verbal croquis

carnivale: fashion and film

Posted in events by verbalcroquis on March 5, 2006

This weeks Carnivale is hosted by Counterfeit Chic and her topic, just in time for the Oscars, is fashion and film. Her broad range of discussion topics lends itself to lighthearted fancies or heavyhanded verbosity. Me, given that I lived in L.A. for six years, and the thing I remember about Oscar season is the heavy traffic congestion (damn limos), and my current mental state (frazzled with too many projects, not enough time), I’ll opt for the easybreezycatty. Remind me to tell y’all the stories from when I used to live with my crazy rich aunt and we lived next door to Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith. Anyways.

I love Hollywood costume history; I studied a lot of it on my own, in college, and even worked as a research assistant for a Hollywood costume history text once. My favorite bits? Other than the scandalous dresses, are the little behind the scenes stories. Here’s a little sampling of my favorites:


Travis Banton was the designer for the Claudette Colbert’s version of Cleopatra. In true form, she rejected several sets of designs. With the final set of sketches, Mr. Banton basically told Claudette that if she didn’t like these, she might as well kill herself because these were the finals. Claudette then proceed to cut her finger, dribble some blood onto the sketches and send them back. She finally approved the next set.


Bette Davis has notoriously saggy boobs. They came down to her elbows. Designs were often constructed around this problem. The absolutely devastating dress from All About Eve was a series of happy errors.


Edith Head got her job working for Banton through plagiarism. She stole artwork from her fellow students and put together a portfolio. (She went to my school! ick.) In fact, she developed a career originally as a copyist–towards the end of his career, Banton was such an alcoholic, Head would draw sketches in Banton’s style to cover up for him. She won the Oscar for Sabrina and never bothered to credit Monsieur Givenchy, even though he created Audrey Hepburn’s look for that movie. She got the ultimate slap in the face, though, when Grace Kelly opted for Helen Rose to design her wedding gown intead of Head. She was licking her wounds over it for years.


Joan Crawford had linebacker shoulders. Forty inches on a 5’4″ frame! That’s why even though she’d already been working for years, she wasn’t popular until the broad shoulder look was in fashion in the 30s. Adrian’s famous dress for Joan’s role in Letty Lynton was all about masking those shoulders while emphasizing that look. That dress was copied all over world for deb balls and high school dances.


Norma Shearer got the biggest makeover and top billing in movies such as Marie Antoinette and Romeo and Juliet because her husband was Irving Thalberg, top producer at MGM during her box office reign. God bless nepotism.


This dress for Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark cost $35,000–the most expensive single costume ever made. $35,000, folks. For a single dress. In 1943. Yup, war era. Just think about inflation rates. I don’t think most couture even compares. (Sorry I couldn’t find a better picture.)


Betty Davis’ dress in Jezebel is supposed to be red. Except it was black and white picture. So how do you do “red” in black and white? Several test shots later, it was agreed that rusty brown looked the most “red” on a black and white screen. I would love to take a class with one of the old b&w film masters on other tricks they used.


4 Responses to 'carnivale: fashion and film'

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  1. Danielle said,

    That was great! =D Some of those I’ve never heard before… way to go obscure costume history anecdotes!

  2. Madonna mia! When Verbal Croquis decides to teach the course in Hollywood Costume History, La Retrosessuale will be the first to sign up!

  3. thanks, ladies! maybe the hollywood costume history thing should a regular posting. i have so many anecdotes…

  4. Yvonne said,

    Scandalous, I love it! As I love Hollywood costume history., which I have studied on my own. Please do share more.

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