A few of my favorites…
New York designer Catherine Scott achieves a charming effect in a tri-color costume of Forstmann’s sheer Sandretta. Its big-sleeved, short-cropped spencer is vivid red to top a softly box-pleated navy skirt and shows off a white silk shirt.
Somali leopard collars a chamois colored coat of luxurious fleece from the house of Brittany. Giant pearl buttons line up in a double-breasted row here, while slanted pockets accent the coat’s fluid, tapered silhouette.
The only thing better than black velvet is vintage black velvet!
To be as stunning as Norma Shearer, check out these current auctions on eBay:
This incredible vintage black velvet two-piece walking suit from the 20’s or 30’s is loaded with so many great features I may just pass out! (Click the link or the photos below to see all the glamorous details!)
This vintage black velvet bias cut evening gown may seem austere at first glance, but notice the body-hugging silhouette and rich details which make it anything but puritanical — and then there’s the plunging back with T-Strap, loaded with silver and white beading and red rhinestones in a dramatic Art Deco design. Talk about leaving a lasting impression!
Christian Dior created the pencil skirt in the early 1950’s, as part of his H-Line collection.
The narrow and long (past the knee, originally) design of pencil skirts was reminiscent of the long skirts worn in the 1900s — right down to the similar hobbling effects of the 1910’s hobble skirts.
Note where the hobble skirt narrows around the knees, much like the narrowness of pencil skirts. This is why, even when pencil skirts have a slit or pleat in the back, pencil skirts still require some practice to walk in, some experience in elegant wearing.
The earliest pencil skirts were parts of suits, worn with jackets and tunics which covered the waist; this somewhat tended to minimize the hips while lengthening the legs.
But eventually, pencils skirts were worn with more fitted fashions, further accentuating the rounding of hips and behinds beneath nipped-in waists. (And would eventually evolve into the more flower-like full skirted fashions, and, on the other side, the wiggle dress, which we think of when we think of New Look fashions.)
In any case, wearing pencil skirts was far less practical in terms of ease of movement. This impracticality had, in fact, much to do with the success of the new skirts.
The lack of ease in movement may not have been part of Dior’s “Big Design” but his designs, and the many others who followed suit, certainly were able to capitalize by simultaneously a-dressing several post WWII cultural movements.
Pencil skirts were not only a new fashion silhouette — which women, tired of the more functional (and repaired, recycled) wartime clothing would of course be nearly giddy to have — but these skirts were also a more traditional and feminine style. Eager to be beautiful again, women loved them.
And men loved these skirts which highlighted and celebrated the female form too.
No one can blame either men or women for celebrating their reunions, the return of couples and families, but the physical restrictions of pencil skirts encouraged the hobbling of women.
Such fashions, with their physical restrictions, helped move women away from their wartime work (making room for the returning men) and placed women upon their pedestals as domestic goddesses, objects of desire and housewives. Female.
Feeding this return to gender roles via fashion were the recently available mass production advances made during the second World War and the post-war prosperity; ready-to-wear was affordable and most everyone had the the ability to afford the luxuries of lots of new clothing. The vintage popularity of pencil skirts remains with us today, making the pencil skirt more than a fashion classic, but a fashion basic.
You know how sometimes when you buy a vintage suit jacket, the sleeves are just a bit too short? And then there’s no neat way to lengthen them either, because there’s a line of color demarcation or wear at the edge or something that prevents you from getting that wee bit extra length you need, right? Well, if the shoulders, etc. fit fine, why not consider shortening the sleeves, 1/2, 3/4 etc., and then put a blouse with some fabulous sleeves of its own beneath it — everyone will believe that’s how it’s supposed to look!
Via Shop It To Me’s Sale Mail I found this super classic white broadcloth shirt with fluted sleeves on sale for just $59.99 at Ralph Lauren and I just knew I had to get a few for just such “ill suited” moments.
For all the things which ail us in Vergito, there’s one thing I and my fellow film-fashion-istas agree upon and that is being haunted by the lovely Kim Novak.
While none of us would be as creepy as Jimmy Stewart and force another woman to look just like Novak, we do all admit there would be nothing wrong with emulating Kim’s iconic look in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
Perhaps the look that most accentuates Novak’s fair and classic beauty in a most decidedly nostalgic and dreamy way is that grey suit — yes, that grey suit that Stewart menacingly stalks and deplorably directs his new girl into wearing.
The little grey suit has it’s own story which explains why the ensemble was so suit-ed to Novak’s role as Madeleine Elster. Director Alfred Hitchcock wanted to give Madeleine’s clothing — and therefore herself — an eerie appearance. So costume designer Edith Head selected the grey suit, saying it would be “odd” for a blonde woman to be wearing all grey, as it can tend to wash a fair woman’s complexion. This, along with some other details, would have the desired, “eerie” and haunting effects.
In order for that suit, or any similarly styled grey suit in a curve-accentuating classic vintage style to really work on Novak in such a way, Novak had to be a blonde. But not just any blonde. Neither a brassy yellow or a bright and bold platinum would work; Novak’s hair would have to be a lovely ashy-blonde.
And Kim — as the sough-after lost-lover, Madeleine — has demure lady-like makeup in neutral ashy tones of taupe, grey and light peach lips. This prevailing ash-tone-wash of color is continued in Madeleine’s ensemble — her gloves, for example, are taupe, not, as her pumps are, a contrasting black.
