Saturday, June 26, 2010

Women's Costumes at the Movies: Faux Fashion Blogger Edition

My final defeat, which made me cry real tears, came at the end of [Pandora's Box], when [G.W. Pabst] went through my trunks to select a dress to be 'aged' for Lulu's murder as a streetwalker in the arms of Jack the Ripper. With his instinctive understanding of my tastes, he decided on the blouse and skirt of my very favorite suit. I was anguished. "Why can't you buy some cheap little dress to be ruined? Why does it have to be my dress?" To these questions I got no answer till the next morning, when my once lovely clothes were returned to me in the studio dressing room. They were torn and foul with grease stains. Not some indifferent rags from the wardrobe department but my own suit, which only last Sunday I had worn to lunch at the Adlon Hotel! Josifine hooked up my skirt, I slipped the blouse over my head, and I went on the set feeling as hopelessly defiled as my clothes. Working in that outfit, I didn't care what happened to me...

I did not realize until I saw Pandora's Box in 1956 how marvelously Mr. Pabst's perfect costume sense symbolized Lulu's character and her destruction. There is not a single spot of blood on the pure-white bridal stain in which she kills her husband. Making love to her wearing the clean white peignoir, Alva asks, "Do you love me, Lulu?" "I? Never a soul!" It is in the worn and filthy garments of the streetwalker that she feels passion for the first time--come to life so that she may die.
--Louise Brooks, Lulu in Hollywood

The Siren was recently designated a fashion blogger by a European site called Wikio, an honor that left her equal parts amused, flattered and puzzled. Aside from her annual rant about the costume awards at the Oscars, a tribute to Mary Astor's makeup and a brief series of posts about perfume, the Siren can't recall saying much about fashion here at her Web outpost, although certainly clothing and makeup rank high on her list of semi-private obsessions. Yet there she is, right next to the black-belt shoppers of Fashionista and seven notches below the cool gaze of the Sartorialist, who would probably stop the Siren in the street right around the same time Dorothy Lamour showed up in hell with a platter of Mai Tais.

Still, the unexpected accolade made the Siren start thinking about costumes in film. The period stuff does get most of the attention, but sometimes deservedly so, as with Walter Plunkett's incredible designs for Gone with the Wind. Those dresses are so brilliantly in tune with Scarlett's character and the events of the movie that you would swear they all must be in the book. The drapery dress is, but just about none of the others are. William Pratt points out that if Plunkett had followed Margaret Mitchell's descriptions to the letter, Scarlett would have spent 9/10ths of the movie wearing green, the author's favorite color. The "scarlet woman" dress that Rhett throws at Scarlett before Ashley's birthday party, for example, was entirely Plunkett's doing. And the Siren has always wanted a better look at the cloudlike indigo gown Scarlett wears in a brief scene of her New Orleans honeymoon. Look closely and you'll see it's adorned with nine stuffed birds--a witty commentary on the once-starving Scarlett stuffing herself with the finest in Louisiana cuisine.

Other great moments in period costume would have to include Marie Antoinette; Jezebel (that red dress was actually bronze, the better to photograph in black-and-white); The Adventures of Robin Hood (Olivia de Havilland spends most of the movie with her hair completely covered, so when she shows up in her bedroom with her hair down in braids, it's a potent sign of sexual yearning); and Queen Christina (the moment when Garbo turns so the firelight outlines her form under a man's shirt is one of the most sensual in all of 1930s cinema).

But the Siren is always drawn to contemporary costumes, particularly those for women. Louise Brooks's essay on Pabst contains what is still the best explanation of costume and performance that the Siren has ever read. Robert Avrech recently posted about designer Helen Rose, and in comments we discussed how an actor's clothing influences a performance. Confronted with that, plus her new job description, the Siren's palms began to itch and she got that yen, the one that says, "It's time to make a highly idiosyncratic list of things I like so that everyone can argue with me, politely."

As Yojimboen has pointed out, the ins and outs of costume credits in old movies can be worse than Kremlinology. Some of these were undoubtedly purchased off the rack, but as Annie or Daria could tell you, there's an art to selecting the right clothes, too. The Siren is mostly sticking with the screen credit, but if someone knows the real scoop on who did what, by all means tell us in comments and I'll update.

So, ten great moments in women's costume design. Let's hope this makes whoever clicks over from Wikio more happy and less confused.

1. Bette Davis in Now, Voyager (Orry-Kelly)
I’ll be wearing my white lace gown tonight. I’d like you to wear your black and white foulard.
--Gladys Cooper as Mrs. Henry Windle Vale

Cooper has a lot of bitchy moments in Now, Voyager, such as, just to pick one out of a hat, throwing herself down a staircase to ensure her daughter stays chained up as a nursemaid.

But the Siren thinks even trying to order the newly fashionable Charlotte back into this offense to the human eyesight is as evil as it gets. Have you ever seen anything to equal this horror? The hem that hits just the right spot to get that redwood-forest effect every woman wants for her legs. The neckline that rests at her throat only because the climb to the earlobes got too exhausting. The lace at the collar, probably thrown there by Gladys in one of her temper fits. The way the dress droops away from the body, yet clings enough to say, "There is a whole world of lumpy oatmeal under here and brother, you want no part of it." It's a goddamn triumph of costuming. Kim Morgan recently said every woman should have Claude Rains as her psychiatrist, and ain't that the truth--but Dr. Jaquith's one mistake is waiting to talk to Charlotte before they leave together for his cozy sanitorium. The second she entered wearing that monstrosity, he should have said, "Right, we're outta here."

2. Jean Seberg in Breathless (N/A)
Michel: How old are you?
Patricia: A hundred.
Michel: You don't look it.

Throw a rock down any street in America and you will hit a woman wearing tight pants and a t-shirt. And not one of them, no matter how beautiful, will look one infinitesimal fraction as dangerous as Jean Seberg does in Breathless. Seberg wears this getup because it's her job to wear it, but when Godard's camera catches her calling "New York Herald Tribune," you see a warning sign that Belmondo does not. It's more than her beauty. It's the way she walks, not just casual in her clothes, but careless. Another down-market outfit, another wasteful American in Paris, ready to toss things aside for who knows what reason.

3. Audrey Hepburn's suit in Sabrina (screen credit, Edith Head; actual design, Hubert de Givenchy.)

You needn't pick me up at the airport. I'll just take the Long Island Rail Road and you can meet me at the train...If you should have any difficulty recognizing your daughter, I shall be the most sophisticated woman at the Glen Cove station.

Over at Glenn's place there is a discussion under way about the old saw that Jaws and/or Star Wars "killed the movies." The Siren remarked that the movies were neither dead, nor dying, nor even feeling a bit faint. Here she adds that this kind of chic, however, is deader than vaudeville. Just imagine showing up at the fetid underground bunker that is modern-day Penn Station wearing that suit. You'd get fewer stares wearing a sandwich board. The suit isn't the movie's most famous costume; that's the Sabrina dress, a version of which the Siren has in her own vintage-clothing collection. But this moment, as Wilder's camera gloats over Hepburn from the top of her hat to the little dog at her feet, is one of the most thrilling in the history of film fashion. Sabrina, the lovelorn chaffeur's daughter, has learned poise and confidence, the essential elements of style. Even the least observant visitor to Paris sees that a fashionable Frenchwoman wears chic clothing because she IS self-assured, not because she WANTS to be. This, this is what Paris and a genius designer can do for you!

