Before wearing one of the most iconic wedding dresses of our time, Grace Kelly wore another on the silver screen. After just six years in the industry, High Society proved to be Grace’s last picture. MGM released the film in 1956, shortly before her real-life marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco.
The story of High Society is based on a film of sixteen years’ previously, The Philadelphia Story. This starred Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart and received six Academy Awards nominations, winning two.
High Society, released in 1956 by MGM, is a musical remake of this original story. Beloved Grace Kelly plays Tracy Samantha Lord, a divorced socialite who is set to marry a boring businessman. Ex-husband CK Dexter Haven (Bing Crosby) is a jazz musician who remains in love with her. As Tracy continues her engagement with George (John Lund), a magazine is desperate to uncover embarrassing information about her father. They send a reporter, Mike Connor (Frank Sinatra) who also then falls for Tracy. After a night of drinking, she goes swimming with Mike and is discovered by George. He calls off the wedding but the guests have already arrived. Before Tracy has a chance to announce the bad news, Dexter proposes and she realises where her heart is. She accepts.
The music in the film is performed by Louis Armstrong and his band. The music and lyrics were written by Cole Porter, a famous Broadway and film composer. Late in production, Sinatra ask that “Well, Did You Evah!”, a song from one of Porter’s previous musicals, be added to the film so that he could sing onscreen with his idol, Bing Crosby.
At the time of filming, this was one of the most beautiful wedding dresses audiences had ever seen. Of course, it was to be eclipsed by the dress she wore to her real wedding to Prince Rainier.
The dress was made of silk organza, a very fine fabric notoriously difficult to work with. The dress was vaguely pinky yellow in colour, decorated with floral embroidery. It was calf length and an A line shape with a very narrow waist and long, puffy sleeves. It featured a white underdress with an exaggerated sweetheart neckline under a sheer, deep V neck.
The embroidered flowers on the bodice and skirt matched with a small bouquet of flowers which Grace wore at her waist attached to a pink ribbon belt. In work that would have taken seamstresses hours, the embroidery is all perfectly symmetrical.
Grace’s character Tracy wore the dress with a floppy wide-brimmed white hat which featured layers of fabric and tulle on top. She also wore a pair of wrist-length white gloves which complemented the demure outfit perfectly. In terms of her hair, she wore it neatly pinned back in curls at the nape of her neck. Her makeup was subtle and soft with a bright, feminine red lipstick.
It is important to note that the dress was not white. Although this was by far the most popular colour for bridal dresses to be at this time, it was not seen as appropriate for a second-time bride. White was deemed a colour of virtue, and not suitable for a woman who had already had a wedding night.
Helen Rose was a prolific Hollywood designer. Not only did she dress the stars on screen, but she often created outfits for their real lives, too. As for Grace Kelly, it was Helen who designed her stunning and iconic real wedding dress. However, she designed this, the one in the film High Society, too.
Helen is credited with designing clothes for more than a hundred films. She won two Oscars and was nominated for eight more. She designed gowns for Twentieth Century Fox before someone offered her a job at MGM. Four years later, she became the chief costume designer and produced dresses for all the biggest stars. She even made Elizabeth Taylor’s first wedding dress, and her wedding gown for the film Father of the Bride.
While studios usually keep the costumes their stars wear, MGM gave this dress to Grace as a wedding present. They also gifted her the wedding dress that Helen Rose made, and a couple of other gowns that she had worn while working for the company. Because of this, many of the dresses are now viewable by the public in various museums.
There are so many notable dresses from this film, which only goes to show Helen’s great talent. Helen and Grace loved working together as she suited the elegant dresses Helen loved to make. Indeed, it was on the set for the film that the two discussed the design for Grace’s real wedding dress.
In another scene in High Society, Tracy gets drunk and leaves her own bachelorette party. She meets with Mike (Sinatra) next to a swimming pool and the two dance. The lavender coloured dress features a line of embroidered flowers rippling from the shoulder to the bottom hem. It features a similar fit to her wedding dress, complete with belt and flowing skirt. It is the perfect fairy-tale gown. With this, she wore her hair delicately curled and perfectly put together for how drunk her character was.
Many of Grace’s looks have been copied by countless celebrities in the years since. As such, we have seen repetitions of the dresses from High Society. At a gala in 2012, actor Jessica Alba sported a floor length A-line gown that was very similar to Tracy’s wedding dress. It featured a sheer fabric over an opaque underdress and was embroidered with flowers. Alba has stated how much she loves Grace’s polished style.
Meanwhile, her real life wedding dress inspired everyone from Kate Middleton to Miranda Kerr. It continues to be a style that many brides today strive to copy. Learn more about this iconic dress in our other article.
What do you think about Grace’s High Society wedding dress? Do you prefer her real life wedding gown? Would you think twice about wearing white at a second wedding?