On Lana Turner’s white costumes in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

(Click for image source)

“[Lana Turner] already had platinum hair. She’d been that color. So we left it for the film [The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946]. The white clothing was something that Carey and I thought of. At that time there was a great problem of getting a story with that much sex past the censors. We figured that dressing Lana in white somehow made everything she did seem less sensuous. It was also attractive as hell. And it somehow took a little of the stigma off of everything that she did.

–Director Tay Garnett, quoted in Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein, Lana: The Public and Private Lives of Miss Turner, New York: The Citadel Press, 1971. p. 80


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Joan Crawford on finding her ‘look’ (1932)

Publicity Still of Joan Crawford for Grand Hotel, 1932 (click for source)

“I played the prostitute [in Grand Hotel, 1932] and I felt that a more sensuous look was needed. Full, natural lip line and generous eyebrows—no bra, no girdle. Definite features were called for, and I found that I liked that look so much that I kept it.”

–Joan Crawford, My Way Of Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971. 159.


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Fashion shows in early cinema via Caroline Evans

“In 1904 a journalist described another type of worker, a member of a new female profession, the fashion mannequin, walking to work across Paris: …’This lovely woman with her slender, curvaceous figure, whose costume, one discerns, has come from a good dressmaker . . . hastens towards the rude de la Paix or the place Vendome. It is barely nine o’clock, but despite the morning hour and the sharp cold that stings the face, more than one passer-by turns round and slips while paying her a quick compliment.’

The four-minute Gaumont film starring Renee Carl, Une Dame Vrainment Bien (1908), made a comedy of just such a scene. A pretty woman exits from a clothing shop, promenades in the Paris streets, and piques masculine curiosity. All the men turn as she passes, setting in motion a comical chain reaction: Falls, collisons, and other blunders. The film is an instance in French film of the way that, as Constance Balides has argued in relation to American comedy films of the 1900s, everyday scenes of women walking through public places are turned into sexual spectacle . . .Perhaps the paucity of films of fashion modeling was due to the fact that, in the early 1900s, the mannequins, young women paid to walk to and fro in the elite fashion houses of the rue de la Paix and the place Vendome, were largely invisible to the general public. . .

–Caroline Evans, “The Walkies: Early French Fashion Shows as a Cinema of Attractions,” in Munich, Adrienne (ed) Fashion in Film. Indiana University Press, June 2011 (pgs. 112-113).

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Faye Dunaway on Costume Designer Theadora Van Runkle, 1929-2011

“After I got the role of Bonnie [in Bonnie and Clyde, 1967], Arthur [Penn] and I started talking about what she might wear. I thought jeans, maybe, pants of some sort since they were robbing banks and making quick getaways. But Warren [Beatty] and Arthur wanted to put her in dresses, great costumes that would give her style. They had decided to give Theadora Van Runkle, who was a young sketch artist with a great eye, a shot at designing the costumes. Soon after I met Theadora, who was to affect my own sense of style and become a good friend during these fast times. Until I met Theadora, clothes, and getting to a certain look, creating an effect had just been part of the job. She taught me just how much fun it can be. I like Theadora immediately. She was smart, funny, a very independent spirit, and a genius when it came to clothing design.”

— Faye Dunaway. Looking for Gatsby: My Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. (128-129)

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Mae West on skinny women, c.1934

Actress Mae West, in "It Aint No Sin" c.1934 (Click for Source)

Author Maurice Leonard explains that for Mae West, “her rotundity was exaggerated by her shortness. Giving vent to her frustration to Ruth Biery, she complained that Hollywood had tried to alter her shape when she had first arrived, and viewed the slim Hollywood beauties around her with dissatisfaction:

“I never saw so many poles in my life! I wondered how Hollywood men could stand them. But everyone said I had to get thin. I figured they knew this racket and I didn’t, so I went on one of them Hollywood diets…It was pretty bad, but I’d been through a lot for art’s sake so taking off twenty pounds or more was just one more piece of the routine. I got down to 103 pounds. I stood in front of the mirror to study the results. I didn’t like it. I didn’t look—well, you know, voluptuous. And that isn’t all, I didn’t even look healthy. And man or woman, you got to look healthy to look right. Half-starved women can’t have no life in them any more than a half-starved dog.”* (141)

–Maurice Leonard in  Mae West: Empress of Sex. New York: Birch Lane Press, 1991. 141.