4. Jean Harlow in China Seas (Adrian)

During my earliest days at Metro, I was put into movies with Joan Crawford and Jean Harlow, and I was always taking their men away from them. Temporarily. It was ludicrous. There would be Jean, all alabaster skin and cleft chin, savory as a ripe peach, and I'd be saying disdainfully (and usually with an English accent, I played a lot of Lady Mary roles) to Gable or Bob Montgomery, "How can you spend time with her? She's rahther vulgar, isn't she?"
--Rosalind Russell, Life Is a Banquet

The Siren would love to tell you this little number is a turning point in China Seas, Tay Garnett's lovable strumpet-on-the-high-seas melodrama from 1935. It isn't, although Harlow wears it in a drinking scene with thoroughgoing louse Wallace Beery, and the jeweled straps do suggest a trap. The neckline is almost modest--right up near the collarbone--as long as you ignore Harlow's obvious lack of underwear and those strips of fabric making an oh-so-scalable ladder down the pure-white arms. Russell was right; it is unlikely Gable would even realize there were other women on the ship.

5. Mary Astor & Ruth Chatterton in Dodsworth (Omar Kiam)
Edith: My dear...don't.

The British gave us the cruel expression "mutton dressed as lamb," but it's Americans who gave us its best illustration, in Dodsworth. Poor Ruth Chatterton. Her character may turn out to be a harpy, but here the Siren aches for her. That hairpiece, ridiculous on anyone who's out of the schoolroom, hellishly combined with the ill-judged white fabric and the simpering black-velvet bow at the too-low neckline. And, to complete the picture of humiliation, there's Mary Astor, a piece of carved ivory in a perfectly draped evening gown, necklace nestled in a neckline that's even lower than Chatterton's--yet somehow not the slightest bit vulgar. The scene is one of the most poignant in the movie, as Dan Callahan writes so well here, but the costumes take the contrast even further.

6. Barbara Stanwyck in The Bitter Tea of General Yen (Robert Kalloch & Edward Stevenson)

General Yen: I'm going to convert a missionary.

From the second she dons a spectacular Chinese robe, every aspect of Stanwyck's movement changes. Her arms float away from her body, she takes longer strides around the room, she suddenly seems conscious of having breasts and hips under the fabric. And you sense, too, that the lack of underpinnings makes her feel just that much more vulnerable to the General, even though she is technically as covered up as she was in her missionary garb.

7. Kay Francis in Mandalay (Orry-Kelly)
They call her Spot White. It should be Spot Cash.

Like Harlow's China Seas dress, this one wins for sheer wow factor. Kay Francis, betrayed by the man she loves, winds up as the top earner in a Burmese whorehouse, and shows she won't let the bastard get her down by strutting down a staircase wearing this. She makes that piece of liquid silver seem worth a crash course in male perfidy.

8. Myrna Loy in The Thin Man (Dolly Tree, wardrobe)
Nick: Have you a nice evening gown?
Nora: What's that got to do with it?
Nick: Have you got a nice evening gown?
Nora: Yes, I've got a lulu. Why?
Nick: I'm going to give a party and invite all the suspects.
Nora: The suspects? They won't come.
Nick: Yes, they will.

The Siren can't remember whether the above-referenced "lulu" is the famous one in the above picture, or the halter-necked black gown Loy wears in the last scenes of the movie. No matter; every good husband who asks a question like that should be rewarded by the sight of his wife wearing something like this, even if nobody ever does show. Maybe especially if no one shows.

9. Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Helen Rose, costume and wardrobe department)

Maggie: You've got a nice smell about you. Is your bath water cool?
Brick: No.
Maggie: I know somethin' that would make you feel cool and fresh. Alcohol rub. Cologne.
Brick: No thanks. We'd smell alike. Like a couple of cats in the heat.

In New York City this past week it has been, as Auntie Mame would say, "hot as a crotch." So of course the Siren had to give a nod to Elizabeth Taylor, who set the standard for riding out a heat wave without air conditioning by donning a slip and trying to seduce Paul Newman. The Siren once had the pleasure of relating Cat on a Hot Tin Roof's censorship history to a confused Argentine male who had just watched it and could not get over, indeed seemed personally offended by, Newman's failure to respond to Taylor's come-on: "It was the strangest thing I have ever seen. There's Elizabeth Taylor! and she's wearing that slip! Thank god you explained this..."

10. Kasey Rogers in Strangers on a Train (Leah Rhodes, wardrobe)
Senator Morton: Poor unfortunate girl.
Barbara Morton: She was a tramp.
Senator Morton: She was a human being. Let me remind you that even the most unworthy of us has a right to life and the pursuit of happiness.
Barbara Morton: From what I hear she pursued it in all directions.

Alfred Hitchcock's attention to what his actresses wore gets a lot of press, usually for Rear Window and Vertigo. Here's one that deserves more discussion. Every time the Siren sees this magnificent movie, she's struck again by the brilliance of Miriam's look, how it represents a summit of Hitchcock's oft-stated preference for buttoned-up women. We've already been told about this mantrap who's cuckolding handsome Farley Granger, and we're expecting maybe Linda Darnell. Instead we get a four-eyed tootsie wearing a simple print dress with cap sleeves and a daintily pointed collar, not nearly as tight, body-conscious or as low-cut as you could go in 1951. Miriam probably wore it because it was vaguely pretty and would be easy to clean if she got popcorn butter on it. And the glasses--the Siren can't be the only one mesmerized by Miriam's eyeglasses. Mind you, the glasses are vital to the plot, but Kasey Rogers wields them the way Dietrich wielded a cigarette. This is an everyday black widow we're dealing with, says that costume, the sort of woman who would show up to a backyard pool party in a full-coverage one-piece and a sarong and, given five minutes' opportunity, would still wind up behind the rhododendrons pulling the swimming trunks off the hostess' husband.

There's an awful of lot of sex in this post, isn't there? There are advantages to this whole fashion-blogger gig...


Fiona said...

Love your writing, and loved that you included Myrna Loy in Thin Man. I know it's predictable, but Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief has the most amazing clothes.

Gloria said...

I confess I get an extra kick when I see "Gowns by Adrian" (or any other top-notch costumer of the old times) on the credits of a film.

"but Dr. Jaquith's one mistake is waiting to talk to Charlotte. The second she entered wearing that monstrosity, he should have said, "Right, we're outta here.""

Good thing he doesn't, though: Thus we have later in the picture a parade of awesome gowns designed by Orry-Kelly! (but, yes, Mrs. Vale dresses her daughter with a vengeance)

The Siren said...

Gloria, I meant that Jaquith should have hauled Charlotte to the sanitorium the second she showed up in that dress. I mean, what more proof of insanity do you need?

Fiona, that gold lame dress in TCAT is TDF. I also love the red lace dress she wears in Dial M for Murder.

Yojimboen said...

There isn’t a costume designer working who doesn’t yearn for the good old days when actresses wore the clothes they were given.

Today every female star has an entourage of chums and “stylists” who show up at her trailer Monday morning and show her this To Die For little top they found on Melrose Ave over the weekend – “You’d look great in this – you should wear it today!”

The fact that the TDF little top is pale green and the first scene takes place in a set with pale green walls which will guarantee the actress disappears into the woodwork doesn’t matter a shit. If the star says she wants to wear it, there is no director working who has the balls or (more importantly) the clout to say no. They will paint the walls a different color.

The fact also that the costume designer has carefully laid out a graduated color palette to underscore and match the changing arcs of all the characters and that letting one star wear whatever she wants to wear trashes months of preparation and informed artistic design also doesn’t matter a shit. This is today’s reality – this happens in 99% of today’s H’Wood movies.

I think it was Joe Losey who once said “there exists no industry in the world where employers (producers) spend so much money to hire experts (film-making artists with lifetimes of experience), so that they may cavalierly disregard the advice they are given.”

Forget it, Jake, it’s showbiz.

ratzkywatzky said...

I was just debating about whether I should see Sabrina again this week, and I think you've decided me.

Gloria said...

Aye, such dress yells for treatment! But Jaquith should have taken the Vale's stylist in tow along to his Cascades clinic.

One of the most hateful moments of Gladys Cooper's character in Now Voyager is when she orders her returning daughter to take of her new elegant clothes and go back to the horror she wears at the beginning of the film: So when Davis comes down later in her sleek black gown is a moment to cheer for.

