Classic Film Fashion #319: Jean Harlow’s dressing gown in Libeled Lady (1936).
Built in fur pillows come in handy when your pretend husband takes the bedding to sleep in the other room. A dame has to be resourceful.
Classic Film Fashion #319: Jean Harlow’s dressing gown in Libeled Lady (1936).
Classic Film Fashion #318: Laurence Olivier’s bare neck to cravat change in fortune as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (1939).
Emily Brontë’s highbrow bodice-ripper sets the template for a romantic ‘Noble Savage,’ turned ‘lord of the manor.’ Laurence Olivier plays impulsive brute Heathcliff with enough raw passion to burn through the silken cravat, top hat and buttoned waistcoat of a so-called gentleman. The genius of his performance renders the makeover unconvincing and irrelevant. Heathcliff’s finery fails to disguise or civilise the natural man who never learned to control the impulse to cry out for his Cathy.
Classic Film Guide for How to be a Lady #30: Style provides sartorial armour to protect against a host of ordeals, as Greer Garson demonstrates as the titular Mrs Miniver (1942).
Frankly, I could watch the lady’s surreptitious purchase of a fabulous hat which she later models in the boudoir on a continuous loop. Greer Garson’s wardrobe for a character full of pluck and gumption boasts marvellous embellishments such as scalloped edging, looped braiding that transmits order and symmetry rather than a jumbled mess and stand-out pockets to soften an otherwise military cut frock. Garson’s character pays attention to small details and gestures, such as when she simply runs a brush through her hair and pins on a brooch to meet the sniffy dowager. She has style enough to warrant her son marrying a swell.
As Miniver, Greer Garson’s style helps her to endure wartime deprivations, the roof bombed out, living in a tin hut in the garden and having a filthy Nazi without courtesy or table manners in her kitchen.
With style, you can weather any storm.
Stellar Vintage #522: Lauren Bacall leans against her bike for a tea break in trousers and cashmere cardigan.
RIP Lauren Bacall.
Reblogging her fashion influence in classic cinema.
Classic Film Fashion #16: Lauren Bacall’s white button down in Key Largo (1948).
Bacall’s Nora Temple wears a crisp shirt nearly identical to the one worn by Humphrey Bogart’s reluctant hero, Frank McCloud. The similarity in attire hints a symbiotic match between characters, but even more than that, it sets them up as peers, equally opposed to the nefarious scheme Edward G. Robinson’s gangster has in the works. Nora Temple’s hardly a damsel in distress in an evening gown like the gun moll, nor does she play the shrinking violet. (Even when she was a kid, Bacall never played one. She was always a grownup onscreen.) Paired with a simple, full skirt, her menswear staple keeps her looking fresh and capable through the whole stormy night.
Classic Film Guide for How to be a Lady #29: Forget the coercion by sing-song. Glasses make a lady more interesting.
Few accessories add more dimension and intrigue to a lady’s appearance than spectacles. Barbara Stanwyck’s librarian in Forbidden (‘32) fails to see that falling for a married man leads to heartache. Stany’s pince-nez are the height of fashion in lady geekdom.
Miriam Hopkins sports a dark-rimmed pair to play the unassuming secretary in a long con with Herbert Marshall in Trouble in Paradise (‘32). Specs and a monochrome dress are sartorial subterfuge meant to distract Kay Francis from her jewels.
In 42nd Street (‘33), Ginger Rogers counteracts a bad reputation as ‘Anytime Annie’ by adopting a monocle, herringbone tweed and a posh accent. She can stare down the slut-shamers with the glare from one glass and a raised high brow.
Ruby Keeler may have ditched her glasses in Footlight Parade (‘33) in a foolish bid to get a fella’s attention, but her ‘before’ fashion sense remains an attractive template for those of us in the cultivation of a 1930s spinster aesthetic.
A hardworking busy body such as Rosalind Russell in The Women (‘39) needs as many eyes as she can muster, which in this case is a lucky number seven. Russell’s Sylvia Fowler exhibits so much style with a rakish hat, netting, specs and Schiaparelli-inspired whimsy that all bets are off in the ultimate ladies-who-lunch ensemble.
Joan Fontaine may have had the great fortune of having Cary Grant as her own personal hair and wardrobe guide in Suspicion (‘41) but the quiet dignity of a lady with glasses, a book and menswear on the train is indelible in the annals of fashion.
Ingrid Bergman’s spectacles in Spellbound (‘45) are the finishing touch to an empathic doctor. They also remind viewers of an era when Hitchcock preferred to explore the interior lives of women rather than have them butchered by deranged avian or ‘family romance’ antagonists.
Joan Crawford uses glasses to signal regret and missed opportunity in Humoresque (‘46). Crawford’s discontent at being relegated to ‘wife’ or ‘muse’ is underscored each time she puts on her glasses. No wonder she drinks too much. A woman who commands a room clearly needs something to do. Her glasses remind us.
