With the sad news of the passing of Shirley Temple (Black) in today’s New York Times, I thought it would be appropriate to remember some of her contributions to film costume, fashion, and popular culture.
Shirley Temple was the most famous child star of the 1930s. She made her film debut at the age of five in 1934 and by the following year she was making $1,000 a week from merchandising tie-ins alone (Cook 2004 and Ewing 1977). Mothers everywhere dressed their children in Temple-imitating clothing.
Temple merchandise included dresses, coats, snow suits, raincoats, toys and accessories (Cook 2004). Sears and Roebuck featured a line of Shirley Temple fashions inspired by her film costumes, including short dresses with matching panties and bolero-style dresses, winter snow suits, hats and accessories. As the 1935-36 Sears catalog copy stated: “Shirley and her cute clothes have stolen everyone’s heart; no wonder every little girl wants to wear the same styles.” The earned royalties from Temple’s licensed merchandise exceeded $100,000 in 1935; and exceeded $200,000 in 1936.
However, it was the Shirley Temple “look” that most mothers were after. Her iconic hairstyle of all-over-ringlets was imitated everywhere and is still recognized today. Her style of dress, frequently identified with toddler-hood, included simple frocks made to accentuate a toddler’s belly, with puffed sleeves and hemlines that were consistently 19 inches from the floor (Cook 2004). These were trimmed with simple and unobtrusive decorative elements, such as embroidered or appliquéd, and lace edged hemlines and collars. Interestingly, conflicting fan magazines reports suggest that Temple was both disinterested in her film costumes and insistent that they be of a consistent design.
In an issue of Hollywood from 1936, writer Sally Martin explains the challenges of costuming the child star:
One day, a long time ago when Shirley’s career was in its infancy, Rene Hubert, then 20th Century-Fox designer, was discussing Shirley’s clothes with Mrs. Temple. He made the remark that clothes for small girls should reach just to their fingertips. Shirley overheard and to this day insists that her dresses reach the specified length and not vary a sixteenth of an inch one way or the other. Costuming Shirley Temple presents a real problem to the studio designers. Accustomed to competing and excelling the world’s greatest modistes in creating styles for stars on the screen, the stylists never, before the advent of Shirley, had tackled the problem of clothes for a child star.” (Martin. 1936, 40)
Yet, according to Marion Blackford, writer for Screenplay in an article that same year:
In Shirley Temple’s home, in the wardrobes and clothes-closets of her own room, there hang well over a hundred different dresses and outfits! They’re all hers. . . Shirley could go a quarter of a year wearing a different outfit every day from her own wardrobe, and never once in that length of time would she wear the same dress twice! Yet—and here’s one of the strangest things of all about this most amazing little girl in the world today!—Shirley Temple is probably the most UN-‘clothes-conscious’ child in all Hollywood. To her, clothes are just ‘part of the job.’ With stoic patience, she stands hour after hour in the studio fitting rooms, enduring the interminable putting-on-and-taking-off, squeeking faintly now and then at a mis-aimed pinthrust that punctures her chubby legs, turning this way and that, when and as bidden, co-operating with all the clothes-knowledge of a trained actress. But as for enjoying those clothes herself? – why it’s a fact that Shirley doesn’t even look at herself in the mirror when she’s trying on new things.” (33)
The article goes on to provide details from William Lambert, 20th Century-Fox’s house costume designer at the time, who “fitted Shirley’s clothes for her when she first became a screen actress” (54):
‘I never,’ says Lambert, ‘seen an actress, of any age, so utterly uninterested in clothes as Shirley! And that, especially for a child, is unusual. From the very outset, her interest in what we were preparing for her to wear was purely perfunctory, mechanical. She’d come into the fitting room willingly enough, and she’d stand and be fitted with admirable patience, for a child. But do you think she ever took a look at herself in the mirror? NO, sir—not one glimpse!! She’d stand there in her little pink undies, with her chubby legs straight and firm. She’d let us twist her and dress her and stick pins in her. When we had the dress on, she’d still stand there, and never once look into the glass. . . Still without a look in the glass, she’d hurry back and out of the dress; would get into her own things—and make a bee-line for my drawing board and the colors I use when designing clothes. That was what she was patiently waiting for all the time. Being fitted was work—but drawing pictures was play, and that was what was on her mind. She’d grab my paints (oh, how I loved that!) and she’d draw picture after picture of Jimmy Durante. Funny part of it was, it looked like Jimmy. And she’d paint his big nose all nice and pink and then she’d be happy. Clothes?—they were forgotten. And say, let me tell you you couldn’t tell her anything about drawing, either. I’d try to make a suggestion or two. She’d just hold up her pink-nosed Jimmy Durante beside one of my style sketches. . .” (54)
The article goes on to explain, that while she may seem disinterested, she still has her opinion on her look in a film, and that she had definite preferences:
Don’t understand from Shirley’s fitting-room attitude that she doesn’t know what’s going on. Far from that! For instance: All her dresses are made 19 inches from the floor. Shirley has learned to feel the length. She knows by hanging her arms and leaning over just where the right length comes. She never has to look in a mirror—when they fit a dress, she hangs her arms and leans. ‘No—too long,’ she says. And Snip, off must come an inch or so. . . . She has one definite clothes-quirk: Everything has to match in color in whatever ensemble she’s wearing. It may make no difference to the camera, but even her socktops must match, precisely, the hue and shade of the dress she’s wearing. No sloppy work for Shirley. Everything has to be just so-so, too. IF there’s a bow on her dress, not a camera may turn on her until the ends and the loops are exactly even, to the quarter-inch.” (54)
Regardless, of her level of involvement in the creation of her image, Shirley Temple’s iconic style left a imprint on children’s fashion of the 1930.