Yojimboen: it is truly sad that the designer (as understood in the old Studio days) seems to have gone forever... Just watching old films one notices how costumes helped enhance performances, scenes and films. It's not for nothing that an actor/actress in an old Black and White film looks more splendid there that modern actors filmed in colour and enhanced with 3D.

Stars in the old times would be so satisfied with their film designers that they would often ask them to design clothes for personal occasions... About the modern stars and their entourage, well, let's paraphrase Cecil B "You know, a dozen stylists working overtime can do terrible things to the human spirit. "

DavidEhrenstein said...

Fabulous choices, Siren!

Back in te late 80's I co-curated a show called "Hollywood and History" at the Los Angeles County museum of Art. Thir nely installed Costume Department Curator was a great charactner named Edward Maeder. His very smart idea was to take us all on a trip through history via Hollywood movies. What made it really smart was that Ed emphasized how no matter waht the period the story was set, Hollywood always reflected the fashions of the day. They rarely ever got the hair right -- especially for films set in the 20's when not only were Louis Brooks bangs the rage but foreheads were covered in all sorts of ways and woemn simply didn't have breasts.

The 50's more than made up for that with Jayne Mansfield.

Learned a ton and a half about designers, the most important being the wildly unssung Walter Plunkett. Go to the IMDB and look up his credits. Gow with the Wind was just one of them. Unlike Edith Head, Helen Rose and several others Mr. Plunkett wasn't a Publisexual. He didn't promote himself at all. He just did his work and went home. I had no idea what he even looked like until I saw a pen and ink portrat Don Bachardy did of him. He was over to their house many times and told Don and Isherwood everything.

Oh to have been a fly on that wall.

The two key items from the Golden Age are Joan Crawford's dress for Letty Lynton. This was a big deal cause MGM made copies in all sizes and put it on the market. It was a giant hit, and I'm suprised more wasn't done likewise.

The other is Jezebel -- a film about a dress.

The Siren said...

Yojimboen, what a depressing picture you paint, although it explains a lot regarding some movies I've seen where there is no cohesion to the costumes at all.

Ratzywatzky (such a great screen name), I definitely advise. Sabrina is underrated Wilder IMO. Much sharper and wittier than it's usually painted.

Gloria, whenever I see Charlotte come down in that elegant dress I want to cheer.

David, believe me I am a Plunkett fan from way back; I should also have mentioned Singin' in the Rain at a minimum but this post was already too long. I love discussing GWTW's costumes because I know them all so well. But you make me realize that I also hadn't a clue about what he looked like or anything else about him. Those quiet types really observe the most, too.

Letty Lynton just missed the cut, in part because I'm personally not crazy about the dress, although Joan did look great in it.

eva said...

But, I think the green dress Scarlett wears when she visits Rhett in prison is the second most memorable costume in the movie - it does suit her fantastically.

And LOL I agree about the Now Voyager dress. Paired with those eye brows...Bette Davis had courage to get into costume.

The Siren said...

Eva, that's the drapery dress! Probably Plunkett's finest creation, although the Carol Burnett parody of it *paralyzes* me: "I saw it in the window and I just couldn't resist."

Davis was always pushing directors and producers to let her get *uglier*, a highly unusual trait in an actress. In The Great Romantic Films Lawrence Quirk says her Now, Voyager spectacles make her look "like a psyched-out squirrel" and it's true. Also, I didn't even touch the shoes. "My mother believes in sensible shoes." AIEEEEE

gmoke said...

I got the DVD of Jane Campion's "Bright Star" out of the library and enjoyed the movie very much but the costumes were magnificent. They set the scene so beautifully and let me feel that period better than I had before in a movie.

Janet Patterson was the costume designer and it didn't hurt that throughout the film I wanted to sketch portraits of the lovely Abbie Cornish. The film is also about fashion as Fanny Brawne sews, onscreen, many of the garments she wears and part of the conflict in the movie is that Keats' friend Brown sees her a shallow because of her interest in clothes. Ms Brawne defends herself most effectively.

The hats were especially striking and I emailed a friend who's a theatrical milliner immediately.

Belvoir said...

Jean Seberg in a t-shirt , tights and a boyish haircut was probably quite a startling, gauche thing to the uptight French 50 years ago, in Paris at least. Yet how modern she looks.

In another world, " Jezebel" would have been filmed in some dreamy supernatural, artificial technicolor, rich and saturated. Since the crux of the plot pivoted on Julie's red dress and subsequent social ostracism. I'm sure I'm not the first to lament this.

I have the impression too that "Jezebel" was something of a rushed production, to capitalize on the anticipation for GWTW. Color was out of the question. But thanks for the factoid that her dress was bronze for the cameras. Ah well.

Thank you Siren, and your well informed commenters, I learn something every time I visit here. So wonderful.

Vanwall said...

Great post! Congrats on your fashion rating, now you're hanging with the Style Rook and such, remember us little folks.

I notice the costumery for TV is getting all the press, nowadays, what with "Mad Men" and all, but the time for film's influence on "style" is long gone.

In a way I blame the war, old WWII, for a lot of that - styles have become much more casual since then, almost like, yes, uniforms, and are gradually eroding the social requirements for reasons to be stylish, and even practical things that have evolved for eons-long as protection, like hats, are reduced to ballcaps, and going to dinner in a restaurant is liable to be a test of will not to sling a forkful of potatoes at the guy wearing a backwards baseball gimme-cap, and heaven forfend he should were something other than sockless running shoes.

But I digress. I used to wonder who would buy some of the dresses I saw in the older movies; then I found out. My Grandmother, for one - a lot pictures of her when she was young in Denver CO, show her in the flapper look, something she got from films I have no doubt. To say nothing of my European in-laws from the late 1920s - the cloche hat and flat flapper look, were in evidence in full force, and I'm sure the moving image was an intimate part of the general info delivery in their lives, as Hollywood was the driving force in fashion by then, I believe.

Some B&W films screamed for Technicolor, tho, like "Prince of Foxes" and a host of others, but Kalmus woulda had 'em in electric shades and creepily basic colors, prolly. It's best to let dogs lie if they are sleepers.

The Siren said...

Gmoke, Yojimboen was also singing that movie's praises. I am sure I will love it when I get around to it; some viewing time is finally freeing up for me.

Belvoir, that's something I should have mentioned, how Seberg's outfit would have struck Parisians in 1960. Her switch to a very demure dress later also has thematic weight. In my experience Parisians are still a bit uptight in matters of dress, especially about things beloved of Americans like sweatpants and pleated shorts and rubber-soled footwear. I'm not saying they're wrong, as none of those things gladden my field of vision either. But you can also shock people with something as simple as color. I wore a Pucci top with a black skirt to dinner at the home of one of my husband's friends, and thought myself completely unexceptional. The friend, a very congenial fellow in general, cast his eye over it during dinner and murmured, "wow, that's...VIBRANT."

I don't think Jezebel was rushed, as the property was purchased in 1937 and the turnaround seems in line with how long most things took to get to the screen in the 1930s. I took up some of the stories about Jezebel vs GWTW in an old post about Wyler, Davis and that move, here.

Vanwall, a lot of Hollywood fashion from 1930 to 1960 is so extravagant there is no way any ordinary woman could copy it; much of it was just pure fantasy. But I'm sure the basics--hemlines up or down, sleeve types, fabrics, necklines--were followed avidly.

One thing I enjoyed reading about was the chaos inspired by the arrival of Dior's New Look in 1947. It filtered over to the US later that year and into 1948 and the studios had quite a pickle, as suddenly movies that they had in the can boasted famously elegant stars looking as dated as an old calendar. I think some of the producers went so far as to reshoot small scenes with the female star wearing something New-Lookish, but otherwise they just had to grit their teeth.

Gloria said...