Eve Arden’s Our Miss Brooks (‘52-‘56) is judging you. And nothing helps judgy-face have more impact than a pair of glasses.
Marilyn Monroe never looked as interesting than she does with a pair of cat eye specs in How to Marry a Millionaire (‘53). She almost resists the fashion redemption provided by the ‘destroy-sex-bomb-cliche’ frames.
Stellar Vintage #521: Marjorie Main in an up ‘do, gold ball earrings and a pin-tuck shoulder frock, 1937.
Joan Crawford’s diet tip: “Try going without lunch for two years, darling. And besides, it’s good for the hips.”
—From Our Blushing Brides (1930).
Classic Film Fashion #317: Ruth Gordon’s senior style for Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
As Minnie Castevet, Ruth Gordon demonstrates that the worst thing an older lady can do isn’t to worship Satan or try to steal a lady’s baby in a demonic ritual, but rather, to abandon style altogether. While Patsy Kelly’s Laura-Louise sticks with gormless polyester and looks like the help, Gordon’s Minnie knows that if you want to be formidable past a certain age, you have to exude style. Minnie sports a curated Pucci collection, fierce blue eye shadow, bold prints, inspired head wraps, costume jewels, a saffron hue beaded cardigan, feather boas and clutches that merit her being cast as the Queen of Fifth Avenue or Queen of Lucifer’s minions. Minnie’s chocolate mouse may deliver a chalky undertaste but who cares when she has so much style?
Classic Film Guide for How to be a Lady #28: Don’t move to a farm as poor Mary Duncan should have learnt in City Girl (1930).
A gal can grow forlorn living next to the El in a tiny flat with only a mechanical birdsong and a scrubby plant to mimic nature, but that doesn’t mean she should marry a stranger and agree to become a farmer’s wife. Turn a cloche hat back on progress, modernity and culture and land on the savage prairie, where grim toil haunts a lady to the grave. A bride’s reception in a joyless house with a single book, no art or beauty and a mother-in-law who is rendered crone at 40, Mary Duncan gets insulted, struck in the face and treated with less kindness than the plough horses. There’s no fashion, just burlap-looking denim and morose calico. No one appreciates T-bar straps, spit curls, scarves or hosiery. Nothing but servitude awaits, plus fending off a gang of rape-minded knuckle draggers.
What’s the gripe about a little noise, steel and concrete?
Classic Film Guide for How to be a Lady #27: Better to be alone than with a scoundrel, which Olivia de Havilland realises in The Heiress (1949).
When Olivia de Havilland’s Catherine Sloper says “Bolt the door, Mariah” in a steely tone forged by years of mistreatment, she essentially offers the 19th Century imprint of the contemporary feminist manifesto we know as “I don’t want no scrub.”
Happy 98th Birthday, Olivia de Havilland!
Classic Film Fashion #316: Joan Blondell proves resourceful with a limited wardrobe in Dames (1934).
Left high and dry in the sticks by some fella with only “a coat and a pair of step-ins” to her name, Blondell transforms a vulnerable position through bantam moxie. She cadges a bed for the night and ends up holding all the metaphorical cards when a guilt-ridden baldy leaves a payoff and business card intimating misdeeds in the Pullman car.
Blondell plays no grifter or untoward sort. Rather than cast as an extortionist, the audience sees that after taking funds to be suitably attired, she uses the dough for the greater good to put on a show. What’s a little blackmail when a lady needs a wardrobe and there’s a hot production to stage?
Movie Logic 101.
"If an advance call from the gate describing the automobile (sports car, sedan, or limousine) Crawford was riding in that day did not provide the clue to Mankiewicz, her outfit was a sure tip-off. ‘You’d have to watch the way she came in,’ Mankiewicz relates. ‘If Joan was wearing a pair of slacks, that meant you’d go over and slap her right on the ass and say "Hiya kid. You getting much?" In turn, she’d be as raucous as Billie Cassin from Texas at that moment, and you’d have an absolute ball. She could come back the next day wearing black sables and incredible sapphires, and, by Jesus, you’d better be on your feet and click your heels, kiss her hand, and talk with the best British accent you had, but never in any way indicate she was different in any respect from the way she was yesterday, because the following day she’d come in in a drindl or a pinafore and you’d be on the floor playing jacks with her. I loved it. You had to be an actor and be adaptive to what she was playing, though the moment she left my office, I went back to what I was before she came in.’
Crawford explained, ‘I was trying to find myself … I didn’t know what I was or who I was. He knew that. That’s why we got along together so well. He picked up my moods. At the time I didn’t realize it.’”
—Pictures Will Talk: The Life and Films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz by Kenneth L. Geist (1978).
Stellar Vintage #520: Clark Gable dons flat cap, zip jacket, chinos and suede boots to hit the open road.