In the 1940s, Temple helped to define the new “teenager” demographic, and portrayed an impressionable teenage girl in the film, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), among others. More than that, her iconic look has remained one often imitated in popular culture.
Below is an absolutely perfect video of Temple from the 1934 film, Baby Take a Bow (costumes by Royer), which exemplifies both Temple’s sartorial and film styles. Enjoy – and thank you Ms. Black for leaving with such a voluminous collection of films to enjoy:
Martin, Sally. “Hollywood’s Charm School: Shirley’s Personal Wardrobe,” Hollywood, November 1936.
Blackford, Marion. ‘Miss Temple’s Best Bib and Tucker,’ Screen Play, August 1936.
Hollywood Costume is the lavishly illustrated coffee-table book and exhibition catalog from the Victoria & Albert exhibition of the same name. It frequently juxtaposes film stills with the physical costumes. The above costume was designed by Travis Banton for Claudette Colbert in Cleopatra, 1934. The image below shows Colbert wearing the dress (and showing off much cleavage) For more on the costumes in this film, see my article at Worn Through from 2010.
Another spectacular costume featured in Hollywood Costume (along with installation shots and an essay by Sam Gatley on dressing the mannequin) is this costume for Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) in My Man Godfrey, 1936 by Travis Banton (Page 214-5, Gown and duster jacket designed by Travis Banton. The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design Larry McQueen. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum).
My Man Godfrey happens to be one of my favorite movies (hello, William Powell!). The image of this dress is gorgeous in this two-page spread, but seeing all those glass bugle beads in motion in the film is just absolutely stunning. The scene below features the dress, but is also a fairly important point of the plot: (pardon the ad at the beginning of the clip):
For more wonderful insights, be sure to check out the book, Hollywood Costume (Abrams) edited by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.
*Page 137 The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design Larry McQueen. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum
If you could see the stack of books on my ‘to do list’ you might run for the hills, but you also might sit down for a good long read. There are some great reviews ahead – so keep an eye out. First up is Hollywood Before Glamour: Fashion in American Silent Film by Michelle Tolini Finamore. Released earlier this year, it has been on my to do list the longest, and here are some brief notes about it’s contents.
Nearly 300 compact pages of academic scholarship cover the 1900s through the 1930s in 6 thematic essays (plus an introduction). Not surprisingly, much of the work discusses Lady Duff Gordon (or Lucile), and also includes an entire chapter on the designer Peggy Hamilton.
It also includes discussions of American Fashion design on film during World War I, and the rise of the ‘specialist’ costume designer (including Adrian, Andre-Ani, Travis Banton, Howard Greer, Iribe, Mitchell Leisen, Max Ree, and Sophie Wachner – though noticeably absent is Natacha Rambova.) Actor’s who provided their own wardrobes for modern films, and the marketing potential that came out of that is also explored. The book is well researched, but is not meant to be a comprehensive study of the era. It remains a helpful resource.
*Anna Moore/Lillian Gish wearing negligee in Way Down East (United Pictures 1920, director D.W. Griffith). Photo by Bain News Service, new York. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.)
