Audrey Hepburn and Her Pop Culture Influence

In an era of big, blonde broads (and Elizabeth Taylor, the skinny Audrey Hepburn stood out with her diminutive elegance. She’s the third-greatest female screen legend from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Best remembered for her 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hepburn has become recognized as both a film and a fashion icon. 

Hepburn is one of the few people who have one at least one of the four major American Entertainment Awards: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. The impact she had and continues to have on the fashion world is immeasurable. But more than an iconic actress and a fashion icon, Hepburn’s heart of gold has touched the lives of people through her humanitarian work. 

Here are the reasons why Audrey Hepburn remains a pop culture icon: 

She is one of most imitated ladies of the 20th century.

Take a look around and you will see a culture influenced by Audrey’s charm. Her persona has resonated with a lot of people around the world that her name became a brand of its own – a byproduct of American culture. She stands out as one of the most imitated ladies during the 20th century.

Hepburn was known for her unique yet classy fashion choices and a distinctive look. When she first rose to stardom in the early 1950s, she was seen as an alternative feminine ideal that appealed to more women than men, in comparison to the curvy and sexual Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly. In 1954, fashion photographer Cecil Beaton called Hepburn the “public embodiment of our new feminine ideal.” Her short hair style, slim body, thick eyebrows, and gamine looks presented a look that was easier to emulate than those of sexual film stars. 

Middle class women of the 1950s to 1960s looked up to Audrey. Her casual and sweet smile, and her zest for life is what every woman wished to have. Many women back then could identify with her persona of a classy yet misunderstood lady. Hepburn inspired other women to find the best qualities within themselves, proving that you don’t need voluptuous curves like Marilyn Monroe’s and obvious sexuality to get noticed. Having a strong feminine presence on screen, Hepburn redefined the idea of female beauty. Her star image has been cemented over time as a cultural icon through her ingenuity and originality. 

Ladies wanted to be like her, so they imitated her fashion, her gracefulness, and her classy presentation of herself. 

She had a tremendous influence on fashion.

Audrey Hepburn is an influential fashion icon. The reason a lot of people flocked to see her movies is because she displayed an elegant and rare sense of belonging, and that can be seen in her fashion statements, too. 

Her iconic fashion style on and off-screen can be described as lady-like, yet charming and polished, no matter what she wears. She wore tight dresses with high and squared neck lines, unlike Monroe’s famously sparkly dresses that often showed a lot of cleavage. Both of them were beautiful women who influenced the fashion industry despite being different from one another.

She also wasn’t afraid to be androgynous with her style – she can be seen wearing pants or a suit – but she still managed to retain an aura of femininity. In the movie Roman Holiday, she wore a white shirt man’s style, but she did not look boyish. For her, cropped, classy trousers and ballet pumps were must-haves, and she wasn’t afraid to wear comfortable and casual clothes, though some people may not see it as girly or elegant. But amazingly, she looked stylish in everything. She managed to look marvelous and fashionable, no matter how plain or how casual was the outfit she wore.  

In 1961, Hepburn was added to the International Best Dressed List, associating her with a minimalistic style. Audrey was usually wearing clothes with simple silhouettes, modest fabrics, monochromatic colors and occasional statement accessories. Her trademark looks include slim black trousers, flat ballet-style pumps, and fine jersey, along with little black dresses. This fashion choice was new at the time when women typically wore skirts and high heels. Also, she popularized plain black leggings in the late 1950s. 

After her death in 1993, she become admired by a new generation, with magazines frequently advising her readers on how to get her look, using her style as inspiration. 

She made slim fashionable.

Besides model Twiggy, Audrey Hepburn has been cited as one of the key public figures that made slim fashionable. During Hepburn’s time, the top-billing actresses have hourglass-figures – sizable busts, small waists, and big hips. But she proved that you don’t have to be curvy to be fashionable. 

But despite being admired for her beauty and slim silhouette, she never considered herself attractive. In a 1959 interview, she said that “you can even say that I hated myself at certain periods. I was too fat, or maybe too tall, or maybe just plain too ugly… you can say my definiteness stems from underlying feelings of insecurity and inferiority. I couldn’t conquer these feelings by acting indecisive. I found the only way to get the better of them was by adopting a forceful, concentrated drive.” 

She was Givenchy’s muse.

