The media was whipped into a frenzy when Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier made the bombshell announcement that they were engaged. From that day – January 6, they reported on everything. Every bit of minutia was covered from what the chosen bridesmaids were up to, what Grace’s titles would be and what was included in the trousseau that Grace would take with her to Monaco.
The tradition of having a trousseau was still alive and well in 1956. Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette was published in 1952 and it explained that the trousseau of a well-to-do Victorian bride should include enough clothes to last a year in addition to linen for the household. While the 1950’s bride didn’t expect to go that far, a new wardrobe was needed for Grace Kelly’s transformation from movie star to Princess.
Before the shopping could begin, there was work to do. Grace was under contract with MGM and about to start filming the musical High Society. The story is based on the play The Philadelphia Story and Grace had the lead role of society girl Tracy Lord.
Luckily for Grace, the studio decided to give her all of her character’s costumes as a wedding present. It was a good deal – Grace got beautiful clothes made to her measurements by the incredibly talented wardrobe team headed up by Helen Rose and MGM got plenty of press for it. The Ottawa Citizen reported the news in early March:
Grace Kelly is having shopping trouble. Like any girl with a job, she can’t get enough time off from “High Society”, the film she is finishing, to hunt for clothes for her new life in Monaco.
That’s why M-G-M is giving Miss Kelly a trousseau of everything she wears in “High Society”. The clothes are designed by Helen Rose, M-G-M’s designer, who is making Miss Kelly’s two wedding gowns.
I recently had a cozy night watching the move again and the costumes alone make it worth watching.
A Milwaukee Sentinal report in February 1956 included an interview with Helen Rose.
Miss Rose told us, “The type of clothes Grace wears in the picture are just what she would have ordered for her own trousseau for they are made for the life she will lead in Monaco, a great resort area.
So let’s take a look at those outfits! Spoiler alert – if you haven’t seen the movie yet, go on and watch and come back when you’re done.
# 1: Hanging out at Home Outfit
In her first scene in the film, Grace wear a classic camel coloured silk blouse with tan trousers, a brown belt, and cherry red espadrilles.
The high-waisted pants with the dark belt accentuate her small waist and she carries a red scarf for color and flair. Apparently this outfit was one of Grace’s favorites.
“Grace Kelly is one of the few people I’ve designed for who can wear slacks and tapered pants to perfection,” the designer said. “Her figure, and her poise in this type of sportswear lend themselves beautifully to what ordinarily is a difficult costume to wear.”
[This was] One of her favorite trousseau costumes, she has had [it] made in several colors; the pants in toast navy and silver-gray Italian silk linen, which she will wear with silk blouses, two of the blouses of patterned Indian silk. She has had some turtle-necked hand knit sweaters made and men’s cotton shirting blouses to wear with the tapered pants and with skirts.” [Source]
# 2: A Perfect Dress for Swanning About
In an attempt to unnerve the two unwelcome reporters who’ve arrived to cover her character’s wedding (Frank Sinatra is one of them), Grace swans into the room. She’s all over the top gestures, airs, and ditzy remarks.
Reporter: “I do hope you don’t mind our being here for your wedding.”
Tracy Lord: “Oh but I’m delighted! We have so much cake…What is your name, dear? I’m so sensitive to names.”
The diaphanous chiffon and full skirt of the dress are beautiful while also helping her enhance the airhead schtick.
The strappy blue heels on her feet appear to be dyed to match and the whole look would have been perfect for a Monaco garden party, right?
Fun Side Note: it’s especially easy to see a giant engagement ring on Grace’s finger in this scene. The wonderful memoir The Bridesmaids: Grace Kelly Princess of Monaco and Six Intimate Friends was written by Grace’s friend Judith Balaban Quine. In it she tells an endearing story about the ring:
“Look at this!” she howled, holding her left hand up to Virgina’s face. Virginia [Grace’s hairstylist] thought it was the same prop diamond and informed Grace that she saw it daily, she didn’t get the joke. But it was no prop. As though the Prince had seen the prop and had it duplicated, this was the real McCoy. Grace told Virginia that she wanted to substitute it for the prop ring and wear it through the remainder of the movie. But Virginia reminded Grace that studio insurance would require guards on the set if she told. Together, they decided to make the switch but tell no one. Now, when people on the set asked Grace when her engagement ring was coming, she would reply mischievously, “This is my engagement ring,” flashing the real one, which was mistaken for the prop.”
