Why Ava Gardner should be your vintage summer style pin-up

When she met Sinatra, his own career was in a lull – it was she who was the most in demand. Their life together was dramatic and filled countless newspaper column inches. “We were fighting all the time,” Gardner would remember. “Fighting and boozing. Breaking up, getting together again.” The rumour that they divorced in 1957 after she had a fling with Spanish matador Luis Miguel Dominguín only further added to her personal brand as the woman who “couldn’t be tamed”. 

Gardner also courted the designers of her day with ease. She was a Balenciaga couture client, and Christian Dior was infatuated with her – her costumes for The Little Hut, in 1957, were some of the last he designed before his death.

She wore $1,000 dresses for her premieres – a fortune for the time. When she married Sinatra, costume designer Howard Greer created a grey and pink wedding dress for her. In the golden age of cinema, couturiers and costumiers flowed freely from stage commissions to everyday ones for their star clients.

Her off-duty outfits were more accessible, and were copied by all. Crisp shirts tucked into high-waisted skirts and shorts, waist-defining belts and figure-skimming black dresses. Who wouldn’t want to get that look even now, in 2024? 

“Ava Gardner, with her timeless elegance and sophisticated style, has always been a muse,” says Isobel Elphinstone, founder of the British brand Cossie & Co. “She embraced classic silhouettes with a touch of glamour.”

It’s hard to talk about Gardner’s impeccable summer style without mentioning her swimwear collection, too. An early adopter of the two-piece bikini, images of her in high-waisted styles have served as inspiration to designers hoping to replicate her vintage beach look decades later.

“The high-waisted bikini bottoms that Ava typically wore have been a real focus for us, the shape elongates the legs and accentuates the waistline, creating a very flattering silhouette,” notes Elphinstone. “This kind of classic style evokes a sense of nostalgia and retro charm that appeals to women of all ages and body types – and is still very relevant today.”

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