Now at The Frick – ‘Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage & Screen’

Showcasing the American actress’ story through her style choices, The Frick’s latest exhibit is an approachable celebration of self-expression.

by Jessa Gibboney | November 18, 2019

The Frick Pittsburgh is attracting new visitors of all ages with its line-up of fashion exhibitions. Their latest presentation, Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage & Screen, brings Hepburn’s self-assured personality to life through her clothes.

Add Katharine Hepburn (1907 – 2003) to your short list for dream dinner party guest.

If you’re unfamiliar with Hepburn – her acclaimed acting career, her iconic fashion sense – allow The Frick Pittsburgh to introduce you.

Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage & Screen

Their latest exhibition, Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage & Screen, showcases the American actress’ story through her style choices. It is open through January 12, 2020, and it is just one of the fashion-inspired exhibitions The Frick has been curating for a fashion-thirsty Pittsburgh audience.


Hepburn was an award-winning actress, receiving 12 Best Actress nominations from the Motion Picture Academy. She won four awards, including for her leading role as Eva Lovelace in Morning Glory (1933), which was produced by Pittsburgh-born Pandro S. Berman.

On screen and off, Hepburn’s style was individualistic, chic and rebellious, much like her personality. She wore slacks and blue jeans when culture mandated women wear dresses and skirts. “I realized long ago that skirts are hopeless,” Hepburn said in the 1993 documentary All About Me by Turner Productions, “anytime I hear a man say he prefers a woman in a skirt, I say, ‘Try one. Try a skirt.’”

This sense-of-self attitude when it came to clothes earned her a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1985.


From Kent State University to Pittsburgh

“I think in a large sense, a reminder of the example Katharine Hepburn set for women – being self-assertive, unapologetic for who you are, embracing challenge and modernity. Those are all terrific lessons to be reminded of,” said Sarah Hall, Chief Curator and Director of Collections for The Frick Pittsburgh.

The exhibit, on loan from the Kent State University Museum, struck a strong chord with Hall.

“When they [Kent State University Museum] mentioned Katharine Hepburn, I knew it would have broad cultural resonance,” said Hall, “and I was also thinking of Helen Clay Frick – another strong individualist who lived most of the 20th century and embodied the change in women’s roles.”


Fashion for Everybody

This exhibition feels like a revolt against style norms and parallels the growing allure and commitment to fashion in Pittsburgh.

“Fashion has proven to be a popular subject among museum visitors,” said Greg Langel, Director of Marketing and Communications for The Frick, “As Suzy Menkes observed in The New York Times, the increase in museum exhibitions related to fashion is, ‘only a mirror image of what has happened to fashion itself this millennium. With the force of technology, instant images and global participation, fashion has developed from being a passion for a few to a fascination — and an entertainment — for everybody.’”

“I see lots of young people and lots of diversity in the galleries when we have fashion exhibitions,” said Hall. “It communicates cross-generationally, and I also think across economic boundaries. You may think of high fashion as being elitist – but I think that fashion as a form of self-expression is powerful and not limited to the wealthy.”

Style 412 continues to elevate fashion in Pittsburgh


Style 412, the rising not-for-profit organization working to build a platform of resources for Fashion Industry Professionals in Pittsburgh, certainly agrees. They believe The F Word, fashion that is, is “for all.” Exhibits like Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage & Screen gives fashion history the in-person spotlight it deserves while making it approachable.

“Many folks have discovered fashion due to social media and other digital platforms but being able to get up close and personal with historical garments and accessories cannot be matched on a screen,” said Style 412 in a statement.


Katharine Hepburn: the fashion influencer

Those familiar with Hepburn’s significance will enjoy a walk down memory lane: Hepburn’s “signature look” of neutral, tailored slacks, intricate costumes from stage performances such as The Philadelphia Story (1938) and Coco (1969) as well as on-screen ensembles such as the silk evening gown from Stage Door (1937).

Those new to Hepburn will learn the power of her fashion influence. With the rise of vintage-inspired styling, this exhibit hits a timely note.

“We love that this exhibition allows younger generations to learn not just about what an important person Katharine was to Hollywood and the style community, but that many of her items could be worn today,” continued Style 412. “As we know fashion and trends tend to always circle back around, it’s just not very often that we get such a close glimpse of the first take.” 


“I have always been extremely impressed with The Frick’s dedication to providing pivotal points of the fashion industry to the city of Pittsburgh,” said Nik M., fashion insider and curator of decade-old fashion blog dirtyflaws. She recently attended the exhibit with her wife, Gentry F.

“The Frick has done a remarkable job in showcasing years of beauty and elegance in this array of clothing worn by Katharine Hepburn,” said Nik. “It comes as no surprise after visiting the previous Killer Heels and Undressed exhibitions which were both marvelously curated, skipping no details on display.


Fashion-forward offerings will continue at The Frick

The Frick continues to push fashion to the forefront of its offerings. “The Frick’s fashion-focused exhibition program, which began in 2016, has been supported $1 million grant award from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to support a series of exhibitions over a three-year period,” said Langel.

Next February, the Frick will host Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry. This exhibition “celebrates the impact of women on the innovative and imaginative jewelry of the early 1900s.” In July 2021, Outdoor Girls: Sporting Fashion 1800 – 1960 will be arriving featuring pieces from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum in Los Angeles. Among the pieces on display, 19th-century croquet, swimming and skiing ensembles and 20th-century in-line skating and motorcycle outfits.

Photo, via https://www.thefrickpittsburgh.org/exhibitions

We have made a concerted effort over the last several years to make fashion a regular part of our exhibition schedule,” said Hall. “We looked around and noticed that it was a largely untapped niche in Pittsburgh. The public loves fashion and its connection to history and personal expression, and it’s something I think we’re positioned to do well.”

The Pittsburgh community is showing up for fashion, thus expanding The Frick’s recognition. “A significant portion of fashion exhibition visitors have been first-time visitors to the museum,” said Langel.


“Once you discover us, I think perhaps you are smitten,” added Hall.

“We’re a unique place—beautiful setting, varied experiences, but we’re a bit off the beaten path and perhaps not as well-known as we should be. But I think we’ve done a lot—and fashion gets a lot of credit—to raise our visibility over the last several years.”


Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage & Screen at The Frick Pittsburgh (7227 Reynolds St.) is open now through January 12, 2020.

Admission for adult non-members is $15 and senior / student and military is $13. Children under five are free.

The Frick Pittsburgh

Learn more about The Frick Pittsburgh on their website.

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The Frick Pittsburgh
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7227 Reynolds St, Pittsburgh, PA 15208, USA
Mon Closed
Tue-Sun 10 AM – 5 PM
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Jessa Gibboney

Jessa Gibboney

Jessa is a writer and poet, but above all, a storyteller.

Her blog houses poetry and essays on sustainable style, freelance and motherhood.

Through her writing endeavors, she has worked with local and global brands such as Carnegie Museum of Art, TRYP Pittsburgh | Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh Opera, Cartier, Earth Brands and George Dickel Tennessee Whisky.

Jessa lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, Ben, daughter, Louise and their pup, Opal. She wears the same rings every day, believes anything secondhand has a good story to tell and likes her whiskey straight up.

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