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The Retro Parisian Street Chic Of Irma La Douce

By , 28 January, 2009, No Comment

In Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce (1963) the too-honest policeman Nestor (Jack Lemmon) falls in love with Paris prostitute Irma (Shirley MacLaine). Along with being a comedic story of mismatched people, the film features what most fashionistas would call mismatched colors. For while Irma has a signature color (green), she isn’t worried about matching shades.

Shirley MacLaine as Irma La Douce

Shirley MacLaine as Irma La Douce

As far as the film goes, the mix & match green wardrobe gives MacLaine’s Irma the perfect blend of independence & sophistication with underlying notes of few bank notes; Irma is street chic.

Retro Parisian Street Chic

Retro Parisian Street Chic

Usually, as anyone who has run around town with bits of thread from her navy jacket will tell you, when one creates monochromatic outfits or wardrobes, great care is taken to dress in the same tone. Just little things, such as accessories, are allowed to be just a tad lighter or darker, highlighting such details. But Irma just seems to pile on the green — “seems” being the operative word here. It’s clear that great pains are taken to make her ensembles work.

Creating a signature color look requires dedication. These tips are especially wonderful when wearing vintage clothing. We all know how difficult it can be to find a skirt to match a fabulous jacket… We all know the pain of passing up the otherwise perfect vintage shoes just because they are the wrong shade… We all hate to leave the vintage clothing shop without that perfect fitting 1960’s Leslie Fay green brocade suit, but you know you’re never going to find anything other than white to wear with it, and you already have enough problems like that…

Retro Leslie Fay Suit

Retro Leslie Fay Suit

But with tips from Irma La Douce, you can go from ‘mismatched’ to ‘street chic’ and never pass up a perfect fitting vintage bargain again!

Begin with that perfect something — your favorite color itself, a pair of the prettiest mod Mary Jane shoes you’ve ever found that fit perfectly, your most recent thrift store bargain. Whatever it is, you’ll be building from that color.

Mod Mary Janes

Mod Mary Janes

Every little thing, every accessory, must be in that color. Some items, like authentic vintage green stockings may be difficult (but dreamy!) to find…

Vintage Moss Green Stockings

Vintage Moss Green Stockings

But you can supplement with new hose.

The color is worn right on down to the lingerie (and in Irma’s case, in her the decor of her apartment as well). The beauty of such monochromatic street chic is that you can mix and match new with vintage, making it easier to shop — so even when you cannot find a vintage green bullet bra in your size, you can buy a new green bullet bra. But, tempting as it may be, don’t wear all matching lingerie — the kick to this street chic is the mixing to match, not buying perfectly matched.

Secrets In Lace Lingerie

Secrets In Lace Lingerie

The shades or tones in your signature color ensemble may be different, bright green with moss green, etc., but they should not clash (no lime green, for example).

Occasionally, as Irma herself did, you may include a basic black skirt or some such. It may be worn until you find the perfect color replacement — or used to fool the eye by keeping shades that are too dissimilar apart. But it should also accentuate and draw the eye towards the main color, like Irma’s skirt plays up her green stockings.

Irma La Douce Street Chic

Irma La Douce Street Chic

Those who wish to look taller &/or slimmer may wish to wear a single matching shade over most of their torso, like this 1940’s Gilbert Adrian suit, using blouse, lingerie, and accessories to build additional shades without breaking the single long line of color.

Vintage Gilbert Adrian Suit

Vintage Gilbert Adrian Suit

Makeup is most decidedly not done all in the same color. Whatever color you dress in, wear makeup that flatters you and doesn’t blend ‘you’ into the outfit; fashion is about showcasing you, not having people say, “Look at the lump of green coming down the street!” Green eyeshadow? Perhaps. But lips and nails painted red are not only more attractive and seductive than green shades, but red lips and fingertips are contrasting accents to Shirley’s beauty.

Red Contrasts Green

Red Contrasts Green

Even when Irma is not wearing come-hither red, she wears peaches and creme makeup to accentuate her peaches and creme complexion.

Intimate Beauty Moment with Irma La Douce

Intimate Beauty Moment with Irma La Douce

When creating a signature color, it helps to be seen wearing the color everyday — but should that bore you, you can remind others with small touches of your signature color (ribbons, jewelry, and other accessories) in your other outfits. And even if you do not wish to limit yourself and your wardrobe to a single signature color, you can adopt such tricks to create a single outfit. Any special vintage piece can be the starting point to your own retro Parisian street chic.

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  • Raquelle

    Shirley MacLaine looked so beautiful in this movie. I don’t think anyone else could have pulled off the monochromatic green look, complete with green stockings!

    Thanks for all the links. I’m in search of some good online vintage shops.

  • Broke Bettie

    Ooh, I’ve never seen that one but after looking at your pics and reading this post I must check it out – thanks!

  • kenny

    Great blog! Thanks!

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