Roman Holiday and 1950s Fashion in Films

Roman holiday is a 1953 Hollywood romantic film which all scenes were shot in Rome. The film is about an escaped princess called Princess Ann, acted by Audrey Hepburn, who rebelled against her royal requirements and privileged life to experience Rome on her own. During her escape, she met a journalist Joe Bradley, a role played by Gregory Peck who supposedly was to interview Princess Ann. The movie ends with her returning to her duty as a princess while keeping the adventurous and romantic memories of Rome with Bradley. The film enjoyed great success with numerous awards won, including Hepburn’s Best Actress in Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, New York Film Critics Circle and BAFTA Award for Best British Actress. Edith Head, the fashion and character designer of the film was also recognized by the industry with Academy Award for Best Costume Design and Black-and-White Award. The film was also picked to be preserved in the United States National Film Registry to document the glory of the 1950s.


William Wyler, the producer and director of Roman Holiday, was known for many other successful movies at the time with his sensational touch on the narration and settings. He is described as a competent, renowned and proficient director who is also known for using ordinary characters for real-life circumstances in his movies. According to his manifestation, Audrey Hepburn landed the role of Princess Ann after his failure to find other actresses he thought fit. Hepburn proved herself worthy of the role after a screen test. Though she had taken part in European movies, this was her first major role in the American movie.[1] Wyler invited Edith Head as the visual guarantor to the romantic story. Head worked closely with Hepburn with the costume design as well as teaching her the transformation in body movement between being the princess and a normal girl[2]. She also suggested the rebellious short hair look which later on set a unique trend in 1950s fashion. Gregory Peck who played the role of Joe in the movie was only granted a star billing for the film. However, later in time, Hepburn was also included after Peck requested Wyler to give her a star billing too.  She did an exceptional work for the film made her star winning for it and for other movies later.


In the picture, Hepburn and Peck look relaxed with uplifting smiles on both faces. They are holding hands while Hepburn leans forward her body toward Peck and Peck slowly walking down the Roman stairs. She wears midi over-knee skirt with a white blouse with rolled up sleeves separated by a belt. The belt emphasizes her tiny waist and elongates her legs. And her string sandals in Greek and Roman make the look more relaxed. Together with her short hair, she does not exhibit any sophistication of her role- the royal princess. She is just a young woman who is having fun in the streets of Rome with her casual clothes. On the other hand, Peck is dressed in a comparably more formal suit with a tie just as expected of a journalist’s interviewing look. The suits were not perfectly skimmed to the body during 1953. Peck wore loose fit high waist trousers with his tie tackled into the belt. The jacket is long and covers the hip. And people in the background are seated some standing showing a hassle-free mood around.


According to Head, she was trying to bring a casual and informal look as Hepburn was a princess trying to blend in and it worked. Hepburn was playing the role of a princess disguising herself to appear as a common girl on the streets. Head had to find a costume that brought out this by looking at the trends of Rome at the time as well as the weather.[3] Therefore, form a princess outfit she needed something simple. The sandals deed the magic as well as the rolled-up sleeves on a hot temperature of Rome during summer.


The 1950s are acknowledged for the post-war restoration and gradual growth in prosperity. And the fashion is characterized by femininity and conformity[4]. While war and restrictions were gradually over, ultra-feminine looks with refined, tailored garments that skimmed the body’s contours were expected with the ideology of getting women out of work and back into the home. The New Look, initiated in 1947 by Christian Dior, resonated with the zeitgeist to emphasize femininity that it could make women who wore it at once sexy and desirable and also matronly and maternal.[5] The public perceived the transformation as the psychological need for changing and moving away from boxy silhouette from the 1940s war-time while feminists were concerned about the waistline as an unappreciated and irresponsible attempt to curtail women’s freedom.


Introduction of TV in the living rooms and the engagement in leisure and holiday activities directly boosted the progression of Hollywood and lifestyle needs. Movies were the most common form of storyline entertainment in America with a large number of audiences. Therefore, the movies mostly mirrored the social attitudes of the people or advocates for the mainstream ideology at the time which led the rise of “women’s film”[6] that empowers women’s femininity by not only distinguishing the physical appearance in the film, but also and with narratives of her personality and storyline. For example, Princess Ann is perceived as the center of the story with supporters, admirers, a photographer in pursuit trying to catch sight of her. The plot design enables the star phenomena for the narration[7].


