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In 1960, with ‘Psycho’, Alfred Hitchcock turned the corner from gripping suspense to unnerving horror, a direction confirmed by his follow-up with ‘The Birds’ in 1963. Loosely based on a short story by Daphne Du Maurier, the film serves up an apocalyptic vision of a world overrun by flocks of killer birds – revenge, perhaps, for the laissez-faire decadence of mankind, embodied by the louche socialite Melanie Daniels.
Hitchcock is known for his masterful precision in every choice made to create meaning in his films, and it is no surprise this rigour extends to costume design. Here, Melanie wears only three basic outfits; besides a coldly threatening dark grey suit and a cheap matronly nightdress, it is the iconic, timeless and elegant green jersey suit that draws the greatest attention, primarily because it is worn for most of the film.
Reflecting the protagonist’s character and the film’s complex, elusive psychology, the suit is green for nature, but also green for envy and bile. Note how its colour, and so Melanie, rhymes with the lovebirds seen at the film’s start – deceptively peaceful creatures that are eventually identified with mindlessly murderous gulls, crows and starlings. Like Melanie, the suit remains pristine and composed until the final horrifying bird attack that closes the film when – also like Melanie – it is utterly destroyed.