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~ Hollywood Style ~

In the early days of Hollywood there were no clothing designers working at the studios. Actresses usually wore clothing from their own wardrobes, or costumes they rented.  Starting in the 1920s, most of the major studios began wardrobe departments and hired designers to run them.

The best Hollywood designers knew how to evaluate the figure of the star they were dressing and how to use the clothing to hide the flaws and play up the assets.  In the early 1930s, Adrian was given the task of making Joan Crawford's legs look longer and her hips more narrow.  He accomplished this by making her already wide shoulders even wider.

In 1932 he designed a dress with heavily ruffled shoulders for her role, Letty Lynton. This dress became widely copied, and it was said that Macy's alone sold over 50,000 cheap copies over the next several years.

The dress was important because it made New York's Seventh Avenue manufacturers aware that Hollywood designs could have as much, if not more, influence over American consumers as did Paris.  It also set the stage for a trend toward wider shoulders. Adrian's trick had worked so well that in 1933 he began using shoulder pads in Crawford's dresses and suits.  Adrian's wide shoulders became the shape of the late 1930s, and this lasted for a decade.  Adrian himself made similarily styled suits starting in 1942 under his Adrian label.

Another trend was started by designer Edith Head in 1936.  Ms. Head had designed a bold patterned tropical print sarong for Dorothy Lamour for the film Jungle Princess.  The costume was a smashing success, that while not exactly practical for streetwear, was quickly adapted by Seventh Avenue swimwear makers into swimsuits.  Within a year, the sarong-styled swimsuit had become one of the most popular styles at the beach.

In 1942, Orry Kelly designed a simple jumper for Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca.  The jumper used little fabric and was practical - just the thing women needed during the WWII years.  Orry commented later, "I wish I had a dime for everytime that's been copied."

Children's clothing was also influenced by the movies.  In 1934 designer Royer designed the super-sweetly ruffled dresses for little Shirley Temple in Baby Takes a Bow.  Fox Studios head Darryl Zanuck and Temple's parents then sold the rights to her name to a dress manufacturer who made "Shirley Temple" dresses, all inspired by Royer's designs.

In 1941 Vera West's designs for Deanna Durbin in Nice Girl  became the standard for proms and teenage dances.

Another star whose on-screen clothing was widely copied was Elizabeth Taylor.  The wedding dress she wore in 1950's Father of the Bride was designed by Helen Rose.  It became one of the most popular styles of wedding dresses of the early 1950s. 

One of the most copied dresses ever was a sweet evening gown designed for Taylor in A Place in the Sun.  Edith Head's design featured a bustline covered in white flowers and yards of white tulle for the skirt.  It became the prom dress of 1951, much to the chagrin of its wearers.

In 1958, Taylor started in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  There were only three designs by Helen Rose, but one of them, a white chiffon dress with a deep V-neckline was so beautiful that Taylor had Rose make a copy for her personal wardrobe.  Rose had so many requests for the dress that she decided to go into the dressmaking business.  One of the first designs she made was a copy of the Cat dress.


The 1954 film Sabrina  starred Audrey Hepburn and was costumed by Edith Head, with some Givenchy designs.  One dress by Givenchy featured a bateau neckline with tie straps that was widely copied.  And so were the most casual clothes designed by Head, especially the black toredore slacks and flat ballet shoes that were worn in one scene.

Eight years later, the Givenchy little black dresses worn by Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's set the standard for early 1960s cocktail attire.

Not only did the movies create a market for a specific garment, they sometimes created a trend in dressing.  A great example comes from Love is a Many Splendored Thing, which was designed by Charles LeMaire.  The Eastern inspired costumes of the movie started a fad for Oriental garments such as the cheongsam.

Another example is the costuming of Bonnie and Clyde by Theordora Van Runkle in 1967.  Van Runkle's costumes for this movie set in the 1930s helped launch a trend toward nostalgia in fashion that lasted well into the 1970s.

1977's Annie Hall created a look so disctinctive that the ecclectic way of dressing by Diane Keaton in the movie is still referred to as the "Annie Hall Look."  And the safari-inspired clothing created by Milena Canonero for Meryl Streep in Out of Africa helped fuel a vogue for retro-looking khaki and linen, and helped launch stores such as Banana Republic.

Today it seems that movie wardrobes are more influenced by fashion than the other way around.  But who knows when a movie's clothing will hit a chord, and we'll all be in line for Hollywood's latest look?

All illustrations are from vintage patterns, and show how each trend was interpreted for the mass market.

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Buxbaum, Gerda, ed, Icons of Fashion: The 20th Century.  Munich: Prestel, 1999.
Chierichetti, David, Hollywood Costume Design. Littlehampton Books, 1976.
Lavine, W. Robert,  In a Glamorous Fashion. Charles Scribner's Sons: New York, 1979.
Leese, Elizabeth, Costume Design in the Movies, New York: Dover Books, 1991.
Maeder, Edward, Hollywood and History: Costume Design in Film.  Los Angeles: LCMA, 1987.
Copyright 2007 - 2010 Lizzie Adams Bramlett. All Rights Reserved.
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