Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Notorious Bettie Page

Everybody loves Bettie Page, 50s pin-up and fetish legend, the dark side to Marilyn Monroe. The Notorious Bettie Page does a reasonably good job of telling the story of her life, from her Christian upbringing in a working-class family in Nashville Tennessee, her forays into the world of modeling and her eventual rise to infamy as a fetish model, to her retirement and fade into obscurity in the late 50s. Gretchen Moll is gorgeous as Bettie, bringing a real playfulness to the role. Even in the most extreme fetish photos, Bettie Page had a sense of fun and innocence that makes it all seem like a game of dress-ups, and Moll manages to capture this, as well as Bettie's love being naked outdoors in the sunshine. Although it would have been interesting to get into Bettie's head more, it's a nice overview of a woman who has had such an influence on popular culture.

Now onto the clothes. Interestingly enough, there are not that many outfits in this film. Even at the height of her fame, I can't imagine that Bettie had a lot of money, and so you see the same pieces throughout the film. The film is also mostly in black and white, with the scenes in Miami in colour.

Bettie's first husband was her highschool sweetheart Billy Neal, whom she married in 1943. In this scene, Bettie meets Billy for the first time, so it must be some time in the late 30s or early 40s. Bettie is wearing a typical American school girl outfit of plaid wool skirt, blouse and cardigan.

Bettie's marriage to Billy lasted from 1943 until their divorce in 1947. This pretty sundress has got a rather 1930s feel to it, with the little cap sleeves, and sweetheart neckline.

This is the coat Bettie wears when she is packing her bags and leaving Billy.

Bettie and a friend leaving Modelling School for the day. Bettie wears a demure eyelet lace shirtwaist dress, with interesting flap pockets on the skirt, and a light-coloured cardigan.

Another lovely coat, probably a typical late 40s swing coat, in a tweed.

Bettie on the beach. In this scene, Bettie is strolling along the Coney Island shore, when Jerry Tibbs, a policeman and amateur photographer, sees her and asks her if he can take some photos of her. I love this casual outfit - rolled up jeans, a white halter top, a cardigan, and that fantastic raffia bag with some sort of design (leaves? fish?) embroidered on it.

An indoor photoshoot with Tibbs soon followed, and here is Bettie in one of her homemade bikinis. As the second of six children, Bettie was accustomed to wearing cast-offs of her mother's, cut down to fit her, and apparently she learned to sew at an early age. She made most of her bikinis and underwear for her modelling shoots.

It was Jerry Tibbs who suggested that Bettie cut her hair into a fringe, which gave her such an iconic look. Bettie said:

"[Jerry Tibbs was] the one who got me wearing bangs. For years I had my hair parted down the middle in a ponytail, tucked down around the sides. But he said to me, 'Bettie, you've got a very high forehead. I think you'd look good if you cut some bangs to cover it.' Well, I went and cut the bangs, and I've been wearing them ever since. They say it's my trademark."

In this very brief scene, Bettie is admiring her new hairstyle in her compact mirror. She's wearing what looks like a short-sleeved angora sweater, probably in a pastel colour.

A lot of the scenes are very short, and it's difficult to get a decent screen-shot. This is one of my favourite outfits. The mid-calf length skirt of a dark fabric with a tiny pattern, and this cap-sleeved top in a slightly textured fabric. As she walks towards the house, you can see her seamed stockings and black ankle-strap heels.

I'm almost certain that this is the same top as above, worn by Bettie in a later scene during a play rehearsal. It looks like a textured knit.

Another of Bettie's bikinis. Cute daisies! It must be based on this outfit below.

Like Marilyn Monroe, Bettie was serious about being an actress, and in 1953 took classes at the Herbert Berghof Studio in New York, which led to several small roles on stage and television. Here Bettie is dressing the part of the serious drama student, in a dark skirt and buttoned up cardigan.

Bettie heading out into the forest for a photo shoot with one of the camera clubs. She's wearing a pretty cotton dirndl over a bikini, and it looks like she's carrying that embroidered raffia beach bag again.

This swing car coat gets quite a few scenes. We first see it here, worn over a (sheath?) dress of a similar colour. This scene is very brief, and it was impossible to get a good shot of the dress.

Here's the coat again, worn to a photo shoot with the Klaws.

And here is a better closeup of Bettie wearing the same coat after an unsuccessful audition, in the late 50s.

This is the dress Bettie wears to a screen test for a film studio. It has a halter-neck and a fitted skirt, in a cute and very 50s atomic print.

Here's a view of the whole dress, with the black ankle-strap shoes worn in an earlier scene, and that same car coat.

And look! At the very end of the film, when Bettie has embraced Christianity and is preaching in the park, look at the dress she is wearing underneath that hideous giant cardigan. It's the dress from the screen test! Yay, now we can see what colour it was.

Bettie on the beach in Florida. All the colour parts of the movie were shot on old colour stock, so they have that look of Technicolor commercials from the 1950s.

In Florida, Bettie met Bunny Yeager, who would take some of the best photos of Bettie. Here, the two women are wearing matching halter-neck sundresses, Bettie's with a full skirt, while Bunny's has a more sophisticated draped skirt.

Bunny's photo-shoots included the well-known "Jungle Girl" shoot at the USA Africa Park with two cheetas. I forgot to take a screen-shot, so this is the real Bettie Page!

Bettie wears this dress to a party where her boyfriend, a fellow actor, finally realises what she does for a living, and is disgusted. It was really hard to get a clear shot of this dress, as there are people moving across the screen all the time, but as far as I could see, it's a one-shouldered dress with two straps over the left shoulder, a fairly full skirt, and a self-belt. Very classy.
Another shot of Bettie in her favourite place, on the beach. Love the white playsuit.

Bettie waiting to be called as a witness in the trial against Irving Klaw. This photo is huge, so you can open it in a separate tab to see a closeup of her hair and makeup.

Here's a full view of the outfit. Very demure and sweet.

I really love this dress that Bettie wears to an audition. She's still trying to break into acting, but all the directors are interested in is the fact that she's the notorious Bettie Page. The neckline is lovely, especially the way it's square at the back. I wonder what colour it was?

Here's the dress that Bettie found God in. Isn't it the sweetest? Look at the button and frilly detailing on the cuffs.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this little selection of outfits. For more info about Bettie Page, I recommend this article, The Bettie Page Companion by Brendan Hancock.


  1. Thank-you for posting! These outfits are absolutely darling, the polka dot dress is a favourite. I must check out this film too. She was such a bombshell!

  2. I am absolutely loving your articles. The one you did on Grey Gardens was a good read too!

    THANK YOU!!!

  3. Glad you ladies enjoyed my post! And Nancy, I'm doing another one on the Grey Gardens film next week, some lovely 30s and 40s outfits, so stay tuned.