The Film Noir genre of the 1940s and 1950s is a popular vintage movie event and costume party theme this year. Dangerous femme fatales and mysterious detectives dressed in black or grayscale make perfect characters for Halloween, too. The look is easy to re-create, possibly with things in your closet or that could easily be purchased.
If you have a favorite Film Noir actor or character, by all means, try to emulate their look — otherwise, these women’s and men’s Film Noir outfit ideas should help fit right into the days of black and white movies.
First, the ladies’ outfits. Click here to jump to men’s.
Film Noir Outfit- The Serious Dame
Our first look looks back on the 1940s, when women who meant business wore power suits. Classy, sophisticated, and strong, she was a woman you wouldn’t want to cross paths with. For her outfit, a two-piece matching jacket and skirt with a modest blouse is paired with a ladies’ fedora type hat, backseam stockings, and heels. I love the purple hues in this not-all-black outfit. While black or greyscale does create a neat effect, consider some darker color shades — the colors the ladies were likely wearing in the movies!
Film Noir Outfit- The Lady
Ah, the innocent lady. She seems like the girl next door, but watch out! Her lips are poison and her hand is never far from the pistol in her handbag. For her outfit, I would pair a black and white/ivory blouse and skirt together. Her hat is veiled to hide her mysterious eyes. Her shoes have an adorable bow on the toe (a peep toe heel would also be charming), and her handbag is big enough to hide the evidence. Red lips are important for all Film Noir costumes, otherwise makeup should fit the era- 1940s or 1950s.
Film Noir Outfit- The Femme Fatale
The Femme Fatale is everyone woman’s favorite silver screen character. She always has at least one scene where her outfit is drop-dead gorgeous.
Strappy high heels are a must. T Strap, Mary Jane, Ankle straps are all good choices. The open toe should be avoided for outfits up to 1938.
Film Noir Outfit- The Partner
Paired with the men’s detective outfit below is an outfit for a partner in crime-solving mysteries (secretly being part of the crime). She is in all black or grey from head to toe with a large-brimmed hat worn at an angle.
The final piece is a black trench coat. This sets her apart from the other ladies as one who is on an undercover mission.
1960s Neo Noir
Neo-Noir encompasses films after 1958, where the storyline and movie lighting lightened up. Consider a white dress or men’s suit with dark accessories instead of the heavy black and grey tones. You could also venture into color films, although even then the clothing remained monotone. Shop 1960s mod dresses and add shoes, handbags, hats, gloves and belts.
Film Noir Outfit- The Private Eye
The most iconic of all men in a Film Noir movie is the undercover cop, detective, or private eye. He is intelligent, brave, and gruff when he is confronting the bad guy, and swoon-worthy around the ladies.
His unmistakable grey hat with a black band is a wide brim fedora worn angled and low over one eye.
Plain black lace-up shoes seem to be the most practical for private investigators flying under the radar.
Film Noir Outfit- The Bad Guy
Some of the bad guys wore a black Homburg hat — a signature choice for gangsters, mobsters, and other smart criminals. Otherwise, his dress would have reflected his wealth and type of crime.
A 3 piece pinstripe suit, hat, and two-tone wingtip shoes is a classic gangster outfit. A long black overcoat contributes to his frightening demeanor. Add accessories such as a faux lit cigar / pipe/ cigarette and machine gun.
While the above outfits are the most classic Film Noir characters, they are not the only options:
- The innocent bystander is often caught in the crossfire and finds him or herself Dead on Arrival. Wear whatever ’40s or ’50s outfit you like and add some fake blood and a gunshot wound. Consider grey or white clothes instead of black to help the blood stand out. You can use grey zombie makeup/blood to stay with a greyscale theme.
- Go back even earlier into Black and White silent movies of the teens and ’20s. Carry a sign or two with your “lines.” Gypsies and fortune tellers were frequently seen in 1920s movies too.
- Re-create an outfit from your favorite Film Noir movie. There are many interesting outfits from formal or casual beach clothes that could make unique outfits. Ask me for help with your outfit (send pictures/movie stills).
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.