On the New Look Shock in Hollywood, I read that some films were edited so as not to show actresses in full shot (avoiding the full view of the dated style). I supose cutting was a cheaper option than re-shooting in many a case.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Jean Seberg in a T-shirt looks forward to Edie Sedgewick just a few years later. She wore her T-short over black leotards and went everywhere dressed like that.

Some Like it said...

Congrats on your recent mention! Well relating to Elizabeth Taylor this week in Toronto, the heat made me want to 'slip' into something as well!

La Faustin said...

Wikio must simply recognize chic when it spots it!

Another Orry-Kelly delight is Les Girls. Aside from the overall deliciousness of the couture, and the rightness of each Girl’s wardrobe for her character (oo-la-la Frenchwoman Angèle, dashing Englishwoman Sybil, wholesomely bodacious American Joy), there’s a lovely touch related to Angèle’s suit, a distinctive purple number worn with a pink blouse. In its first appearance, while Sybil is remembering the first time she met the sly sexpot Angèle, the suit has a curvy, nipped-in jacket and a pencil skirt, the blouse is shiny satin with a bateau neckline loose enough to droop revealingly. In its second appearance, when Angèle’s counterstory shows her as a demure creature forever covering up for her dipsomaniac roommate Sybil, not only are the colors of the ensemble slightly muted, but the cut of the suit is boxy, the blouse is matte and the neckline has been tightened up.

Your chum David Cairns pointed out 1932’s Three Broadway Girls (available on, in which Joan Blondell, Madge Evans and Ina Claire are so broke they sell their daddies’ orchids back to the florist, but nevertheless change Chanel ensembles every 30 seconds.

The Siren said...

La Faustin, how much do I love you for bringing up Les Girls, one of my favorite Cukor movies ever? I agree, the wardrobes are perfect, and I was so pleased when I first noticed that suit effect.

Gloria, I did read that too! I should go back and figure out which movies we're talking about. It would make an interesting parlor game for those years' movies.

David, I can't remember if Edie acknowledged the Seberg influence on her look or not; to me it was always undeniable. And oh, my dismay when I saw Airport and saw the frightful hairstyle they had stuck poor Jean with, and those dreadful outfits!

Some Like It Vintage, welcome. I never consciously thought of Taylor when I started collecting vintage slips years ago but I feel sure she was lounging around in the back of my mind somehow. It's an unforgettable image.

Yojimboen said...

“…and thought myself completely unexceptional.”

Again: That’ll be the day.

Belvoir said...

Parisians are very uptight in matters of dress! Yes, they do judge on clothes still, and in 1960 even more keenly. They're pretty upfront about it. But I share your ambiguity, it's not a bad thing. Jean Seberg's casual American style must have had more of a frisson then than now, where everyone dresses casually, or slobbily. In cinema at least, no one wants to see that. But even in 1960 New York say, Seberg's look would be considered raffish and bohemian, Greenwich Village perhaps. The significance of her style might be lost to most today, in her modernity. But I like the Parisian obsession with clothes, what would Belle De Jour be without the styles?

And I was definitely incorrect to say that Jezebel was "rushed". Oh, I shouldn't have typed after all that wine. My real point was that Jezebel did seek to capitalize on the anticipation from the novel, GWTW. The book was a publishing sensation, and the film was anticipated..oh god, like I need to tell you! You know. Some say Jezebel was a consolation prize for Bette not getting the Scarlett role. But as always, I could be wrong.. Please forgive me clumsy typings!

The Siren said...

Belvoir, not at all! There's a lot of persistent stories about Jezebel that are repeated so often they are taken as true. There is no doubt that Selznick was mightily irritated by Jezebel, which he saw correctly as WB cashing in on GWTW fever while the Scarlett movie was in long preproduction. But the part wasn't a consolation prize for Davis; in fact she never really had much of a chance at the part and much as I adore her, she was all wrong for Scarlett. But perfect for Julie. Jezebel is underrated.

Y., you are too kind. I try not to get outre with my Paris outfits but I sometimes get it wrong anyway. But "oh, she's American" covers a multitude of gaffes, from my disliking most cheese to the way Alabama comes out in my French even more than in my English.

Yojimboen said...

I’ll add my recommendation again of Bright Star, not only as the best designed film of last year, but also the best film of the year.

It’s an unfortunate example of that phenomenon of singularly brilliant indies not having enough money left over to publicize their films at award season (Bright Star sent out very few screeners); but IMO every stitch of every costume is picture-perfect, every performance, letter-perfect, and every frame an album cover.

(Move it to the top of your pile, dear lady, you’ll thank me.)

gmoke said...

Girl with a Pearl Earring is also a beautifully designed film with lots of great period clothes and flavor.

pvitari said...

Since Belvoir mentions Greenwich Village, that makes me think about Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, doing her dance in a black leotard and black turtleneck.

And this was 1957, a few years before Breathless. Seeing the always incredible chic Hepburn in that outfit (and of course she looks marvelous in it) must have caused a few ripples.

I'm always fascinated by Ginger Rogers' dresses, especially the way they float and twirl around her when she dances.

Someday my dream will come true and there will be a Bright Star Blu-ray. (The lucky French got one, but then, they know about style.)

Also, er... screencaps of Nightmare Alley (from the New Look year of 1947) and A Matter of Life and Death (the look is Uniform or British tweed), now up at

The Siren said...

Gmoke, is Girl With Pearl Earring worth getting over my large anti-Scarlett Johansson bias for?

Y., it's on my Netflix queue. I am working through others as well. :)

Pvitari, ah, you are right! Hepburn's "bookworm" clothes in Funny Face look quite modern still, whereas the high-fashion stuff is very much of its time, even the dazzling red evening gown she wears in that great shot coming down the stairs. That movie has grown on me so much over the years. When I first saw it, I couldn't get past the Astaire/Hepburn age gap; frankly that is still a problem. But it's so lovely to look at and Kay Thompson gives me SUCH pleasure. Like, Eve Arden levels of pleasure.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Pivitari is quite right. Audrey dancing black leotards in Funny Face looks forward to Jean and Edie.

I can't recall Edie ever mentioning Jean Seberg. Breathelss was so completely absorbed into the culture that it's almost part of the natural landscape of the 60s.
So weird to see Godard's latest -- and probably last -- Film Socialisme. It's a masterpiece
(and you can download it for free via ) but it's image/sound refinement is of a such a sort to bear no relation to today's "Mainstrem" whatsoever. Outside of agues turn by Patti Smith it has a no-star cast. Godard has been working towards this point for some time. He briefly had a young actress naemd Myriam Roussel under contract when he made Je Vous Salue Marie -- whcih also features the debut of Juliette Binoche. His great Nouvele Vague uses Alain Delon as a kind of iconic anchor, likewise Johnny Halliday on Detective. He tried to do the same with Depardieu on Helas Pour Moi, but Depardieu went into a snit and walked off the film. Since then he hasn't used actors much at all. Just images and sounds. Film Socialisme is a lament for europe's disappearance.

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

What a fantastic post! It makes me want to rewatch what I've already seen and watch for the first time a few others.

I do despise the lack of costume cohesion in so many contemporary films.

Yojimboen said...

Chère Madame, you can feel relatively safe with Girl with a Pearl Earring, Scarlett J was barely 18 when they started production, so she was well short of becoming the… personage she is today.

It is an exquisite production, but in truth, not difficult to bring off. They built a multi-story set – an exact duplicate of Vermeer’s house, the costumes are all copies of existing museum pieces and the cinematography – though deservedly praised (literally dozens of international awards and nominations) – was a perfect reproduction of Vermeer-light; i.e. a 20k source light through the frosted window and very little fill. The director took pains to ensure that when the characters were out and about, the directions of their journeys (to shops, markets, Patron’s house etc.) were scrupulously accurate. It’s a lovely film, delicate and intelligent. And Colin Firth plays Vermeer.
What more do you need?

The Siren said...

David, I saw Hail Mary but very little else in the way of late Godard.

