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Style Icons: Faye Dunaway

Were there ever more stylish bank robbers than Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty?

The 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde is a glamorous slice of 1930s fashion in a grim depression-era setting. Its old Ford Coupes with running boards, bottles of Coca-cola in half abandoned dusty southern towns, posters of Roosevelt and stylish 'gangster' costumes combining period touches with 1960s style. The film sparked a huge fashion trend, particularly with the 26-year-old Dunaway in berets, neckties and midi skirts.

Bonnie and Clyde was at the forefront of the collapse of the Hollywood studio system with its French New Wave influence and realistic depictions of violence. It shook up the film industry and paved the way for an increase in violence and sex on screen.

Classics such as Badlands, Thelma and Louise, True Romance, Natural Born Killers and Wild at Heart, in which ordinary couples become legends through violence, all owe a debt to Arthur Penn's film.

The glamour of the young outlaws, who were real life legends in the 1930s mid west, contrast with the poor depression farmers, depicted in battered dungarees, dirt-stained shirts and straw hats.

In reality Bonnie was a mousy brunette, and Clyde was described in newspapers of the day as a "shifty young Texas thug who spoke with a whiny drawl". But on screen Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were romantic idols, folklore heroes, and the costumes designed by Theadora Van Runkle set off a trend for thirties glamour of pinstripes, midi skirts and berets.

Bonnie and Clyde was Van Runkle's first film as costume designer. "The minute I read the first page I saw everything," she said. "I knew it was going to be fabulous. I'd never designed anything before and I made all kinds of mistakes. I didn't know about continuity, I didn't know how to break down a script. I just stumbled through."

Van Runkle created a feminine but powerful wardrobe for Bonnie, evoking the wardrobes of 1930s stars like Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn. As a career girl who discovers her own niche with bank robbery, Bonnie does power-dressing in midi skirts, jackets and berets; a cigar in mouth and a gun by her hip. Van Runkle used a bias cut so that the dresses would swing, and incorporated her own concepts with vintage pieces.

Warren Beatty also retains the looks of a movie star in pin-striped suits and trilbies. In one scene he wears a white vest, but rather than looking like a period item, it shows off his arms to full effect and gives him the appearance of Marlon Brando. Theadora had in fact wanted to make him look more 'period', with a hair parted in the middle and cut high at the back, but he challenged her on that decision.

The film had a huge impact on fashion on its release in 1967. "Actress Faye Dunaway, the gun toting Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and Clyde, has already done for the beret what Bardot did for the bikini," declared Life Magazine. 

In the mid 1960s skirts were shorter than ever before, (the micro-mini was worn by the more daring), but suddenly on the back of Bonnie, women were covering their legs by lowering their skirts to below the knees.

The beret also made a huge comeback, with production in France reported to have more than doubled on the film's release. It had been a trend for confident young American women in the 1930s, as worn by Ginger Rogers and Joan Crawford, but had fallen out of fashion.

Women not old enough to have lived during the depression looked back on those days with a romantic view. The Bonnie Parker style was one of confidence that rejected the submissive 1950s girdles, perfectly coiffed hair and petticoats. After the Second World War, women were encouraged to be good housewives, but in the sixties women wanted more - a career and control of their sex lives. Bonnie's style was also popular as office wear as it was more acceptable and easy to wear than mini skirts and flares.

At the Paris premiere of Bonnie and Clyde in 1967 Faye Dunaway was greeted like a rock star, with a crowd chanting her name and all dressed in berets and thirties style clothes. Smart young Londoners on the King's Road adopted her look and Faye Dunaway was the new It girl. Even Brigitte Bardot adopted the style, dressing like Dunaway to perform The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde, her duet with Serge Gainsbourg, in a promotional film and in Paris on New Years Eve 1967.

The great thing about the Bonnie and Clyde look is that it's easy to imitate, either going for the pinstripes and trilbies of Clyde, or the Bonnie look - a beret, midi-skirt, mustard-coloured sweater, tweed jackets and a patterned neck-tie.

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