If you’re in the mood, you can read up more on Grace’s two engagement rings here.
# 3: Classic Poolside Bathing Costume & Cover-Up
Grace next appears poolside in a beautifully draped white cover up. The overall look is very grecian and at first glance could pass as an evening gown – at least that’s what I thought it was when I first saw it!
She quickly slips out of it and reveals an adorable white bathing costume with a halter neck and skirt. It was made of silk jersey and is just perfect for sunny Monaco, right?
Here’s a glimpse of the scene with Bing Crosby.
#4: Sailing with Grace
Grace’s next costume is for a sailing trip that takes place during a flashback scene. Nowadays this would be a J.Crew-approved blue hat, plaid shirt, blue pants.
I imagine Grace would have been able to wear this outfit during quiet weekends at her and Prince Rainier’s retreat Roc Agel. After all, when she was packing up her apartment before sailing to Monaco she insisted on taking over a dozen pairs of old jeans and figured she’d be wearing them a lot.
#5: Singing on a Sailboat
What else would you wear out sailing at night on a sailboat but a pink sweater set with butterflies and matching slim skirt? Ha! At least it would be appropriate for a Palace luncheon.
You can get a better look at it in this musical clip. Get ready for some crooning.
#6: Driving with Frank
The vision of a young scarf -clad Grace Kelly in a convertible is iconic. As Bridget says in Bridget Jones’ Diary when she’s in a similar get up: “I suddenly feel like a screen goddess in manner of Grace Kelly.”
For this film, Helen Rose switched it up a bit with an equally elegant hooded jacket.
In the photo above, the hood appears to be lined with orange silk but in fact the lining also has a series of colorful stripes. It’s one of those subtle details that elevates the whole look.
Later on, Grace takes the coat off to reveal a sleeveless collared yellow dress. It is belted at the waist, has dainty shell buttons, and a full skirt. Numerous gold chains around her neck top it all off and I can picture it being another dress perfect for lunch on the terrace.
Here’s a better look.
#7: An Outfit Perfect for A Dreamy Reverie at the Window
For a short but sweet scene, we next see Grace in a yellow patterned chinois silk gown in her bedroom.
This is a style that Grace loved. She wore a similar dress during her wedding week in Monaco as you can see in the picture below.
You can spot what is likely the same dress in this photo of Grace packing up her clothes.
The proceedings were being overseen by her poodle Oliver.
#8: Pre-wedding Ball Gown
The showstopper of them all is this frothy, ethereal beaded evening gown for a pre-wedding ball.
Helen Rose described Grace’s gowns for this film as “Luscious things” and this one is probably the most luscious of them all.
A closer look shows that the skirt is made of layers of chiffon. The top layer is dotted with tiny rhinestones and the intricately embroidered flowers give it something extra special, too.
I haven’t been able to find any photographic evidence of Grace wearing this gown after her wedding but it can’t have just stayed in her closet, right? Let’s hope it got a lot of use.
# 8 The Magically Appearing Beach Cover-Up
You can’t really think too hard about this part of the movie – basically, Grace enjoys a little too much champagne and finds herself in the pool. Miraculously, this delightful and roomy beach cover up appears. Another practical piece for Monaco!
The last outfit Grace wears is this frothy wedding dress.
It’s her character’s second wedding so the dress couldn’t be completely over the top but is still classy, elegant and super feminine.
A newspaper article of the day conjectured that Grace would be wearing this dress at garden parties. It’s described as being made of white cotton organdy and is “full-skirted and worn over a pink slip. The organdy is occasionally embroidered in pink and with it she will wear a large picture hat of organdy…touched with pink.”
So those are the costumes! I’ll forever love this photo of Grace being helped to her car with this perplexed man holding her crinolines aloft. It must have been a bittersweet day to leave the studio for the last time.
This was just the beginning of putting together a trousseau for a 1950’s princess. After Grace wrapped filming in mid March, she presented at the Academy Awards and then headed to New York to finish her trousseau with some serious shopping. We’ll dive into that next week.
So what’s your favorite of these outfits? It’s a tough call, but I’m going with the evening gown.