William Wyler had directed several films in the 1950’s. In 1951, he produced and directed Detective Story, Roman Holiday in 1953 and Friendly Persuasion in 1956 respectively. In 1959, he directed the legendary successful box office film Ben-Hur that had won 11 Oscars. Though previously known for drama, Wyler wanted to try comedy and thus directed Roman Holiday. His first choice to play the role of Joe Bradley was Grant who declined the role. He then managed to convince Peck to take the role. Getting a character for Princess Ann was trickier. His first choice was Elizabeth Taylor then Jean Simmons who were both unavailable. He then went searching for a character of which he landed on Audrey Hepburn who had to go through a screen test before being taken. And after the test shot, he had to convince Paramount to allow him to shoot on sight in Italy and then talk Italian officials into allowing them to shoot since the officials thought the film was making fun of common Italians[8].


The 1950s was a period when most people felt free and women could make several decisions, go to work and support their families from their incomes. The film is about a princess feeling pressurized by her obligations and attire that she feels uncomfortable in. She then decided to change this and take matters into her own hands. The same is true for most things at the time as it was a time of massive transition.


Conclusively, the film’s success is attributed to the collaboration between its major contributors. Edith Head’s enhancement in femininity in both fashion and character design, William Wyler’s sensational narration, and Audrey Hepburn’s adaptability in expression and body movement had a synchrony that helped them work together to produce an exceptional movie that was recognized by both public and the industry.

[1] Neil Sinyard. A wonderful heart: the films of William Wyler. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland& Company, Inc., 2013. Page 122.

[2] Rebecca Adams. “Edith Head’s Roman Holiday Costumes Made Audrey Hepburn An Instant Star”

[3] Jorgensen, Jay. Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer. Philadelphia: Running Press; New York: LifeTime Media, 2010. P192-195.


[4] Valerie D Mendes. “1946- 1956 Femininity and Conformity”/ Fashion Since 1900. London: Thames & Hudson,

  1. Page 126.

[5] Stella Bruzzi. “It will be a Magnificent Obsession: Femininity, Desire and the New Look in 1950s Hollywood Melodrama”. In Fashion in Film, edited by Munich, Adrienne. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2011. Page 161.

[6] Ibid. 5. Page 163.

[7] Andersson, Therese. “Fashioning the fashion princess: mediation- transformation- stardom” Journal of Aesthetics and Culture. NO.1, Vol.4 (2012):

[8] Neil Sinyard. A wonderful heart: the films of William Wyler. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland& Company, Inc., 2013. Page 120.


Adams, Rebecca. “Edith Head’s Roman Holiday Costumes Made Audrey Hepburn An Instant Star” published on (Accessed October 29th, 2017).

Andersson, Therese. “Fashioning the fashion princess: mediation- transformation- stardom” Journal of Aesthetics and Culture. NO.1, Vol.4 (2012):

Bruzzi, Stella. “It will be a magnificent obsession: Femininity, Desire and the New Look in 1950s Hollywood Melodrama”. In Fashion in Film, edited by Munich, Adrienne. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2011.

Head, Edith. How to Dress for Success. New York: Penguin Random House, 1967.

Jorgensen, Jay. Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer. Philadelphia: Running Press; New York: LifeTime Media, 2010. P192-195.

Mendes, Valerie D. “1946- 1956 Femininity and Conformity” In Fashion Since 1900. London: Thames & Hudson, 2010.

Sinyard, Neil. A wonderful heart: the films of William Wyler. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland& Company, Inc., 2013.

Stutesman, Drake. “Costume Design, or What Is Fashion in Film?” In Fashion in Film, edited by Munich, Adrienne. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2011.

Wyler, William. William Wyler’s production of Roman Holiday. (Place of publication not identified; publishers not identified), 1952.

Fashion History: Final Topic Choices

Designer: Edith Head

Date: 1953

Dresser: Audrey Hepburn


Edith Head was an American costume designer who won a record eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design from 1940s to 1970s working with Paramount and Universal. She was a favorite among many of the leading female stars of the 1940s and 1950s, such as Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and Bette Davis.