*Mae West in Movie Classic, April 1934.


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Mrs. D.W. Griffith on early film costume practices

Linda Arvidson (Mrs. D. W. Griffith) circa 1910-1915

“Any one with ‘clothes’ had a wonderful open sesame. A young chap whom we dubbed ‘the shoe clerk’ – who never played a thing but ‘atmosphere’ –got many a pay-check on the strength of his neat, tan, covert cloth spring overcoat—the only spring overcoat that ever honored the studio (An actor could get along in the spring with his winter suit and no overcoat!)

Clothes soon became a desperate matter, so Biograph consented to spend fifty dollars for wearing apparel for the women. Harry Salter and I were entrusted with the funds and told to hunt bargains. We needed negligees, dinner dresses, ball gowns, and semi-tailored effects. The clothes were to be bought in sizes to fit, as well as could be, the three principal women. (71)

In that day, on Sixth Avenue in the Twenties, were numbers of shops dealing in second-hand clothing, and Mr. Salter and I wandered among them and finally at a little place called ‘Simone,’ we closed a deal. We got a good batch of stuff for the fifty – at least a dozen pieces—bizarre effects for the sophisticated lady, dignified accoutrements for the conventional matron, and simple softness for young innocence.

How those garments worked! I have forgotten many, but one—a brown silk and velvet affair—I never can forget. It was the first to be grabbed off the hoot—it was forever doing duty. For it was unfailing in its effect. Arrayed in the brown silk and velvet, there could be no doubt as to one’s moral status—the maiden lady it mad obviously pure; the wife faithful; the mother, self-sacrificing.

Deciding, impromptu, to elaborate on a social affair, Mr. Griffith would call out: ‘I can use you in this scene, Miss Bierman, if you can find a dress to fit you.’ The tall, lean actresses, and the short ones found that difficult, and thus, unfortunately, often lost a day’s work. Spotting a new piece of millinery in the studio, our director would thus approach the wearer: ‘I have no part for you, Miss Hart, but I can use your hat. I’ll give you five dollars if you will let Miss Pickford wear your hat for this picture.’ Two days of work would pay for your hat, so you were glad to sit around while the leading lady sported your new head-piece. You received more on a loan of your clothes, sometimes, than you did on a loan of yourself. Clothes got five dollars always, but laughter and merry-making upstage went for three.” (72)

–Linda Arvidson (Mrs. D.W. Griffith). When the Movies Were Young, New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, 1925. pgs 71-72

Below is an early film (by D.W. Griffith) The Adventures of Dollie, starring Linda Arvidson and Harry Salter.

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Wednesday Word: Fred Davis on the definition of Fashion

Setting a New Fashion in Pets. Los Angeles, California: Marian Nixon set a new fashion at the Universal lot by matching her new fur coat with her pet. She created something of a sensation when she was seen leading a pet leopard on a leash down a Hollywood boulevard. (c1925, via Corbis)

Clearly, any definition of fashion seeking to grasp what distinguishes it from style, custom, conventional or acceptable dress, or prevalent modes must place its emphasis on the element of change we often associate with the term. . . . Fashion, if it is to be distinguished from style and numerous other of its neighbor terms, must be made to refer to some alteration in the code of visual conventions by which we read meanings of whatever sort and variety into the clothes we and our contemporaries wear….”

— Fred Davis, “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion” in Barnard, Malcom (ed) Fashion Theory: A Reader. Routledge (2007)

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