In the fashion world, Hepburn was mostly associated with French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, whom she first hired to design her on-screen wardrobe for her second Hollywood film Sabrina (1954). That time, Audrey was still mostly unknown as an actress, and Givenchy was still a young couturier starting his fashion house.

Hepburn became his muse and he dressed her on and off screen. Fashion played an unusually central role in many of Hepburn’s movies. Her costumes did not become tied to the character, but it functions silently in the mise-en-scène – making her clothes an attraction on its own. 

Hepburn and Givenchy became so closely associated. Since they started to work alongside each other while both of them were still unknown can make us wonder, “Did Audrey Hepburn create Givenchy or was it the other way around?”

Though Givenchy was initially disappointed that “Miss Hepburn” was not Katharine Hepburn as he had initially thought, he and Audrey formed a lifelong friendship. Audrey was shy and insecure, and Givenchy’s creations made her not only beautiful; it helped her overcome her insecurities. Hepburn even had Givenchy by her side during filming of her movies, and she once said, “I depend on Givenchy the same way American women depend on their psychiatrists.”

Givenchy also designed the iconic little black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Though it was Coco Chanel who invented the little black dress, Givenchy’s LBD worn by Audrey made it popular. The dress proved to be iconic that in 2006, it was sold at an auction for £467,200, the highest price paid for a dress in film history. 

Audrey also inspired Givenchy to create a perfume. So, Givenchy made her a present before the sales started. He made her the face of his first perfume, L’Interdit, in 1957. 

Hepburn was also credited for boosting the sales of Burberry trench coats when she wore one in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and she also became closely associated with the Italian footwear brand Tod’s. The jewelry brand Tiffany and Co. has also become extremely popular after Breakfast at Tiffany’s became hugely successful. 

She is a humanitarian. 

Hepburn did not only change the world with her iconic beauty and fashion choices, but she also shown that beauty is not superficial. To be truly beautiful, one must be compassionate and help others. She was a well-known humanitarian who became a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. 

Her appreciation for the little things in life and her passion to help the less fortunate stemmed from her early life experience surviving the Nazi occupation during World War II. She outwitted almost anybody who questioned her well-being, and it was during a difficult time in history where she earned her first acting chops. To survive under the Nazi occupation, she pretended a lot of times. Once, when she was bringing a message to a British pilot hiding in the forest outside her town, she saw two German soldiers heading towards her. She dropped to her knees and pretended to be picking wild flowers, and smilingly handed the Nazi’s a handful as they passed. The soldiers were so charmed that they just patted her head and walk away. 

However, she did not only manage to pull off during the war by pretension. She also raised money for the Dutch Resistance secretly. 

She survived the Dutch famine that followed in the winter of 1944, when her family resorted to making flour out of tulip bulbs just to have something to eat. As a result of malnutrition, she developed respiratory problems, acute anemia, and edema. Experiencing hunger and malnutrition first hand as a child made her passionate about the children and the needy. 

In 1954, she fused celebrity with conscience in a way that no one has done before by narrating radio programs for UNICEF. In 1989, she was appointed as the Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF. She was also involved in UNICEF’s field missions from 1988 to 1992. She was even at Somalia visiting children in famine four months before she died. 

So, every time you see Angelina Jolie or other big stars in Hollywood in a headscarf doing righteous acts, know that Audrey did it first. 

She is a subtle feminist icon.

Audrey Hepburn did not have to come out right and say that she supported feminism, since it was clear enough for the audiences to see. During the 1950s era where women are expected to do motherly duties and traditional women’s tasks, she brings up this line in Roman Holiday: “I can sew too, and clean a house, and iron. I learned all those things – I just haven’t had the chance to do it for anyone.” There was just something so real behind the characters she portrayed on screen. Hepburn possessed appearance, actions, and ambitions of a feminist. 

Her fame grew substantially with the release of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961, bringing her in the position of Hollywood’s go-to girl for comedy and romanticized roles. When casting for the role of Holly Golightly, the producers felt that Audrey was the perfect fit because female viewers would lose interest if it was Sophia Loren or Marilyn Monroe, since they will become a socially and physically impossible standard. It was a wise decision though, as young women loved Holly’s aura of liberation from marriage, men, mothers, and middle class morality. 

Audrey’s accomplishments in films, UNICEF and fashion helped push the boundaries when it comes to gender roles for women in Hollywood.