Jess, so good to see you and thanks for de-lurking. (If y'all want to know how cool Jess is -- she once sent me a package that included about 9 magnets depicting posters from Joan Fontaine movies, everything from Blonde Cheat to Until They Sail.)

Y., glad you understand about Scarlett. Lord she bugged me in Match Point. I am one of the few women on this green earth for whom Colin Firth does next to nothing as a sex symbol (although he's a good actor), but it sounds intriguing all the same.

Yojimboen said...

Little Miss Scarlett bugged the hell out of me in Match Point also, but not a tenth as much as Jonathan Rhys Meyers did.

His success, make that employment, in film is one the great mysteries facing humanity today.

John Fitzpatrick said...

Good to see some love for the underappreciated Walter Plunkett. While working for Scribners on the excellent Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, I tried to persuade the editor (the smart and sophisticated Valerie Steele) to include an entry on Plunkett. The encyclopedia paid due attention to cinema costume design and included several of the famous designers, but Steele had not even heard of Plunkett and would not add him to the list.

You can Google some background information from an Oakland newspaper feature and at the U. of Texas Web site. There was no costume Oscar in 1939, but Selznick said that Plunkett surely deserved one.

gmoke said...

I agree it is before Scarlett set herself in concrete.

Besides, there's a beautiful Cillian Murphy to admire and good turns by Judy Parfitt and Tom Wilkinson.

The lighting captures Vermeer.

One of the things David Quaide told me was that you couldn't do better in studying lighting than by looking at the paintings of the great artists.

Mapeel said...

Nora Charles wears that gown to the Christmas party they throw in their hotel room--and it evokes a candy cane in a charming way.

hamletta said...

OK, I was a little nervous about bringing up something more recent, but that ice has been broken.

For fantastic costumes, I recommend Down With Love, the homage to early ’60s sex comedies (a genre I love).

I find Renee Zellweger irksome, but she's great in it.

But the clothes! The costume designer, Daniel Orlandi, begged to do the movie, saying it's what he'd been waiting to do since he was a little boy.

The big numbers you can see for yourself, but even the woman with a brief scene as Ewan McGregor's secretary has a beautifully crafted dress with a little self-fabric bow with the loops poking out through a pair of tiny bound buttonholes.

That right there is sewing porn.

hamletta said...

gmoke, I'm pretty sure Vermeer was a big influence on Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast."

The Siren said...

MA Peel, you are right, and I do believe it's the black dress that she wears to greet all the suspects; but I couldn't find a full-length picture of it, only her at the dining table saying "Nicky, did *I* do it?" HA.

The Siren said...

Roszaphile, it's all kinds of ironic that the costume Oscar always goes to a period film these days, but Plunkett, the premiere period specialist of the Golden Age, is a name known mostly to hard-core GWTW buffs. That despite an enormously impressive filmography, as David pointed out.

Hamletta, I was surprised at how much I liked Down With Love. I was expecting to be all curmudgeonly and "what's the point when I can rent Pillow Talk" about it. Down With Love has its own charms and the movie doesn't condescend to the era, instead it revels. And yes, the costumes had labor of love written all over them. I also noticed the secretary's dress!

And I take this opportunity to declare my love for Renee Zellweger. Y'all can throw brickbats if you're so inclined, but I think she's darling. And McGregor caught my attention (ahem) in The Pillow Book and has held it ever since.

Unknown said...

Delurking to say that I too would have chosen the white-socked/black turtleneck outfit of Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. I read somewhere that she argued with Stanley Donen against wearing the socks and later admitted it was a brilliant choice. I also love the beautiful black gown in Now Voyager, Grace Kelly's green (Dior?) suit in Rear Window, Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina and Breakfast at Tiffany's gowns, Catherine Deneuve's wardrobe in Belle de Jour and Rita Hayworth's gown in Gilda.

Lawyerbob said...

Thanks for including Jean Seberg! Even though her costume is now a uniform for many young women, it still has the shock of the new in Breathless, as does her entire character. Gloria, speaking of "Gowns by Adrian", let me indulge in a personal note. My wife's grandfather was in the garment trade in New York, and knew Adrian. Adrian designed my mother-in-law's wedding gown, which my wife also wore as her wedding gown (and I hope one of my daughters will be able to wear). What an incredible gown! They really don't make them like that anymore.

The Siren said...

Kat, welcome & thanks for de-lurking. And you know what freaking *enthralls* me about that green suit in Rear Window? The white halter Grace Kelly wears underneath it. The most perfect halter ever. I have spent the better part of a shopping lifetime trying to find something remotely like it. I should just break down and have a dressmaker copy it at some point.

Lawyerbob, a wedding gown by Adrian...I just turned as enviously green as Kelly's suit. As for Seberg, I saw Breathless for the first time as a teen not knowing that much about it, but the second she showed up I still said, "Trouble." Anyone who looks that good hawking papers is herself very bad news.

The Siren said...

And Gmoke, you have me pondering painterly light in old movies, but damn that would be a long post.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Yojimboen, you really should take a look at Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Ride with the Devil and Velvet Goldmine. He's a born exotic and casting him as a watered-down Ripley as the Woodman does in Match Point is a mistake.

He's not that deep. He was made to slide along surfaces of fur and chrome.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Siren, you're not the first women to give up when faced with the magnificence of Kelly in Rear Window. Perfect clothes plus a woman who knew how to wear them perfectly.

The Siren said...

David, I swear the thought of looking like Grace Kelly in that halter never once crossed my mind! I just want it.

Ladybug said...

The gowns worn by Dolores Del Rio in all her early films were draped to show her body to perfection. Particularly when she danced. And the lighting of her face was always like a painting. Special and only for her, not for the other actors in a scene.

Yojimboen said...

Nicely put, David. I won’t seek them out, but if they happen to cross my path…

We have to go back 30 years to find the last modern costume Oscar® - All That Jazz - every award since has gone to “Period or Fantasy” productions. (It gets worse, with only one or two exceptions, every nominee falls into the ‘P or F’ category.)

The Costume Designers Guild (CDG) recognizes this bias and their annual awards are divided into ‘P or F’ and ‘Modern’.

Though Costume Designers strive try to get on a major ‘P or F’ show, most will spend entire careers designing modern productions – the difference between being able to ‘build’ costumes vs shop for them, usually under the gun to get any clothes on the actors for the next set-up. For every Ann Roth and Milena Canonero, there are dozens of very talented designers who labor in the J.Crew/Gap/Old Navy vineyards.

The strength of the film craft guilds has declined steadily over the years - in the CDG’s case by an extended period of weak leadership, and it’s not likely to change soon. (Writers Guild members suffer as much ignorant interference as Designers. Every producer knows the alphabet and thinks he – or she – knows how to write; every producer has a wife who wears clothes and thinks she knows how to design. [The To Die For little top syndrome].)

That’s the sad news. But the joyous news is despite all the mishigas, great films and TV shows still get made and every so often a young designer gets to strut his/her stuff, Down With Love a terrific case in point. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a group of people who, despite the agonies of frustration and the omnipresent exhaustion, have more of a passion for what they do than Costume Designers.

I was lucky enough to be at the CDG Awards dinner ten years ago when they inducted Walter Plunkett into the CDG Hall of Fame (full list here) – how often in this life do you get to witness 300 or so of the best-dressed people on the planet give a five-minute standing ovation to a still photograph (Plunkett’s) projected on a screen?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Interesting you shoudl mention the costumes in All That Jazz Yojimboen. My firend Tony Hollad was in it, and outside of Bob Fosse the main thing that overhwelmed him about the experience was Albert Wolsky. It was the first time he'd made a movie where a real costume designer was in charge.

The Siren said...

Oh god I am such a sap. My eyes are welling up at the thought of a five-minute standing ovation for the shade of Plunkett. Fascinating comment, Y.; you're teaching me a great deal here.