Over the past few months some books have landed on my desk all surrounding the same topic: dress and appearance in early Hollywood. Here’s a quick round-up of these newly available resources (all still on my ‘to read’ list):
Go West, Young Women!: The Rise of Early Hollywood (January 2013, UC Press)
By Hilary Hallett
In the early part of the twentieth century, migrants made their way from rural homes to cities in record numbers and many traveled west. Los Angeles became a destination. Women flocked to the growing town to join the film industry as workers and spectators, creating a “New Woman.” Their efforts transformed filmmaking from a marginal business to a cosmopolitan, glamorous, and bohemian one. By 1920, Los Angeles had become the only western city where women outnumbered men. In Go West, Young Women! Hilary A. Hallett explores these relatively unknown new western women and their role in the development of Los Angeles and the nascent film industry. From Mary Pickford’s rise to become perhaps the most powerful woman of her age, to the racist moral panics of the post-World War I years that culminated in Hollywood’s first sex scandal, Hallett describes how the path through early Hollywood presaged the struggles over modern gender roles that animated the century to come.”
Precocious Charms: Stars Performing Girlhood in Classical Hollywood Cinema (January 2013, UC Press)
By Gaylyn Studlar
In Precocious Charms, Gaylyn Studlar examines how Hollywood presented female stars as young girls or girls on the verge of becoming women. Child stars are part of this study but so too are adult actresses who created motion picture masquerades of youthfulness. Studlar details how Mary Pickford, Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin, Elizabeth Taylor, Jennifer Jones, and Audrey Hepburn performed girlhood in their films. She charts the multifaceted processes that linked their juvenated star personas to a wide variety of cultural influences, ranging from Victorian sentimental art to New Look fashion, from nineteenth-century children’s literature to post-World War II sexology, and from grand opera to 1930s radio comedy. By moving beyond the general category of “woman,” Precocious Charms leads to a new understanding of the complex pleasures Hollywood created for its audience during the half century when film stars were a major influence on America’s cultural imagination.”
(January 2013, Palgrave)
By Michelle Finamore
This exploration of fashion in American silent film offers fresh perspectives on the era preceding the studio system, and the evolution of Hollywood’s distinctive brand of glamour. By the 1910s, the moving image was an integral part of everyday life and communicated fascinating, but as yet un-investigated, ideas and ideals about fashionable dress.”
If you enjoyed the brief look into Hollywood Sketchbook: A Century of Costume Illustration from last week, you’re going to love “Part II” of my interview with Natasha Rubin, who contributed a fascinating essay to this book:
Heather Vaughan: Who was your favorite person to interview for this project?
Natasha Rubin: “Deborah interviewed the vast majority of the living illustrators for the book; I contacted some of the new guard (e.g. Oksana Nedavniaya, Phillip Boutte, Jr, and Christian Cordella) for quotes. All of the interviews are pretty compelling. Julie Weiss is great to listen to because she has so many wonderful stories, I mean, she worked with Bette Davis!
The interview with designer Anthea Sylbert about working with her illustrator, Pauline Annon, was fascinating in many respects. She had worked with her for several years, but knew so little about her personal life. Pauline is still alive, but didn’t want to be interviewed; she’s a fine artist and the Hirshhorn Museum in DC has collected some of her work.”
HV: Was there one sketch that you wish you could have included that you could not?
NR: “We were able to include almost every sketch we wanted, except a few due to various reasons. In addition to museums and archives, we were lucky to have so many generous lenders including collectors, designers, illustrators, and also the cooperation of auctions houses such as Christie’s, Profiles In History, and Heritage Auctions.”
HV: How has yours and Deborah Landis’ affiliation with UCLA changed the scope of the research you’ve been doing?
NR: “The support of David Copley has given us the resources to cope with the extensive research demands that all of these projects require. UCLA has provided us with a space to work, an academic community, and of course the UCLA name acknowledges the Center’s credibility and lends prestige. It has also increased our visibility in the costume design community, both nationally and internationally. The Center is now a clearinghouse for information and personal stories about costume design history. Every day I field more requests and calls of interest; it’s very exciting!”
HV: What can you tell me about how the David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design at UCLA, and what it will be able to provide for interdisciplinary historians researching this subject? What sorts of materials and resources does it provide?
NR: “The David C. Copley Center for Costume Design is in the process of digital archiving, creating a visual database of film costume illustrations, first-person accounts, and scholarly research placing costume design in the center of a century of cinema storytelling. We also continue to offer opportunities to learn more about costume design for film through panels and lectures. We welcome questions from scholars and those interested in learning more about costume design history.”
