Sunday, June 27, 2010

Psycho turns 50 - Lingerie in film

This month the famous horror film, Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock turned 50. It is hard to believe that Psycho hit the silver screen so long ago. Whether you saw it in a cinema or on TV most people remember how frightening it was. I stumbled upon a clip the other day and found it just as frightening today.

It is a film that was a ground breaker in so many ways including it’s use of lingerie as costumes. The second memory I have of this film, after the shower scene, of course, is the bold use of a bra and slip for the leading lady. Hitchcock deliberately chose to dress his leading lady, Janet Leigh, in a white bra and white half slip during the opening scenes of the film. He is reported to have said he wanted her to appear “angelic”. She is being portrayed as a good women stepping into a bad situation. The fact that she is having a daytime affair, on her lunch break, is shocking in itself for 1960.

Once she has taken the steps to stealing the money so easily placed before her, Hitchcock changes her lingerie costume to a black bra and black half slip symbolizing evil. She has made the shift from good girl to bad girl. Only wild women wore black bras. If you watch carefully you will also notice that she uses a white purse in the beginning and switches to a black one as she runs away with the stolen money.
It is difficult to look back at the old fashioned bras and imagine them as sexy. Today they look like your everyday, working bra whether in black or white with slightly different style lines.

Some of the other unconventional methods used by Hitchcock include:
  • the use of black and white film stock although color technology was already fully in use.
  • the first American film to show a toilet flush. It was against the ratings rules so Hitchcock had the leading lady put a note in the toilet and flush it. As it was an important part of the plot it was allowed.
  • the first film to kill off the leading lady in the first act.
  • the first film to use a human as the “monster” (Norman Bates)
  • Hitchcock insisted that Janet’s wardrobe be purchased, not custom made for her as was and is the norm in film. He wanted clothing that a real secretary could have afforded. He wanted it to look real.
  • the famous shower scene took 7 days to shoot and 70 camera set ups then extensive editing.
  • the screeching violin music to frighten the audience
Even after 50 years this is still an American film masterpiece. Well worth another watch.

Do you think there are still such stereotype restrictions on today’s woman?


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  1. I liked your article a lot. Regarding your comment on how it would be so difficult to find Leigh's bras in Psyco being sexy nowadays, you know what? After attending a nightly outdoor screening of the movie in a local museum due to the 50th anniversary, I was so impressed with the use of lingerie on it and found the leading lady so sultry in those scenes, that I wanted that look for myself! I even mentioned my boyfriend how much more flattering those were compared to modern minimizing underwired styles of today. So, I was searching for similar vintage bras to shop online, then googled for "Janet Leigh lingerie in Psycho" to compare options and, voila, your blog came through.

    I guess I am just an old-fashioned girl who wants her twins to look like mortal bullets. Ooh yeah. :-)

  2. Ms Glorimar,
    I admire your retro spirit! I love that you would wear the psycho bra and you should. There are starting to be a few retro styles hitting the market.
    You were so lucky to attend an outdoor screening, what fun.
    Thanks for the lovely input.


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