The costumes in All That Jazz are terrific, as is the film. It's one of my favorite 70s movies; maybe my very favorite.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I interviewed Cillain Murphy a few years back when he came to L.A. to do press for Breakfast on Pluto -- a role he campaigned to get the moment the moment the project was announced. In it he plays an incredibly sweet, seemingly naive Irish drag queen who at the height of "the torubles" of the 1970's manages to escape from one serious scrape after another.

Murphy has an incredibly beautiful face, and can play a drag queen ike a house on fire, but in real life he's very much a "lad" in the Colin Farrell mode -- with entirely different body language from the one we see in Breakfast on Pluto. Quite the paradox.

He's destined for baroque greatness.

Robert Avrech said...


Wonderful post.

Thanks so much for the mention and link. Regarding Helen Rose's wardrobe creations for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It's kind of amazing when you consider that Liz has but three outfits in the entire picture and they have all go on to become wardrobe icons.

Vanwall said...

How lovely it is when a topic here coincides, rather than collides, with viewing pleasures; to specif, I made it home from work in time to be watching "8 Women" as I type this, with one of the great casts in recent French films, phantasmic direction by François Ozon, bright and glowing cinematography by Jeanne Lapoirie, and above all,sumptuously brilliant costuming by Pascaline Chavanne. Even the maid is more stylish than a lot of entire cities-full. I daresay there are dresses in this film to kill for - it is a murder/musical, after all - and near the end, when Deneuve and Ardant are wrestling/lusting on the floor in very, very haute couture bespoke masterpieces of needle and thread, crikey, even their SHOES are lust-inducing TDFs. What great timing by the fates.

Yojimboen said...

Speaking of the baser impulses, when I was a callow youth, I used to curse Edith Head and her entire tribe for making dresses like this and this. I was certain she did it deliberately to keep me waking up in a cold sweat.

On a serious note, Madame, if you haven’t already seen it (I suspect you have), here is a link to Grace K’s green suit, with tips on how to make the halter.

Gloria said...

Lawyerbob: an Adrian dress as family heritage *sigh*... Simply wonderful!

"I should just break down and have a dressmaker copy it at some point"
I recently took myself a step in that direction: pret-a-porter *never* manages to offer me things I like (and when it comes near, *rarely* in my size). The trouble is to find a dressmaker nowadays, and one who thrives in doing these things: I had to look for months to find someone!

All That Jazz is IMHO, the last great classic musical

Daniela said...

Dear Siren,
congratulations on yet another great post!

Last year I had the chance of seeing one of Plunkett's creations for “Raintree County” at the Cinemathèque Museum in Paris and it was, indeed, an astonishing piece of work. One other dress on display was the one Anne Baxter used in “All About Eve” (yes, THAT one). I had a sudden urge to just put on that cape, grab my Sarah Siddons award and take a look at myself in the mirror...

And Lawyerbob: I'm pea green with envy, I must confess...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ozon is a seriously naughty boy. He said his great thrill in that 8 Woemn scene with Deneuve and Ardant was getting two of Truffaut's great loves to make out with each other.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's a really nice illustrated piece about memorable movie dresses and why they work so well.

Karen said...

Ach! I just wrote an achingly long comment, that Blogger ate up. I cannot recreate it--I just cannot!

In sum:
* I seconded Gloria's delight at the sight of "Gowns by Adrian," and wondered, in the Adrian/Joan Crawford matchup, which of them was happier to have found the other.
In personal favorites:
* Monroe's royal blue suit in the penultimate scene of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
* Constance Bennett in Hattie Carnegie in Our Betters, particularly the black batwing sleeves with chains
* Myrna Loy in Stamboul Quest in a flower, rhinestone straps, and good intentions
* Jane Wyman in Let's Do It Again, which feels like a template for Mad Men

And, as for period costume:
* Gigi's Maxim's dress
* Eliza's ballgown
but I concede, in both cases, that my admiration may be influenced by how each woman carried it off. Difficult to find two more graceful carriages than Audrey Hepburn and Leslie Caron!

My colleague here, the Media Services Librarian, Nancy Friedland, has just finished editing a book on costume collections in the United States, that should be full of wonderful imagery and scholarship.

(I have now copied this before I venture to hit "submit" but hope I won't be forced to use it. I will never type this entry again, though; I can tell you that!)

Yojimboen said...

Thank you, Karen for reminding us we’d forgotten Cecil Beaton; a giant among giants. For me, only his work on My Fair Lady saves the film from the remainder bin of musicals.

But - and here I gloat – I’m old enough to have seen Gigi in theaters (more than once) and I’m here to tell you every single time the moment arrives when Gigi emerges from her room in Beaton’s “Maxim’s gown”, there were gasps from the audience; gasps.
It’s a unique moment in cinema – one of those moments that makes us what we are, that brings us here to this most gracious of salons.

Gloria said...


X. Trapnel said...


DavidEhrenstein said...

Beaton was quite a character and did a really great job on both Gigi and My Fair Lady. But on the latter he and Mr. Cukor did NOT get on. As Beaton was part of the MFL "package" from the start he had a "say" of his own that definitely rubbed Mr. Cukor the worng way -- and not just in a "When Queens Collide" sense of things. Mr. Cukor hated pretension and Cecil Beaton lived for it. Consequently Les Girls was much more fun in that he and Orr-Kelly were in sync on how best to showcase the ladies

DavidEhrenstein said...

It's funny but so much of what we're talking about here has to do with the actress as much as (if not more than) the dress. Gigi's entrance at Maxim's gets gasps because of Leslie Caron's spectacular shift from impish schoolgirl to knowing femme du monde, and Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn still rule when it comes to sophisticated chic without so much as a trace of stiffness or reserve.

Gloria said...

So Leslie Caron in Gigi paraphrases Bette in Now Voyager?

X. Trapnel said...

Not quite. Leslie Caron shows two kinds or stages of feminine charm. Bette Davis shows... two kinds of Bette Davis.

The Siren said...

Now XT, you know the Siren worships Bette. Don't make me come in there!

(I'm joking, of course.)

Yojimboen said...

So that you’re ready, dear lady, when H’Wood calls and moves you out here to run a studio (as one day they must), “Don't make me come in there!” translated into Californian is: “Am I gonna have to pull OVER?!”

M Elsea Smith said...

Myrna Loy *sigh*

Karen said...

I've finally read through all these wonderful comments, and have a few more remarks, the first of which is OMG how did I forget the green suit with white halter from Rear Window?? Every time I see Kelly peel off that jacket I sigh with never-to-be-satisfied desire. Thanks, Yojimboen, for the link to the site that discusses it, but I am still reeling from its opening sentence: "this is perhaps her least successful outfit overall from Rear Window"...speak for yerself, buddy!

In the model of the knock-off success of the Letty Lynton dress, I will add the daisy-bodiced party gown Elizabeth Taylor wears in A Place in the Sun, which I heard somewhere was reproduced on the racks of a thousand thousand prom-dress stores within a year.

Speaking of Edith Head, she has often been recorded speaking of the work she had to do to camouflage Barbara Stanwyck's rather low and flat derriere (at least according to Head; it's never struck me as such no matter who dressed her), and I've always thought her most successful attempt at such is the showgirl outfit Stanwyck sports in the opening scenes of Ball of Fire, which never fails to fill me with joy. She rocks that thing like a house afire.

As does Audrey Hepburn in the black outfit with flats she wears in Funny Face, which I have always believed was echoed by Mary Tyler Moore as Laura Petrie in more than one episode of "The Dick Van Dyck Show," but especially in one of the house-party episodes where she gets up and dances some lovely, angular modern dance moves.

Speaking of Oscars for costume design, especially in the modern era, I have long LONG held that the Oscar that went to The English Patient rather than to Angels and Insects betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of costume design. Paul Brown's costumes for the latter were brilliant encapsulations of each character through the medium of textiles and design. They took my breath away.

Siren, I laughed out loud at your mention of The Pillow Book as your first notice of Ewan MacGregor. He first came to my own attention in Trainspotting, but there's no denying that in certain scenes in The Pillow Book he is quite...eyecatching.

