"A grey suit is just a grey suit, right? Wrong. When worn by an icy Hitchcock blonde a grey suit becomes something more, a cipher of meaning and sexual allure hidden behind a cold veneer of uptight severity.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo, his femme fatale Madeleine Elster is played with steely detachment by Kim Novak. Bait for damaged ex-cop Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart), Madeleine is a tragic woman seemingly obsessed with the spirit of Carlotta Valdes whose painting she visits every day in an art gallery. Their similarities are subtle, yet enough to entice Scottie into Madeleine’s web. Wearing a two-piece grey suit, comprised of three-button jacket, knife pleat pencil skirt, and with a distinctive curl to her blonde bun mimicking Carlotta, Madeline is the model of married repression. She is a beautiful woman hidden inside a costume so bland and constricting it only serves to draw further attention to her latent sexuality.
Two versions of the grey skirt were made by Hitchcock’s regular costume designer Edith Head. Both were incredibly narrow, though a higher cut of the pleat in one allowed for slightly more movement. This lack of mobility was intentional, with Novak initially reluctant but eventually understanding how it helped find the rigidity of her character. The colour of the suit is vital, not red or black; there is nothing to imply Madeline is anything more than she appears. Only patent stiletto heels provide any hint as to the deadly femme fatale hiding behind the mask.
Novak’s suit is perhaps not instantly recognisable as a classic movie costume, though this is only because it means more in context than in fashion. Then again it does not date; slim, below-the-knee pencil skirts will be everywhere this winter."