All About Eve is a movie that I firmly believe deserves every accolade it’s received over the years. While there is no shortage of acclaim for its acting, direction, and writing, the costuming by Edith Head and Charles Le Maire absolutely can’t be ignored. This is a prime example of how costume design can be so much more than pretty dresses. Here, we’ve got costumes that say so much about the characters and what they’re feeling at the time.
When Eve first meets Margo, on the surface, she appears to be the most unpretentious person in the room. But that outfit is calculated down to the smallest detail. The hat and coat look like they were picked up from a bus station’s lost and found. Her outfit certainly looks like it would belong to someone who lived the life she described.
Once Eve starts working for Margo, she dresses humbly, exactly how a working girl would. It’s clear she doesn’t have a lot of money but tries makes do with what she has to look as nice as possible. She doesn’t look like someone desperately trying to get into the theater world.
Now if you want to see someone who truly wants to remain behind the scenes, look at Birdie. Like Eve, she’s someone who clearly doesn’t make a lot of money and isn’t trying to be the most stylish person in the room. But unlike Eve, she’s had her moment of fame back in the vaudeville days and is now content to stick backstage as Margo’s maid.
There is a scene where Eve comes in wearing one of Margo’s old suits that had been altered to fit her. Eve wants Margo’s career and her love life, why not her wardrobe, too? Here she is actually wearing Margo’s clothes, but in some other scenes, she looks like she went through Margo’s closet then went and bought knockoffs of everything she owned.
The first time Eve looks like she’s trying to dress like Margo is during the party Margo throws for Bill. Margo wears that legendary off-the-shoulder, fur-trimmed gown. Eve looks like a total wannabe in her dark off-the-shoulder gown with a white lace trim around the collar. I’d say the white trim on Eve’s dress is fitting since white is traditionally used to convey innocence and at this point in the movie, most of Margo’s friends think of Eve as being pretty innocent.
When Margo shows up late for Miss Casswell’s audition, she comes in wearing that big bow tied tightly around her neck. That bow looks like it’s choking her, which is appropriate considering that when she gets to the theater, she realizes that Eve essentially has her by the throat.
For the big audition fiasco, Eve is back to dressing like a typical working girl, not an aspiring actress. Margo may see what she’s doing, but nobody else does and Eve wants to keep it that way. Note Bill’s loosened tie. Eve may have Margo by the throat, but she hasn’t quite gotten Bill yet.
After Eve first goes on as Margo’s understudy, Addison comes backstage to talk to her. In this scene, it isn’t what she’s wearing, it’s what she isn’t wearing. As Eve is getting changed off-screen, Addison starts questioning her about her past. Which theater was it that she first saw Margo in? What was her husband’s name? He’s starting to expose her while she is literally exposed. And when the questions make her too uncomfortable, she covers herself up just enough to let Addison know she’s going to get in the shower where she won’t have to listen to his questions anymore.
And here we have another example of Eve dressing like Margo. When Margo goes out to dinner with Bill, Karen, and Lloyd, she wears a dark dress with sheer material on the shoulders. What is Eve wearing? A dark dress with sheer material around the neckline.
I didn’t really have much to say about Karen’s outfits, but I thought this necklace was a great choice for the scene where Eve blackmails her into telling Lloyd that she ought to have the part written for Eve in his new play. It looks like she’s got a noose around her neck. Another instance of someone wearing something tight around their neck when Eve has got them put in a tough spot.
When we see Eve before opening night of her show, it looks like she’s trying to put forth the image of being a great stage star. Of course, she isn’t a big star like Margo yet and still looks like a wannabe, but she’s making the effort with her hat and coat. But once she gets into her hotel room and takes off the hat and coat, we see she’s dressed like she was when she was Margo’s assistant. Perhaps it’s fitting that she be dressed like her old self when Addison sees Eve’s true motives and confronts her about her past.
And here we have Margo and Eve at the awards ceremony. Margo and Eve are both in off-the-shoulder gowns, but this time, Eve is in a white gown while Margo is in a dark gown. Before now, Eve tended to dress in the same color scheme as Margo. This reflects Eve becoming a star in her own right, but still shows her obsession with Margo. As I mentioned earlier, white is typically used to indicate innocence and this is a situation where Eve needs to project innocence again. A lot of people in that room have no idea how Eve truly got where she is and she wants to keep it that way. Margo and Eve are also both wearing shawls. However, Margo’s is sheer while Eve’s actually covers her up. Given the age difference between Margo and Eve, you might think it would be the other way around, but Margo is the one with nothing to hide. Everyone knows who she is, she’s not pretending to be somebody she isn’t. Eve, on the other hand…
When Eve gets back home and finds Phoebe waiting for her, the audience clearly knows what Phoebe’s intentions are since we know how Eve acted earlier in the movie. But it’s also worth noting that Phoebe is dressed just like Eve was in the scene where Addison confronts her about her past. Even the hair looks similar. Perhaps that’s what prompts Addison to ask her if she wants to be an actress like Eve when he comes by to return Eve’s award.