Many many thanks to Natasha for being so generous with her time, and for providing many of the images in these two posts. To learn more about the history of film costume illustration be sure to pick up a copy of Hollywood Sketchbook: A Century of Costume Illustration.
Deborah Nadoolman Landis recently released the fantastic resource, Hollywood Sketchbook: A Century of Costume Illustration (Nov. 2012) as a follow-up to her Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design (2007). My dear friend Natasha Rubin has a marvelous essay in the book that provides depth as well as some unique insights into the research process of the book. After reading it, I wanted to know more. Natasha was kind enough to grant me an interview, which I’m pleased to share with you here:
Heather Vaughan: In your essay you note that you researched costume illustrations that had no signature or movie title: how often did that happen, and were any ‘mysteries’ solved in the book?
Natasha Rubin: “Many mysteries were solved while researching the book. The author, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, and I began to recognize designers’/illustrators’ styles and this helped us match illustrators with designers as well as identify some of the movie titles. Deborah and I had always wondered if Jean Louis drew the sketches he signed for A Star is Born (1954). Due to issues with the production, this film had three credited designers (Jean Louis, Mary Ann Nyberg and Irene Sharaff). One day, while searching the Cinémathèque Française’s digital archive, I came across costume illustrations for additional films that Mary Ann Nyberg designed and the drawings were a perfect stylistic match.
Another huge surprise was learning that John Truscott did not draw all his own sketches. Truscott only designed two films, Camelot (1967) and Paint Your Wagon (1969). The sketches from both of these films are immediately recognizable because of their distinct style, so I was quite surprised when I came across an interview on Galactica.TV’s website with costume illustrator Haleen Holt, which credits her as an illustrator for Truscott on Camelot.
I immediately contacted her and she came over to our offices at UCLA and identified—to the best of her memory—which drawings were hers and which were Truscott’s. Ms. Holt has spent over 35 years working in the entertainment industry as a costume illustrator and assistant designer, yet no collector knew her name and no museum or archive identified her in their records. In addition, Ms. Holt noted that Judy Evans (who went on to become an Emmy-winning costume designer) painted many of the aged, speckled backgrounds of the Camelot sketches. Really, if there was one illustrator I thought could not be copied, it would have been John Truscott. In the interview, Haleen recounts the difficult task she had in mimicking his style. This experience was eye-opening in terms of research and what is still unknown. Whether the lack of information was intentional on the part of the designers or the studios or deemed unimportant at the time varied from production to production and sometimes sketch to sketch.”
HV: The bibliography and resources sections of this book are extensive, though mostly primary resources. You also make note that this field has “little academic research, we are establishing the foundation of a field of study.” Who else would you say is at the forefront of historic film costume illustration research?
NR: “First, I must acknowledge the extensive research of Susan Perez Prichard, who wrote Film Costume: An Annotated Bibliography (Scarecrow Press, 1981). Ms. Prichard’s book provided the cornerstone of cinema costume history, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention her. Sketch collectors and Golden Age fans have also been helpful.
While there are extensive collections of costume illustrations at archives and museums such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the British Film Institute (BFI), the Cinémathèque Française, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Deutsche-Kinemathek and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), there has been very little scholarship on their holdings. At the Cinémathèque Française Deborah was told she was the only non-museum employee who had ever come to look at the collection.
Additionally, these sketches are rarely, if ever, exhibited. Scholarship takes time and requires financial support, which has become more and more scarce. As the internet continues to compile information, more and more is available online. It would have been virtually impossible to publish this book even ten years ago, just tracking down the sketch collections would have been prohibitive, much less the text research. Though too late for our research on Hollywood Sketchbook, the Theater Library Association published Documenting: Costume Design (2010), edited by Nancy Friedland, which will provide guidance to future scholars in the field.
Also, Lynn Pektal wrote an excellent book called Costume Design:Techniques of Modern Masters (Back Stage Books, 1999), but it focuses primarily on theater designers. Many of today’s working illustrators are much more savvy about getting their work seen, whether through their own websites or book publishing; it’s fantastic that there will be a record of their contribution.”
As you might have noticed, the last few weeks here at FashionHistoria have focused on book reviews. In October I began to receive a steady-stream of packages with glorious, lovely, over sized, and decadent fashion history books. I slowly, but methodically, began sharing their insides with you, starting back in October with Katherine Hepburn’s Costumes: A Book and An Exhibition. Each week in November, there was a new topic and a new book to explore:
- Kaffe Fassett: Dreaming in Colour (An Autobiography)
- “A to Z of Style” by Amy de la Haye
- Lee Alexander McQueen: Love Looks Not With The Eyes
- W: The First 40 Years
Just this last week I shared what might have been my favorite of all of them: Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft by Sandy Black. Today, I have the last book to share for the holiday season.