Trish said...

Siren, there is a little dress shop around the corner from me that specializes in what I can only describe as "Jean Harlow gowns". You know -- like the kind she wears in Dinner at Eight and Red Dust. Also known as a dress you need a flat stomach to wear...

After reading your post, I now realize I can get a Kay Francis gown there as well! I'm drooling! I've never seen Mandalay but the description of her becoming a top earner after being betrayed is classic. And what a dress!

I enjoy watching Marie Windsor mentally abuse Elisha Cook Jr. in The Killing. Dressed in a frilly penoir set, she's spent a taxing day flipping through magazines and freshening her makeup. She tells him there's steak, asparagus and potatoes for dinner. When he remarks that he doesn't smell anything she replies, "Certainly. You don't think I had it cooked, do you? It's down at the shopping center".

Yojimboen said...

How do I put this, ladies… Umm, while I’m delighted you were impressed by Mr. MacGregor’s… appearance in The Pillow Book, it should be pointed out that since the film’s unveiling back in the old country (his and mine), he has been known as “Wee Ewan”.
I’m just sayin…

Karen said...

Dayum. Should I be moving to Scotland?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ewan MacGregor is quite wonderful in Roman Polanski's new documentary The Ghost Writer

Tonight on Turner Bell Book and Candle was on. Kim at her most incandescent in a Jean Louis gown. Right up to her neck in the front and backless in the back. Natural Ricjard Quine (who was of course in love with her) draped Kim over the nearest sofa.

Truly wonderful movie. A shame John Van Druten has becoem such a forgotten figure.

X. Trapnel said...

Siren, you know my animadversions re Miss Davis are as a scattering of raindrops into the ocean, fleas on a wooly mammoth's hide.

Karen said...

Incidentally, I've just realized that the comment I left out of my re-worked original post (damn you, Blogger!) involved Grace Kelly and To Catch a Thief, tho' none of the gowns heretofore referenced. My own personal favorite outfit in that film--not to dismiss any of the others, which are divine--is the beach outfit she dons when she meets Cary Grant in the hotel lobby:

Rrrrrrrrrrrrr! What style! It conjures up deliciously the terrific outfits I used to covet in my Barbie costume catalog when I was a little girl in the mid-'60s, almost all of which involved that kind of fabulous overskirt, and which rejoiced in deliriously great names, like "Summer Smoke."


Karen said...

Well, THAT's what you get when your posts are overflowing with sex, eh, Siren?

Yojimboen said...

No, this is what you get.
And this.

Unknown said...

fun, funny and fabulous! adore this something chronic--please tell me this post is gonna get a 2.0 version. Or at least, one for the fellas. ;)

The Siren said...

Holy heck, I am behind here. I will try to work my way through all this comment goodness...

Nora, welcome! Del Rio always looked ravishing. And that reminds me that one of my perennial curmudgeonly complaints is that nobody *lights* actresses the right way anymore.

Robert, always so glad to see you. I did love that post of yours. Always felt that Helen Rose got short shrift in term of fashion credit, and "Cat" is a major part of the case for her. That white chiffon that Taylor wears is a stunning example of how chic can still mean pure sex appeal.

Daniela, welcome! Raintree County has some beautiful work, and you can see that Plunkett was determined to give the movie--set in the Midwest, not the South--an entirely different feel and look from GWTW, common Civil War era or no.

As for Baxter's dress, what a great point. It isn't the one they talk about from Eve, that's Edith Head's cocktail gown for Davis, the one that didn't fit so they made it off-the-shoulder.
But Baxter's Sarah Siddons gown is a wonderful piece of work too. It is flowing and feminine, with lovely detail, quite believable as an award dress. And yet it somehow has the slightest hint of the butch about it. So that when Barbara Bates shows up, and Baxter is giving her an appraising look from the sofa, the dress accomodates THAT moment too.

The Siren said...

Beaton was a great designer, although I confess that I don't like that My Fair Lady ball gown, too much of a column and I generally don't dig ultra high necks. It works very very well in the movie though. I got a huge kick of Beaton's wonderfully bitchy diaries, too.

David makes a great point about the actresses, too; all of these costumes have a symbiotic relationship with the woman wearing them. In addition to Kelly and Hepburn, Jean Harlow and Kay Francis also knew how to *move* in their clothes.

Which brings me to that green Atonement dress that everyone but the Siren appears to have fallen in love with. (Picture here.) I haven't seen the whole movie, but I have seen clips of Knightley walking in that thing ad infinitum. And it's a superb dress, beautifully designed and executed, in a color I'd kill for. However, Knightley's jutting bones distract the living hell out of me.

Trish, check out Harlow again some time; no flat-ab-possesor, she. She was beautifully slender, but Harlow had a bit of a tummy and you can see the slight curve of it under the bias-cut silk and velvet.

But it's more than Knightley's being so skinny as to be joltingly out of period; it's that she doesn't move that well in it. The dress, as they say, is wearing her. You can see this phenomenon every year at the Academy AWards too, primarily on young actresses not used to really Important Gowns.

The Siren said...

Matthew Lewis Caroll Smith, welcome, and feel free to drop by and sigh over Myrna any time you feel like it. Even if it's a post about Ernest Borgnine. We'll understand, believe me.

KittyPackard, so glad you liked the post. And yeah, I probably will do men's costumes at some point. It would be an interesting exercise.

Karen, Taylor started a lot of fashion trends. In addition to the Place in the Sun daisy dress (perfect for the character!) that Father of the Bride wedding gown was also imitated constantly, even though I confess to not liking it much (too fussy). And how much do I love you for bringing up Laura Petrie. I remember my mother once remarking that MTM set an awfully hard standard for a stay-at-home mom to live up to, at least in part because she'd spend all day at home with the kid and Rob would come home and there she is, so chic you could take her anywhere.

I will really look forward to your colleague's book. Sounds totally up my alley.

To Catch a Thief also has a wonderful swimsuit for Brigitte Auber, whose sex appeal in that movie alway struck the Siren as a good deal more attainable than Grace Kelly's. Kelly is the creature from another planet. Auber, on the other hand, is someone you could conceivably imitate...although you wouldn't get Cary Grant out of it.

Yojimboen, McGregor did a charming interview after The Pillow Book--I believe he had done a whole series of full-frontal movies in a bid to be his generation's Harvey Keitel, I suppose--where he said his father had remarked smugly that he saw Ewan wasn't letting the family down, so to speak.

This is a digression, but what does it say about sexism in movies that to this day if I want the full monty in a mainstream non-X movie my options are either The Pillow Book or Keitel, Keitel, and Keitel? Is this fair? Is this right? Aux barricades, ladies...

The Siren said...

Wow, Blogger comments REALLY woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Eat one, pretend it's gone, bring it back just to weird me out. Y'all have been warned.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Thanks for putting in those clips, Yojim. Tow of the greatees movie smooches of all time.

Once again this place is turning in The Grace Kelly Appreciation Society.

And no wonder.

Trish said...

I'm not posting a photo because my html is a little rusty, but I always loved Grace's "picnic" outfit in To Catch a Thief. A pink and white sleveless top with a pleated skirt. I like to think that it's a light wool.

Anyway...I want it. I'm going shopping.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ewan McGregor at his sweetest

Trish said...

Oh, but Ewan is so nice!!! Why did they give him that loathsome Jimbo for a boyfriend??? I can think of a few others I'd rather see...

Karen said...

David, I never thought I'd say this about a Jim Carrey film, but that looks pretty great. And any trailer that features Ewan McGregor in full smile--so infectious!--is good for me.

Siren, in your pitifully brief (ahem) full monty list, you've omitted Jason Segal in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Not that that adds much to the list.

Karen said...

Oh, and incidentally, this is my colleague's book:

John Fitzpatrick said...

