Revisiting a “mini history of the maxi dress”

Jezebel is re-promoting a maxi dress article they published in 2015 that mentions something I’d written on the subject from 2008.  The 1,000+ comments (and counting) on that post are a gold-mine in terms of how attitudes have changed in just four short years.) In the nearly 11 years since I wrote on the maxi, the dress has maintained its perennial prominence in the summer zeitgeist. In my article for Monica Sklar’s former Worn Through blog, I said

Geraldine Chaplin as Tonya in “Dr. Zhivago”. Phyllis Dalton received an Oscar in 1965 for best costume designer.

“One of the earliest appearances of the “Maxi-Dress” was in 1968. The New York Times highlighted a cotton lace version by Oscar de La Renta he created for Elizabeth Arden Salon. More notable designers such as YSL, Dior, Cardin, Biba, Halston, and others would latch on to the style as well. Maxi-lengthed skirts had begun to outdo the mini skirt in 1967, and the dress (as well as the maxi coat) soon followed. Maxi styles quickly grabbed hold in London. Doctor Zhivago (1965) is often credited with igniting the craze for the Maxi style (along with the tandem trend for ‘Midi’ style skirts) due to its use of large flared coats over suit trousers. However, it was not until the 1970s that the maxi dress lodged itself firmly in the American mind (in all its polyester splendor), along with similar caftan and boho styles. By the late 1970s, it had become associated with the unfashionable and out of date (such as Mrs. Roper on Three’s Company)”

But there is more to this story than that, as I recently found out.

As I noted in 2008, the maxi style in general, got its start in popular culture with Doctor Zhivago in 1965. Set in pre-revolutionary Russia, costume designer Phyllis Dalton created  “Cossack blouses with neckband collars and wide billowy sleeves, and coats trimmed with fur from head to toe; and the maxi, or ankle-length, skirt” (Halsey 1986, 595). The film was released theatrically on Dec 22, 1965.

A short seven days later, on December 29, 1965, a little-known Parisian couturier named Jacques Syma photographed what might be considered an early version of a maxi dress as a part of his forthcoming spring collection.

Geraldine Chaplin in “Doctor Zhivago” 1965 MGM Cinema Publishers Collection
Dec. 29, 1965 – Noticing her youth and charm, Jacques Syma chose Laura Ulmer, daughter of the famous author and composer Georges Ulmer, as his inspiration for his Spring collection. ”Merida”, a long toile sleeveless dress with a large stripe along the hemline and a smaller stripe higher up, is low-cut in the back. (Credit Image: Keystone Pictures USA/ZUMAPRESS)

In March 1966, the Paris Spring collections appeared in Vogue magazine, and the cover showed Barbra Streisand in a floral print maxi. Inside, Paris showed off its Spring couture in a fashion feature photographed by Richard Avedon, and including many long dresses worn by models and actresses Jean Shrimpton, Marisa Berenson, Minnie Cushing, Françoise Rubartelli and Geraldine Chaplain (one of the stars of Doctor Zhivago) designed by Balmain, Lanvin, and Ricci. (“Fashion: THE YUM-YUM TREE IN PARIS.” 1966. and Delvin 1966). These dresses were in stark contrast to the mini-skirts and micro-mini’s popular at the time.

Lanvin and Ricci designed long dresses from Vogue, March 1966.

One of the first time the word ‘maxi’ appeared in American newspapers was a July 1966 syndicated report from Paris focused on Jacques Syma‘s collection that included the micro-mini skirt and its counterpart the maxi skirt. It appeared in newspapers across the United States (De la Fontaine 1966), helping to spread the style(s) further. Laura Ulmer, Syma’s counter-part was a model, singer, and YeYe Girl (Young, camp-y, French Pop icons of the 1960s)  (Deluxe 2013).

The New York Times later explained that the maxi began “gaining ground” alongside the mini on the streets of New York and Paris beginning in 1966 (Emerson 1968, E4). It became a part of the 1960s Youthquake and had been established in the mainstream by the 1970s. Some might argue that it’s trajectory and popularity coincided with the feminist movement of the era. It would make sense then, to see it re-emerge (and have staying power) in the current cultural climate.


Heather Vaughan Lee is the founding author of Fashion Historia. She is an author and historian, whose work focuses on the study of dress in the late 19th through the 20th century. Covering a range of topics and perspectives in dress history, she is primarily known for her research on designer Natacha Rambova, American fashion history, and the history of knitting in America and the UK. Her new book, Artifacts from American Fashion is forthcoming in 2020 from ABC-CLIO.  More posts by the Author »

 

 

Further Information:

Halsey, William Darrach and Emanuel Friedman. 1986. Collier’s Encyclopedia, with Bibliography and Index, Volume 9. Macmillan Educational Company. Accessed April 1, 2019. https://books.google.com/books?id=KMUJAAAAIAAJ&q=Dr.+zhivago+maxi+dress&dq=Dr.+zhivago+maxi+dress&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiA9pGj9a_hAhUTO30KHX_tDlcQ6AEIPjAE.

