Take a glimpse at the many looks of Maureen O’Hara in Western films. Our breakdown of the most iconic outfits—spanning decades of the actress’ career—explores precisely what makes them so unforgettable.
She dazzled from head to toe as the star of fantasy films. She took our breath away with a striking look (and a dress to match) in tales of new romance. She was on the case, down to even the most minute details in edge-of-your-seat thrillers. But when Maureen O’Hara dons an outfit reminiscent of the late 19th century, the Hollywood starlet is all but forgotten. In her place: a strong-as-any-cowboy woman, ready to show the frontier what’s she got.
Check out the five looks that helped transport movie maven Maureen O’Hara all the way back to the Wild West. ⬇️
THE REDHEAD FROM WYOMING | Kate Maxwell
Also Starring: Alex Nicol, William Bishop, Robert Strauss
Year Released: 1953
Year Story Takes Place: 1884
Saloon girl, Kate Maxwell, doesn’t just entertain when she’s on stage. Whether she’s performing front and center, or navigating her way through the cattle business, she always shows up dressed for the part. Costume designer, Edward Stevenson (It’s a Wonderful Life, Citizen Kane), made sure that every look oozed over-the-top luxe. Who can forget about her strapless lace getup that literally sparkled? Or the bejeweled purple gown topped with puffed feather sleeves?
But out of all the looks Kate gave us, her elaborate daywear ensemble deserves the spotlight. The crinoline-supported full skirt features contrasting stripes that catch your eye. Atop a fitted sweetheart bodice lays a sheer, dotted Swiss overlay. Flounced short sleeves, ruffled collar, and a glistening brooch add the right amount of femininity. A matching structured shawl bordered in feathers and an extravagant toque hat bring the drama. Not all the elements of her outfit align with Western wear, but the finished product feels like it fits.
WAR ARROW | Elaine Corwin
Also Starring: Jeff Chandler, John McIntire, Suzan Ball
Year Story Takes Place: Around 1874-1875
Elaine Corwin finds love in the most unlikely of places—and looks fabulous while doing it in this romantic Western. Another creation from the Academy-Award-winning costumer designer, Edward Stevenson, Maureen shows off her sweet and spicy sides, so why should her wardrobe be any different? From her polished plaid daywear to her Peter Pan collar evening dress in her signature color—green—every ensemble feels enchanting, and utterly irresistible. The most charming of the bunch goes to her captivating evening gown.
Merging elements accurate to the story’s era with contemporary fashion styles at the time of the film’s release, the gown is truly one-of-a-kind. The off-the-shoulder dress keeps the intricate construction of the 1800s, but without the frills, adopting a more refined finished look. A sweetheart neckline, vertical pleats along the bust line, and ruffled lace trim flatter Maureen’s delicate shape. Lightweight, dotted Swiss flutter sleeves sit atop tapered puff sleeves for added structure. The skirt is full, with the volume centered around the waist—a variation from the 19th century bustle silhouette that emphasized the fullness at the back.
THE RARE BREED | Martha Evans
Also Starring: James Stewart, Brian Keith, Juliet Mills
Year Released: 1966
Refined and respectable, Martha Evans leaves her sophisticated existence in England to venture into the American frontier—ready to get her hands dirty in the cattle business. Surrounded by an unfamiliar and uncharted backdrop, costume designer Rosemary Odell (Creature of the Black Lagoon, To Kill a Mockingbird) made sure to create a strong juxtaposition between the landscape and Maureen’s outfits. Stylish and smart, Martha looked practical and quite adorable in her deep green pantsuit, as well as perfectly polished in her regal evening gowns.
Making quite the impression, Martha’s baby pink ensemble is one for the books. Set in 1884 at the very beginning of the resurgence of the bustle, Martha’s skirt silhouette stays true, showing a slight shift of emphasis to the back. High necklines adorned in ultra-feminine ruffles, fitted sleeves bordered in decorative frills, and luxurious lace trim get the details right. Going in for a landing, an ornate Gainsborough hat and silk gloves give a flawless finishing touch to this historically accurate look.
RIO GRANDE | Mrs. Kathleen Yorke
Also Starring: John Wayne, Ben Johnson, Chill Wills
Year Released: 1950
Year Story Takes Place: 1879
Mrs. Kathleen Yorke’s determination to get her son home safely is not the only thing that’s unwavering—so is her impeccable style. She never misses a beat, so it only makes sense that her wardrobe does the same. She doesn’t let the ruffles, flounces, and frills get in her way. Costumer designer Adele Palmer (The Best of Everything, Sands of Iwo Jima) leaned into a simplistic design aesthetic that flattered Maureen’s figure, while still keeping it modest. Who wouldn’t want to head West in Kathleen’s classic wool coat? Or what about her sheer collared blouse and cameo brooch, together looking as timeless as ever?
Pretty and poised, Kathleen’s paisley dress is the look we’ve set our sights on, and there’s no question why. Making its way in another outfit, the dainty cameo brooch secures the detachable shawl collar for a welcomed pop of contrast. Complementary trim runs across the voluminous skirt, which focuses its fullness slightly more towards the back. While sticking true to the major components of women’s fashion trends in 1879, the skirt lacked a bit of fullness and didn’t perfectly create the bustle silhouette that reigned. Palmer swapped out the signature 19th century adornments, use of draping, and layering for a bit of 1950s finesse.
THE QUIET MAN | Mary Kate Danaher
Also Starring: John Wayne, Ward Bond, Barry Fitzgerald
Year Released: 1952
Year Story Takes Place: In or around the 1920s
Teetering the line between fiery and passionate, Mary Kate Danaher didn’t see her new romance coming—but luckily, her posh ensembles were easy to fall in love with. As she embarks on the ups and downs of her new relationship, costume designer, Adele Palmer, knew Mary Kate would need a wardrobe to survive every bump in the road. Playful, yet proper, Maureen stayed poised in a collared daytime dress that looked as if it were made only for her. She kept it classically charming with a chunky beret, solid turtleneck, and clean wool coat that you could easily see replicated on the streets, today.
Still, when comes down to outfits that make an impact, nothing beats the one you walk down the aisle in—the wedding dress. The epitome of elegance, the gown reflects Mary Kate’s traditional upbringing throughout the modest design and seems like the right fit for the character. But contrary to how well it worked for the film, there aren’t many elements in the dress that resemble the rebellious roaring 20s, when boxy silhouettes and shorter hemlines were all the rage. Instead, the narrow sleeves, fitted bodice and high neckline are details often seen in styles in the 1930s and 1940s. The flowy full skirt and exquisite applique pairing brought the spirit of the 1950s into the mix, crafting a look for the big day that follows its own rules—and does it well.