In the image, Hepburn rolls up the sleeves of the V-neck collar shirt and puts it in a high waist midi skirt with buckle belt. The sandals with strips that she got from street vendors show the Roman summer and wild break away journey of the princess. And in the picture, she looks casual, free and delighted.


The aesthetic and spirit of this outfit are clean, strong and classic. It doesn’t wipe out her beauty and elegance as a princess. On the other hand, it shows a transformation to her pursuit of independence and adventure. Also, Roman Holiday is the first movie I saw from Audrey Hepburn. I was enchanted by the adventurous love story and was heartbroken for the couple couldn’t end up together at age of 10. This outfit has left an inerasable impression to me and my aesthetics. My designs are relatively considered conservative. Because I like to use classic lines, basic shapes and showing less skin. And as I was designing resort lines, sandals, high waist midi skirt and blouse were all my preferred items.

Designer: William Chang

Date: 1950s-1960s (shoot in 2000)

Dresser: Maggie Cheung


Cheongsam (or qipao in Mandarin) is a one-piece Chinese dress for women. It was originally worn loose in Qing dynasty, hanging straight down the body or flared slightly in an A-line. Over the years, the cheongsam was tailored to become a lot more form-fitting. The modern version was first developed in Shanghai in the 1920s.


There are over 20 Cheongsams in this film and this one above is my favorite piece. The dress fits perfectly for the human curves even with the smooth lines from neck to shoulder. The pink silk and wool blend cheongsam with burgundy geometric print decorates her body flawlessly with a sense of fluidity and sensuality. It also matches the lighting background of the scene.


The designer of all the cheongsams in this film, William Chang, is an art director and always collaborate with Wong Kar Wai. He is known for his nostalgic mood in art directing and frequent use of improvisation and split narratives in film editing. He has received an Academy Award for Best Costume Design nomination for his work in The Grandmaster


Cheongsam originates from China so I feel this familiarity with it yet it is so different with my own design aesthetic. There are not a lot of cheongsams that I consider beautiful but this is an eye-catching one.

“Girl in Black and White”

Photographer: Irving Penn

Date: 1950

Dresser: Jean Patchett

Dress Designer: Larry Aldrich

Hat Designer: Lily Dache

Publisher: Vogue


Jean Patchett was a leading fashion model of the late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. She was famous for being one of the first high fashion models to appear remote, because previously models had appeared warm and friendly. Irving Penn, was an American photographer known for his fashion photography, portraits and still lifes. His career included work at Vogue and independent advertising for clients such as Issey Miyake and Clinique. He describes Jean Patchett as “a young American goddess in Paris couture”.


This photograph was specifically commissioned to replace the color illustrations Vogue had used on its covers since 1909. It is stable, dignified and balanced. Only Jean’s sidelong glance breaks the symmetry a little bit.

Intro to Fashion Studies: What is Fashion?

When I thought of Fashion, I thought of Prada’s campaign that were printed in the magazine and getting switched seasonally; I thought of street style pictures that I saw online with celebrities wearing their stylish clothes and Hermes Birkin, holding a cup of coffee and proudly waling on the street; I thought of myself dressing up in the latest trend and going out with my girlfriends and getting drunk in the city lights. There were lot of images flashing into my mind when I thought about the word “Fashion”, concluded as the concept of “visual and material interpretations”. (Kaiser 2012: 1)

Earlier in this week, a neighbor who shared an elevator with me asked me about the Canada Goose coat that I was wearing. He asked me “I’ve heard about this coat, and what do you think of it?”

“Well, you know, it’s a nice coat, and a nice brand. Actually, I’m just trying to fit in as well as to stand out in my school. Because everyone there has nice coats, you know, expensive coats, and I thought winter is coming, so I got this. And frankly I was enjoying when my classmate gave compliments on my coat. But you know, it’s just a coat. I don’t think it worth $1000. $500 could be more reasonable.”

“Umm, I was just wondering that does it really keep you warm as it said?”

“Ahh, yes, it does. Sorry I misunderstood.”