“Fashion: THE YUM-YUM TREE IN PARIS.” 1966. Vogue, Mar 15, 78-78, 79, 80, 81. http://ezproxy.montclair.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.montclair.edu/docview/897870673?accountid=12536.

Devlin, Polly. 1966. “Fashion & Features: INSTANT BARBRA.” Vogue, Mar 15, 68-68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 152, 154. http://ezproxy.montclair.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.montclair.edu/docview/897870648?accountid=12536.

de la Fontaine, Yvette. 1966. “Hemlines are Long-long, Short-short.” Women’s News Service. July 22. https://www.newspapers.com/image/144995582/?terms=%22Maxi%2Bskirt%22

de la Fontaine, Yvette.1966. “‘Ye-Ye’ Modes Favorites in Paris.” Women’s News Service. Jan. 16. https://www.newspapers.com/image/144160376/?terms=%22Jacques%2BSyma%22

Emerson, Gloria. 1968. “Fashion: Alas! The Poor Mini.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Feb 04, 1. http://ezproxy.montclair.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.montclair.edu/docview/118326156?accountid=12536.

Deluxe, Jean-Emmanuel. 2013. Yé-yé!: the girls of ’60s & ’70s French pop music. Los Angeles, California: Feral House.

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Another Prince Tribute

There is no way I can write a definitive history of Prince’s Fashion a few hours after his shocking death. The scope and depth of his impact both musically and culturally, are far too great. Suffice it to say, stylistically, the man was on par with the likes of David Bowie, Freddy Mercury, or Michael Jackson (and in retrospect seems to me like a mash-up of those three). The Cut (New York Magazine’s blog) has a good slideshow of his style.

His looks were often gender-bending, and that seemed only to bolster his sex appeal. He frequently pushed the envelope – both in the way he dressed on stage and in balking corporate music control.  He frequently used ‘shock value’ in his stage style in a career that spanned four decades.

Prince in Assless Pants at the 1991 MTV VMA’s

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I’m sure in the flood of tributes to come, more memorable outfits will surface. But for my money, nothing was better than the first time I ever heard or saw him, which was in the 1984 film, Purple Rain. Below is his costume from that film, by costume designer Marie France. Following that is a performance of “Purple Rain” that just might make you cry.

Prince's Purple Rain Costume, Accession No.: 1987.124.1-5 Gift of PRN Productions. (Minnesota Historical Society)
Prince’s Purple Rain Costume, Accession No.: 1987.124.1-5 Gift of PRN Productions. (Minnesota Historical Society)

 

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Shirley Temple (Black) 1928-2014

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.

Shirley Temple Sears Ad

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)

1933 file photo, child actress Shirley Temple is seen in her role as "Little Miss Marker"

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)

Shirley Temple (center) in the "Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer" (1947)

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:

References:

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.

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Books in Brief: “Hollywood Before Glamour: Fashion in American Silent Film”

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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.)

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Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood icon was styled by William Travilla

Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla

By Andrew Hansford with Karen Homer

(Applause Theatre & Cinema Books)

What I found unique about this book was not the abundant photographs, or costume illustrations depicting a glamorous Marilyn – that was to be expected. What I didn’t expect was the level to which that glamor was removed, and the details of the real objects described and illustrated. Author Andrew Hansford is the manager of the William Travilla archive, and like a true archivist, is interest lies in the ‘state of the artifact’.

A typical detail layout from Dressing Marilyn by Andrew Hansford

It’s a gem of a book for anyone interested in the real objects of popular culture: depicting not only the beautiful ‘idealized’ garments, but also the state they are in today, including rips, stains, holes, and even lipstick marks. Most books that include collection images don’t include what goes on the condition reports. For this alone, I love this book.

Dressing Marilyn begins with a biography of designer William Travilla, who created costumes for Marilyn onscreen and off, and follows with two+ page spreads on seven of Marilyn’s most famous film costumes, followed by two smaller sections titled ‘personal dresses’ and ‘further classics’. Each of the seven costumes is explored and discussed in-depth, both photographically as well as with historical research, documentation,  and text. It truly is a marvelous resource for anyone looking to hunt down the details of Marilyn Monroe’s wardrobe and film costume history.

For more, see the review by Kate Finnegan in the UK Telegraph.

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