Dolly Tree: A Costume Designer gives advice (1942)

Myrna Loy in a Dolly Tree design (the Thin Man, 1934)

In Motion Picture magazine, June 1942, this funny little article was posted about costume designer Dolly Tree. She was probably best known for her work in the 1920s and 1930s – most notably The Thin Man series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy (For more on her early work in illustration, do travel over to this fascinating post at the Jazz Age Club). The brief piece below offered 1942 readers the unique opportunity to learn about the field of ‘costume design’ as a career directly. Including qualifications, income, and hazards of the position. I’d love to hear comments from those currently in the field to find out how much still rings true.

Motion Picture Magazine. (June 1942. 63(5): 27):

Top designer Dolly Tree can tell you hers is nice work, but the competition in this field is plenty tough”

Motion Picture Magazine, June 1942
Title Designer 




Assistants start at $50 a week. Top designers get $1,500 to $2,000. They keep regular office hours, but can never limit their work to those hours. They’re constantly getting rush calls for designs, both day and night. They have no guild.
Qualifications First and foremost: tact. You have to please everybody. Also, you have to be a rapid sketch artist, with original and dramatic ideas. You must have an infinite knowledge of materials and dyes. And you must know dress construction, to be able to guide seamstresses.
Preparation Start by designing, and making, your own clothes. You’ll discover how much you need to learn about costuming, materials and actual manufacture. Then go to some good school of design and, after you graduate, get a job—and experience—with some successful designer.
Getting Started Know some influential person, and impress that person with your ideas. That’s how Natalie Visart became De Mille’s designer at 22. She learned he was going to film Cleopatra, did research on things Egyptian, whipped up hundreds of sketches—and got the job.
What Lies Ahead With Hollywood fast becoming THE fashion capital, any successful Hollywood designer can stepout and open a profitable salon. (In fact, Adrian just has.) But, remember—the competition is keen and only the best designers succeed.
Beware! The competition is the cut-throat kind. Just when you think you’re doing all right, some smooth-talking newcomer from Paris or New York will talk you right out of a job, unless you can succeed in out-talking him first.

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  1. This, in my opinion, is one of the best party dresses in film, in one of the best Christmas parties in all of film. And to think it was designed by Dolly Tree.
    I mean, when you are hostessing your first Christmas party, as Nora Charles is, at her first year of marriage, what would you like to wear? How perfect is this! I always reference this gown when discussing party dresses in film.

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