Phyllis Dalton (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Oliver!, Henry V) doesn't get much attention, but she's done fine work. Lawrence, in particular, is a picture where you might think it's just army uniforms and burnooses -- but in fact the costumes are carefully designed and differentiated. Among my favorite exchanges:

ALLENBY: Fascinating "gear" these people wear. How do you think I would look in one of these?

BRIGHTON: Damn ridiculous, Sir!


And remember how Allenby is introduced: the scene opens on his brocaded cap with "scrambled eggs" reflecting on the desktop.

Uncle Gustav said...

Siren, I'm way late to this discussion and haven't checked out the comments to see if it's already been mentioned, but François Ozon's 8 femmes (2002) offers some superb couture, all in blistering, Ross Hunter-style color.

Karen said...

Well, speaking of Ross Hunter, there's that marvelous Hunter-esque sequence in What a Way to Go!, where Edith Head puts Shirley MacLaine in a different and more fabulous outfit after every edit. I don't even know which one is my favorite.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Gloria Stuart is 100 Years Old Today!

Gloria said...

I just took a detour on my way to the barricades just to say: Happy Birthday Miss Stuart!

P.S.: I wish I was more knowledgeable about Japanese films... Just to give due credit to the gents and ladies who helped drape actresses like Takamine or Hara (whether it was dresses or kimonos)

Yojimboen said...

Karen, re What a Way to Go!, whose main problem was a tragic disconnect between a script by two of the hippest people in movies (Comden & Green) and one of the more seriously unhip directors working: J. Lee (never made an epic) Thompson.

Re the costumes, while we’d like to imagine Edith Head had the time of her life concocting these outfits, it was probably just another day at the office (she did twelve other movies in 1964).

Personally I’ve always had a fondness for this number, and of course this one; but all said and done, for me, Ms M’s best costume in the movie is this.

Anyway, here’s the trailer.

(They don’t write trailer copy like they used to, you betcha!)

Trish said...

Oh, my -- this was another favourite when I was 10. I bought my own copy some time ago but I don't think I've actually watched it again. It's down to the storage locker for me.... :D

DavidEhrenstein said...

I saw it when it came out. Weighed a ton. Comden and Green had something much lighter in mind when the wrote it. But Thompson was non Donen.

It was Margaret Dumont's last big screen appearance.

Trish said...

David, wasn't it was the end of more than one era???

Karen said...

Yojimboen, I do believe I'm detecting a trend in your costume preferences...

I would thank you for your link to the trailer, but GEEZ. That was truly horrifying!

I will thank you for finally identifying for me the problem with the film, which always felt like a brilliant conceit that wasn't....QUITE executed correctly. That being said, the film is one of my guiltier pleasures--if only for Gene Kelly getting torn limb from limb.

The clothes might have something to do with it, too, though.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Inded it was, Trish. The studios were on their last legs, but were trying to carry on as if they had power and authority over a steadily shrinking audiece. Fox especially. Consider Cleopatra. Better still consider the unfinished Something's Got To Give -- particularly in regard to the hriing of Lee Remick, who was then never filmed.

Trish said...

What a waste. Lee Remick would have been so elegant! I don't like the film that was eventually made -- Move Over Darling. I love Doris Day but not so much here. She's tomboyish and lacks the vulnerability necessary for her role. Monroe and Remick were just right!

Yojimboen said...

Disagree, Trish, Lee Remick was way too elegant to do this or this.
In any case, Dean Martin had contractual veto on the choice of leading lady and he put the kibosh on Lee.

La Faustin said...

If Lee Remick could twirl her baton for Lonesome Rhodes -- under the name Betty Lou Fleckum, yet -- I don't think she'd have been fazed by a tasteful skinnydip. Boo to Dino.

Trish said...

Okay... Lee Remick would probably not have agreed to the pool scenes. :O

I'm thinking maybe Dean thought Remick was too classy for him.... He actually should have lobbied for one of the rat pack gals: Shirley MacLaine or Angie Dickinson... I'll bet Angie might have been persuaded to disrobe...

Yojimboen said...

It wasn’t that complicated, Trish. I read years ago that Dean Martin engineered a very sweet contract for himself on SGTG. He was highly paid whether or not he was actually shooting. He was paid large penalties if Marilyn kept him waiting – which was a daily occurrence. When Fox “fired” MM and announced Lee Remick as her replacement, Martin said he wouldn’t work with anyone except Marilyn. (Whether this was out of allegiance to MM or to $$ remains an open question.)

Fox was forced then to rehire MM (at a bigger-than-agreed-to salary) while Dean Martin sat cheerfully in his dressing room as his meter ticked… and ticked. Marilyn never showed to restart shooting - she died in August 62. Martin picked up his hefty check and went home.

Here’s a link to most of the production stills from SGTG.

When Fox released the 28 minute assembly a few years back, the most striking aspect to me was the sadness of her performance, she seemed more lost than ever except, strangely enough, during the pool skinny-dip scene, where she looked as if she was having fun for the first time in years.

DavidEhrenstein said...

THe pool was an exactly replica of the one at Mr. Cukor's house.

That documentary was quite good as it established her death was accidental. She was taking pills to sleep and pills to stay awake, plus she was an alcoholic. The msot elegant of alcohoolics in that she only drank Champagne. She nearly did her self in with the same pill combo just before the shooting started -- an incdient that the public never learned of at the time. Her shrink phoned in -- didn't get and answer, suspected the worst -- and saved her by rushing over and taking a near-comatose MM to the emergency room. The second time she wasn't so lucky.

I'd like to think that Dean was being loyal to Marilyn. But I'm an old softie at heart.

Yojimboen said...

For those who have the patience, what remains of SGTG is on Youtube in 10 minute chunks. Part one here.

Re MM’s demise, David, I’m not a great subscriber to the so-called accidental theory, there’s just too much evidence to the contrary; not least of which was L.A. Coroner Thomas Noguchi’s autopsy finding that while she officially died of barbituate poisoning, there were no traces of barbiturates in the stomach.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Noguchi is not to be trusted. He's a showboat who made a total hash of Natalie Wood's sad passing.

And there was no reason for anyone to want to kill Marilyn. From the beginning of her career she had numerous affairs with scores of men and was the soul of discretion.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well that would be Noguchi's fault wouldn't it.

Ladybug said...

Pierre Balmain is other designer of merit. Balmain called "dressmaking the architecture of movement" and his gowns for Lilli Palmer in Teufel in Seide (Devil in Silk), among others, are truly this.....movement with style and elegance. About the only regret I have regarding black and white films is not seeing the beautiful colors of the costume and set designs.

Trish said...

Cyd's airplane ensemble is wonderful. She's so chic! Much better than Polly Bergen (shudder).

Eminence Grise said...

You have the Sabrina dress? Sigh... That was my first choice for a wedding dress, but had no idea how to obtain it...

Thanks for including Myrna Loy. She was one special lady. Her dinner dress in Bachelor & Bobby Soxer (a full 13 years later) is also stunning. I'm so envious of her style that my fiance and I were Nick & Nora for Halloween one year!

The Siren said...

Meaghan, mine is the exact same cut, but with just a tiny decorative strap on the shoulder instead of a bow, and three-quarter-length sleeves instead of sleeveless. That dress was made in endless variations for years after the movie. It would make a great wedding-dress cut; in fact I still see the basics of it in a lot of tea-length gowns.

Yojimboen said...

The moonlight, the champagne, the dress, the dance, the kiss…
And her perfect face…

It just doesn’t get any better than this.

Richard Lloreda...Your host since day # 1 said...

I enjoyed "THE MADE IN CALIFORNIA"LACMA show about ten years ago, where JC's "LETTY" gown was next to Dietrich's,"ANGEL", negligee and they were both incredibly beautiful-personally my favorite, though "rahther vulgar" evening gown of the entire 1930's is Jean Harlow's silver satin number with white fox top in 'DINNER AT EIGHT'-like wowsville!

Unknown said...


Showbiz and politics.