Get stylish and spooky: Costume ideas inspired by the female leads of 3 classic film noirs

Photo of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in Dark Passage
IMDb/Courtesy

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The pressure to conceptualize and create a Halloween costume grows exponentially every year. Competition and expectations continue to rise in the criteria of originality, wit, execution and creativity. As a self-proclaimed “geek” of cinema, I find the genre of film noir to be an untapped reservoir of Halloween costume inspiration. 

Here are some great films that not only fit seamlessly within the spirit of Halloween but also transport you to an era of great cinematic importance and stunning fashion. I encourage you to notice how the female leads both challenged and reproduced gender stereotypes. Should you choose to embody one of these characters for Halloween, think about how they were progressive feminists for their time while still operating under patriarchal ideology.

“Dark Passage” (1947)

Humphrey Bogart plays Vincent Parry, a man who has undergone drastic plastic surgery after escaping from prison. In a quest to prove his innocence regarding the murder of his wife, Parry enlists the help of the mysterious and intelligent Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) to find the real killer and clear his name. Get in the noir mood with a bottle of red wine (if you’re of age) and a pencil skirt. Here are some key elements for an Irene Jansen costume:

The trench coat

A wardrobe staple of both the male and female lead characters, the trench coat is seen several times throughout the film. A classic and iconic piece, the trench has survived the test of time. If you find a patterned trench similar to the one Bacall wears in this picture, let me know. I need it.

Photo of Lauren Bacall, Agnes Moorehead and Bruce Bennett in "Dark Passage"

Warner Bros./Courtesy

The eyebrows

Bacall’s Irene exudes creepy mystery with her haunting stare. To have eyes that tell a story, they must be framed accordingly. If you’re going to go all out with your noir costume, you must nail the creepy eyebrows. Think cat-like and bold.

Photo of Lauren Bacall and Agnes Moorehead in "Dark Passage"

Warner Bros./Courtesy

“The Maltese Falcon” (1941)

In one of the most iconic film noirs of all time, Humphrey Bogart is once again the lead male character, and like “Dark Passage,” this film is set in San Francisco. Bogart plays private investigator Sam Spade, who encounters Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor), a femme fatale claiming to be searching for her sister. As the elaborate con unfolds with many surprising twists and turns, we see some fabulous outfits. Here’s how to capture Astor’s look: 

The billowed-neck blouse

Putting a spin on menswear, the detailed and voluminous neckline of film noir blouses signifies the femme fatale’s rejection of stereotypical dress and behavior expected from women of that era. The femme fatale is at the boy’s table, she is more intelligent and cunning than the men and she’s serving style like nobody’s business.

Photo of Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, and Sidney Greenstreet in "The Maltese Falcon"

Warner Bros./Courtesy

The fascinator 

You can’t tell me you haven’t wanted to wear one of these. I can’t give you advice on how to secure one of these to your head, but pick a black one with a mesh veil — like the one Astor is wearing in the scene below — and you’re golden for a great noir-themed costume.

Photo of Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor in "The Maltese Falcon"

Warner Bros./Courtesy

“Double Indemnity” (1944) 

Barbara Stanwyck, one of the most recognizable faces of the film noir genre, plays a femme fatale named Phyllis Dietrichson who entices insurance investigator Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) into nefarious and fraudulent operations. Iconic in both style and performance, Stanwyck is an excellent go-to reference for your film noir look. 

The bangs 

Once again, I apologize for my lack of instruction on how to achieve this hairstyle, but I can say it is one of the most recognizable features of Phyllis. I would advise that you use a volumizing mousse and blow out the front section of your hair before rolling it upward with your fingers. Make sure to use large pins to secure the roll.

Photo of Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

The sunglasses

In the film, Phyllis sports some super stylish shades — an uncommon accessory for women at the time — when she meets Walter in a grocery store. The sunglasses became the staple prop for Stanwyck and were even the focus in advertisements for the film. If you’re going for this specific character for Halloween, snag some vintage sunglasses to complement your curled bangs.

Photo of Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in "Double Indemnity"

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

Hopefully these ideas help inspire some creative, witty and brave looks for Halloween!

Contact Morgan Saltz at [email protected].