Available as of November 15, Vernier: Fashion, Femininity, and Form by Robert Muir and Becky Conekin (Hirmer Publishers) offers a highly illustrated documentation of Eugene ‘Gene’ Vernier, a photographer at British Vogue from 1954-1967. Beautiful, evocative photographs of 1950s British high fashion are included in this volume, with equally stunning essays by Robin Muir, Becky Conekin and Alistair Layzell.
Admittedly, I had not heard of Vernier (blame it on my American bias), but his covers and interior photography for Vogue in the 1950s and 1960s are absolutely stunning, and deserve the attention that this publication brings. For a quick over-view (and sneak-peek at the images included in the book), BBC News has a great video interview with Vernier from May of last year. More images can be found in this Flickr set.
Allstair Layzell’s essay, “Eugene Vernier: A life” uses the uniquely modern invention of the QR code to link still images to nine clips of film online, allowing readers to see some of Vernier’s early film work for Pathe (he was a camera man). (I’ve included one below) It’s a unique feature of Vernier: Fashion, Femininity, and Form, and one that I’ve not seen implemented in a book before.
Around Britain: 1947 (Click Image to go to watch the video)
Jean L. Druesedow, director of the Kent State University Museum and former curator at the Costume Institute, has provided a marvelous essay in Katherine Hepburn: Rebel Chic, the new marvelously illustrated book out on the film-stars on and off-screen style.
Druesdow’s essay, “Working Relationships: Costume Design and Katherine Hepburn,” is an in-depth look at the collection of garments worn by Hepburn, but also examines her interactions with designers such as Walter Plunkett, Howard Greer, Muriel King; Valentina; Cecil Beaton; and of course, Adrian. It also documents many of the too-often-ignored Broadway designers she worked with throughout her life. However, the essay begins by highlighting how these physical garments came to be ‘saved’:
Her personal letters and papers reveal that many of the costume designers and wardrobe attendants who worked with her held her in high regard. . . . Upstairs in Hepburn’s New York City home there was a closet reserved for this collection of costumes she had worn on stage and screen. The contents of the closet were separated from the other wardrobe, and when the town house was closed, these special garments were carefully inventoried, packed, and placed in a Connecticut warehouse. The collection spans nearly the entirety of her career with six stage productions and twenty-one films represented, as well as garments worn for publicity photographs. (The collection in accordance with her wishes was given by her estate executors to an educational institution, and now is housed at the Kent State University Museum in Kent , Ohio).” (88-89)
The book not includes wonderful research and background information for the film costume history enthusiast, but also includes film stills and photographs of extant garments, costume design sketches and notes, and other historical ephemera.
A complimentary exhibition, “Katherine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen” is now on view at New York Public Library (through January 2013).
Edited by UC Davis professor Susan Kaiser (along with Efrat Tseëlon of the University of Leeds and and Ana Marta González of the University of Navarra); this publication – part book and part journal – seeks to further the Fashion Studies debate with both interdisciplinary and international slants. Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty is a well-illustrated journal that includes exhibition reviews, articles and editorials by a dozen different authors on such topics as “Revisioning the Kimono” (Sheila Cliffe); “Russian Immigrant Women and the Negotiation of Social Class and Feminine Identity through Fashion” (Alexandra Korotchenko and Laura Hurd Clarke); and “Auction Prices of Fashion Collectibles: What do the mean? (Diana Crane).
Crane’s piece on fashion as collectible object was a particularly interesting editorial, especially this:
Aesthetic criteria for evaluating fashionable collectibles and fashionable clothing in general are underdeveloped, as indicated in a recent review of scholarly works on fashion (Gonzalez 2010). Most scholarly discussions of fashion theorize the characteristics and effects of fashion that is in fashion, rather than the aesthetic criteria of fashion collectibles. in fact, most such discussions ignore the possibility and implications of fashion collectibles. Analysing fashion collectibles is different from recounting fashion history. The latter tends to be a description of a succession of creators and styles.” (145-146).
Her piece also discusses the role of ‘celebrity endorsement’ in the valuation of fashion collectibles; the roles museums play; as well as some brief background analysis. It will take me a while to get through the other articles here, but they are valuable and informative works. If you’ve read other articles here, I’d love to know your thoughts on them.