot of fringe — which is such a cliche that’s not accurate at all for the 1920s. Her first dress is literally fringed.

Some Like It Hot (1959)
Some Like It Hot (1959), black dress, via V&A Museum

The actual dress designed by Orry-Kelly, via the V&A Museum, with all the fringe & nothing historically accurate for the 1920s.

Plus, her gowns are super slinky and fitted to her body, not the boyish flat-chested shape that was popular in the ’20s. In fact, Tony Curtis said of Marilyn Monroe’s costume fittings that she was literally sewn into her gowns. Orry-Kelly described the gold sparkly gown as “nude souffle draped on the bias,” and bias draping is more 1930s if anything.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Leaves nothing to the imagination.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Impossible to wear anything underneath this dress too.

The black dress Monroe wears for her finale song has the same cut and style as the first one, also with strategically placed beading. On an auction page for this dress: “Legend tells that Monroe had to be lifted to the piano for this scene as the dress was very form fitting.”

Some Like It Hot (1959) Marilyn Monroe, Some Like It Hot (1959)

Orry-Kelly said of working with Monroe: “I would rather go to Coney Island and open up a hot dog stand than dress that woman again!” — but he won his first costume design Oscar for this movie, so maybe it was worth it!




Have you seen Some Like It Hot?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

17 Responses

  1. Frannie Germeshausen

    I adore this film. Sugar even says to Daphne, “You’re so nice and flat-chested. Clothes hang better on you.” Or some such. So even within the film Marilyn’s shape is recognized as wrong. And the boys’ dresses and hats are 100% right. Just slays me how good those day dresses are. Plus it’s still funny after double-digit viewings. I’m with Trystan – total comfort-movie watching.

  2. Lynne Connolly

    It’s one of those films where you start watching and you promise yourself you’ll stop watching after “this bit” or “this next bit.” Then before you know it, you’re being told that nobody’s perfect!
    I love this film so much. Everything is on point. Added to my enjoyment when I went to San Diego a couple of years ago and visited the Hotel Del Coronado, where the “Florida” scenes were filmed. It’s an amazing place. Haunted, they say, but I’d love to stay there one day, when I’ve won the lottery!

    • Karen K.

      I have family in San Diego and have been to the Coronado several times just to see the hotel! Didn’t stay over, just had an ice cream and gaped at the hotel lobby. They sell a lot of Wizard of Oz memorabilia in the gift shop because author L. Frank Baum lived on Coronado (they’ll give you a map to his house) and wrote at least one of the Oz books while staying in the hotel.

  3. Shashwat

    The film feels such a sweet comfort watch right now,but must have been radical in its time.I was shocked that it had such high critical ratings,otherwise most of the time they were raving about ridiculously serious and obnoxiously uptight depression inducing dramas.
    Marylin’s costumes are so,so over the top gorgeous in the film.Nothing historical,but stunning in the details.Is there anything that Marylin didn’t look like a queen in?The men’s costumes felt reasonably period evocative nonetheless.

  4. Laura D Boyes

    I saw the fringed dress in London around 1998, at a Cinema Museum, since defunct. It was remarkable in that there were all kinds of teeny tiny darts pinched everywhere to make the dress super form fitting. You couldn’t see them on camera, only up close; like 50 or so little satin dimples.

  5. Al Don

    Love this film – hilarious and made more so by the actors committing 100% to their roles. Highly rewatchable.

  6. JLou

    If you’ve never seen it before, you absolutely must watch to the very, very end. Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon have a great final scene!

  7. Lily Lotus Rose

    Yes, I’ve seen it and enjoy it. But…it just doesn’t grab me like it grabs so many other people. It’s consistently on Best lists and such, and I’m always like…OK, I guess so.Marilyn Monroe is drop-dead gorgeous in it, that’s for sure. And the movie has many other good qualities too, but my feel-good, goofy, excellent movie is The Birdcage.

  8. KTKittentoes

    This added to my small child crush on Tony Curtis. We were a passionate Turner Classic Movies household. And no, I did NOT have friends in school.

  9. Kathleen Henke

    I last saw this film last week at an open-air viewing in Unterföhring, a little town near Munich, Germany. Dubbed in German, with lots of funny German catch-phrases. Laughter rang out all along the terrace, but no one loved it as well as I do, one of my all time favorite movies, especially for Jack Lemmon. I tried to explain Prohibition to my friends.


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