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by on October 5, 2012

The FashionIndie FilmInstitue (FIFI), previously known as Turning Classic Movies, gives the close-up on fashionable films from a bygone era. With Halloween darkening every corner of this month, Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1960 masterpiece, Psycho, is the perfect stabbing starting off point. Strip off those clothes and let’s hop in the shower with Norman Bates.

Though this was Hitchcock’s first horror movie, he regarded it as a comedy, explaining only that it “had to be.” Wanting to break away from the big budget, star-studded Technicolor thrillers he had been doing recently — Vertigo, North by Northwest, Dial ‘M’ for Murder, The Man Who Knew Too Much — Hitch opted for what was considered at the time a low-budget, black & white “B” picture. And the film’s only notable star, Janet Leigh, is killed off in the first 50 minutes.

It’s been 52 years, are we considering that a spoiler?

Leigh plays Marion Crane, a secretary who, after absconding with $40,000 in stolen cash from one of her boss’ clients, stops at the Bates Motel — the last stop she’ll ever make.

Rather than having her clothes custom-made, Hitchcock insisted that Leigh’s character should wear off-the-rack clothes from ordinary stores — clothes a secretary could afford — so that female viewers could identify with Marion Crane. She’s not, after all, the most sympathetic character in all of filmdom.

In the opening scene she’s clearly just finished having her plumbing checked by her divorced boyfriend. She’s wearing a white bra and slip.

FashionIndie FilmInstitute: <i>Psycho</i>

On her way into work she’s wearing all white and carrying a white purse; Hitchcock reportedly wanted to portray her as “angelic.”

FashionIndie FilmInstitute: <i>Psycho</i>

However, after stealing the money, she changes, both literally and figuratively.

FashionIndie FilmInstitute: <i>Psycho</i>

Now in a black bra and slip and carrying a black purse, she’s been visibly tarnished.

FashionIndie FilmInstitute: <i>Psycho</i>

Therefore, her retribution comes when she is naked and at her most vulnerable.

FashionIndie FilmInstitute: <i>Psycho</i>

Though Crane’s clothes were plain and off-the-rack, at least she had better taste than Norman Bates.

FashionIndie FilmInstitute: <i>Psycho</i>

Only mental insanity could explain this house dress.


Contributed by Lester Brathwaite

I was center square from 1969 to 1978, during which I perfected the art of the zing as well as a crippling cocaine addiction. Bea Arthur was responsible for both. @LesFabian lester dot brathwaite at gmail