I felt so awkward when I realized I literally quoted a sentence from Kaiser’s book to answer my neighbor’s casual question on my coat. But at that moment, I realized that I did have more perceptions on fashion and my “fashionable behaviors”.

Take this coat case as an example of what I think of fashion. I realize that the reason I buy this coat is very complicated. Because I do only buy an object and its warmth, I buy, according to Susan Kaiser (2012) mentioned in her book about Robert Williams theory, people also buy social respect, discrimination, health, beauty, success, power to control your environment. (Williams 1980: 47). And this buying behavior is absolutely the consumption part in fashion industry. But as we were told not to use binary thinking to analyze fashion, we can see that this behavior is also entangled with psychological and cultural influence of the brand as well as my subject formation- “who I am and who I am becoming” (Kaiser 2012: 21). It can be related to the habitus (Bourdieu 1984), and it also can be the historical, cultural, and economical influences. And now, when I think of fashion, images, and theories come to my mind like an overwhelming flood.

Kaiser, Suan.B. 2012. Fashion and Cultural Studies. London and New York: Bloomsberry.

Intro to Fashion Studies: Reflection on the Dressing Practice Log

Check our my dressing practice log here: tianlan-dressing-log

Besides the 7 photos that I had provided in my Dressing Practice Log. There are another 2 photos from my closet where I dress myself everyday.

To conclude what I had chosen to wear for the past week, I noticed that I chose a lot of grey and navy garments for my mundane life. I like grey and navy as I have told in my intersectionality maps about my aesthetic subject position. And I have bought tons of grey or navy clothes since they are easy to match and are always the safe choices for most occasions. In other way to say, most of clothes in my closet are navy or grey, so I can only choose from them. It’s like what Susan Kaiser mentioned in her article that most of the time, people create their own “fashion statement” but are ultimately constrained by what is available in the marketplace (Kaiser, 2012: 31), to me, it’s that is available in my wardrobe.

But I was not defined by the color of navy or grey. I admit that, sometimes, they are boring and conservative colors, and when I wore them on the Wall street and compared myself with others, I felt uncomfortable of being underdressed by only just wearing basic sweaters and pants among all these perfect fit suites and sharp cut dresses. Our consciousness of dress is heightened when something is out of place when either our clothes do not fit, or they do not match the situation, for example, when we find ourselves dressed too casually at a formal situation or too formally at a casual situation (Enteistle, 2002: 133-134). So I mixed myself with red cute dress on weekends to liberate the spirit. Also, it can be explained as I was dressing up for the occasions. For instance, if I was going out with friends or go clubbing. I dressed for social purpose. It is as Enteistle had said that our dress does not belong to our bodies but to the social world as well. So all the factors entangled together to act my dressing behavior since self-other relations also emerge as entangled, rather than binary.

However, it’s inevitable to find that my whole week dressing documentations are lack of colors, since most of the time, I picked random things in my closet that were available for me since I was running out of time for school. Like Woodward concluded in her publications, that when women are dressing in a hurry, one of the most important factors in deciding what she wear is ease of access (Woodward, 2007: 44) which for me, the clothes in navy or grey.


Enteistle, Joanne, 2002, “The Dressed Body”, Real Bodies: a Sociological Introduction, New York: Palgrave.

Kaiser, Susan.B., 2012, “Intersectional, Transnational Fashion Subjects”, Fashion and Cultural Studies, New York: Bloomsbury.

Woodward, Sophie, 2007, “Hanging Out in the Home and the Bedroom”, Why Women Wear What They Wear, New York: Berg.

Intro to Fashion Studies: Campaign and Gender – Dolce & Gabbana A/W 2015

Though Vanessa Friedman concluded Jaden Smith wearing women’s wear for Louis Vuitton saying that we are entering the age of wear what you like, clothing norms and traditions have held on to the mass consumers. In the A/W 2015 campaign, Dolce & Gabbana paid tribute to mothers with its signature theme. The ads feature not one or two, but several generations of couture-wearing models – from Grandparents to the newest born babies, entirely dedicated to celebrating motherhood and the love of family by depicting natural scenes at a family gathering. As Susan Kaiser concluded in her book, clothes are public signals about how to read individuals, the A/W 2015 Dolce & Gabbana displayed full skirts and cinched waists with abundant of lace and florals to emphasize the ultra- feminine shapes. And on the textile design, many garments were emblazoned with words in French or Italian “I love you, Mom!” or had children drawings printed on.

However, fashion ads never escapes the criticisms from feminists that advertisement dehumanizes and demeans women- turning them into sexualized objects and proffering unattainable images of beauty that most often, young, white, thin women’s bodies are represented and consumed in hegemonic cultural disclosure. And unfortunately, this campaign partially fits into the definition that were mentioned in Kaiser’s book. For what it worth appreciating, this campaign paid endorsement of women, stated the indispensable position of women in the family and the fashion, truly beautiful with detailed gender coded symbols but not sexually seductive or cheap.

Maybe critics may considers this a little traditional, the campaign is undeniably fun and cheerful. Surely most consumers would notice first and found their engagement to this modern family portrait full of love and unity.


Intro to Fashion Studies: Response to Christoper Breward’s Aphorisms

These two aphorisms come from Christopher Breward- Forward- Introduction to Fashion Studies Research Methods Sites Practices

“Fashion is made manifest in material forms. It demands study in the same way that ancient artifacts are made meaningful by archaeologists: through careful excavation.”

Artifact can be defined as something made or given shape by man, such as a tool to a work of art, especially an object of archaeological interest. Also, in my opinion, the aesthetics and significance of an artifact are usually served as a result from archaeologists’ analyzing of physical facts and historical backgrounds which include size, texture, shape, color, prints or contents; socio-political, historical, cultural context; and its purpose of use. As Christopher Breward acclaims, fashion and analyzing fashion (fashion studies) should be treated the same way as archeology in same respect. “From form to function, from extrinsic to intrinsic”. I think it is a good way to study and research. And the learning process, outcomes can be considerably constructive. But fashion has a wide range, from an H&M cotton tank top to an haute couture dress by Oscar de la Renta, we are all calling it fashion. Are we using the same way to study both clothes? Also, fashion can be a trend, a type of manner, a habit. It’s like ancient artifact is only one of hundreds of categories in archaeology. So the learning method of careful excavation may not be fully necessary with all the “fashion” though it brings meaningful research and understandings. And frankly, careful excavation to any items, products or phenomenon leads to deep understandings. But it depends on whether the subject carries the significance and necessity.

“Fashion can be about confirmation, of self and others, But it is also about anxiety, ambiguity and worry. As an aid to understanding psychological complexities it is surpassed.”

Most of us do care about our appearance and sometimes we can say the wardrobe carry your personality. As we are transferring into an era that celebrates difference, creativity, and uniqueness, clothes has changed from practical asset to a social marker. While we are walking on the street, we judge. By only looking at the fabric of the clothes, we know if a person is rich. And by only looking at the style, we know if he or she follows the trends or she keeps his or her own style. So the outfit begins to define you, represent your personality and affect your social status. It helps you attract friends with similar tastes. Also, exclude some passers-by who think your outfit is disgusting. Then, here comes to the self consciousness, the anxiety of wearing wrong, the desire of luxury products, the addiction of shopping, and other psychological disorders that fashion carries may tortures you. So fashion can be a feeling, of being good and confident, or of being miserable and anxious. I think fashion truly can be studies from psychological aspect as an aid to understand the complexities of the relationship between fashion and feelings. But using the word “surpassed”, I think he considered fashion much too important that it is actually is.

Freshman Year Projects

Integrative Studio 1: Memory

Professor: Barbara Siegel

Integrative Studio 2: Fashion

Professor: Tamar Samir

Inspiration comes from:

Drawing/ Imaging: People

Professor: Jon DeMartin

Space/ Materiality: Community 

Professor: Derek Haffar

Wire and Hand Project

Wood Project

Plastic Project

Time: Composition

Professor: Rory Solomon

static movie project orchid tian lan from Orchid Lan on Vimeo.

This project is for my Time:Composition class which my professor Rory Solomon asked us to make a static movie project. I loved the girl from Persepolis, so I screenshot the movie and made a new story of me killing another boy.

Rain from Orchid Lan on Vimeo.

wind from Orchid Lan on Vimeo.