Overall, this use of tonal-wash is much like today’s use of pastels in set & costuming to create the feel of a black and white film. The more subtle colors lend themselves to a washed-out “living in the shades and shadows of grey” look which mimics classic black and white film (save, perhaps, for the film noir style) and when applied to just one character, makes them pale by comparison in ways which draw attention and make them seem less real at the same time.
Why then would Madeleine’s shoes be black? More “eerie” and off-putting by design. Not only would black pumps seem fashion-backward in the 1950’s world of matching accessories (and therefore more “odd”), but Hitchcock had other reasons which likely mirrored, in an odd way, Novak’s personal fashion thoughts on shoes (Novak believed your shoes should “match your head,” as you’ll soon see). It is my opinion, that the black shoes are the one thing that anchor Novak in those scenes as Madeleine; they are the one thing that tether her eerie and ethereal beauty to the world — Jimmy Stewart’s world and the viewer’s.
When playing Judy, however, not all of Madeleine’s fashion and makeup tricks were used. For example, the same neutral ashen cosmetic tones may be applied when Novak’s alter-ego (or true self, Judy Barton) is forced to have a make-over — but note that Judy’s eyebrows are fuller and darker, the eye make-up still more defined, that the soft blurred and blended regal yet ethereal beauty of phantom Madeleine.
If you are film fashion obsessed like I am, you might enjoy this interview Kim Novak did with Stephen Rebello for The MacGuffin (2004), in which Kim discussed her Vertigo wardrobe:
SR: Costume designer Edith Head was quoted as saying that you arrived on the set with all sorts of preconceived notions about what you would and wouldn’t wear.
KN: I was always opinionated. Once we were making Vertigo, Hitchcock never questioned anything about what I was doing character-wise. Before shooting started, he sent me over to Edith Head, who showed me a set of drawings. When I saw them, the very first thing I said was, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t wear black shoes.’ When she said, ‘Alfred Hitchcock wants you to wear these shoes,’ I said, ‘I’m sure he doesn’t mind.’ I didn’t think it would matter to him what kind of shoes I wore. I had never had a director who was particular about the costumes, the way they were designed, the specific colors. The two things he wanted the most were those shoes and that gray suit. When Edith Head showed me that gray suit, I said, “Oh, my god, that looks like it would be very hard to act in. It’s very confining.’ Then, when we had the first fitting of the dress, it was even worse and I said, ‘This is so restrictive.’ She said, ‘Well, maybe you’d better talk to Alfred Hitchcock about this.’
SR: How did that conversation go?
KN: I went in and he said, ‘I understand you don’t like these black shoes.’ He asked me why and I said, ‘I tell you, black shoes always sort of make me feel I’m pulled down. I’ve always felt that your feet should be the same as the top of your head, so that you’re connected. Wearing the black shoes would make me feel as if I were disconnected.’ He heard me out. And then he said, ‘Fine. When you play the role of Judy, you will not have to wear black shoes. When you are playing Madeleine, you will wear them.’ When he put it like that — after all, he’s the director – I said, ‘OK.’
SR: How did being opinionated lead to any other disagreements between you and Hitchcock?
KN: I really wanted the chance to express myself and he allowed me that chance. It felt OK because he had heard me out. He felt my reasons weren’t good enough, they weren’t right. I just wanted to be heard as far as what I felt. So, I thought, ‘I’ll live with the grey suit.’ I also thought, ‘I’m going to use this. I can make this work for me. Because it bothers me, I’ll use it and it can help me feel like I’m having to be Madeleine, that I’m being forced to be her. I’ll have it as my energy to play against.’ It worked. That suit and those shoes were a blessing. I was constantly reminded that I was not being myself, which made it right for Madeleine. When I went out of Alfred Hitchcock’s office, I remember his wonderful smile when he said, ‘I’m so glad we had this talk.’ I think he saw that this was going to be good. He didn’t say to me, ‘Now use that,’ he allowed me to arrive at that myself.
SR: Was it your idea not to wear a bra when you played Judy.
KN: That’s right, when I played Judy, I never wore a bra. It killed me having to wear a bra as Madeleine but you had to because they had built the suit so that you had to stand very erect or you suddenly were not ‘in position.’ They made that suit very stiff. You constantly had to hold your shoulders back and stand erect. But, oh that was so perfect. That suit helped me find the tools for playing the role. It was wonderful for Judy because then I got to be without a bra and felt so good again. I just felt natural. I had on my own beige shoes and that felt good. Hitchcock said, ‘Does that feel better?’ I said, ‘Oh, yes, thank you so much.’ But then, I had to play ‘Madeleine’ again when Judy had to be made over again by Scottie into what she didn’t want to be. I could use that, again, totally for me, not just being made over into Madeleine but into Madeleine who wore that ghastly gray suit. The clothes alone were so perfect, they were everything I could want as an actress.
SR: The short haircut you usually wore in your films was copied by women all around the world. Why did Hitchcock make you wear wigs in Vertigo?
KN: That’s right, my hair was short at that time in my career and Hitchcock wanted that perfect pulled-back hair. I already hated that gray suit and then having to go through putting on that wig with a false front — again made me feel so trapped inside this person who was desperately wanting to break out of it but she was so caught up in the web of deception that she couldn’t. The fear of not being loved if she didn’t have on these clothes or wore her hair in a certain way — oh, god, she had nothing left but to kill herself in the bell tower.
This 50s wool serge suit by Emery Bird Thayer (Bass, New York) appears to be as straight-forward as those pieced stripes… But look closer and you’ll see all the details which add up to such fantastic style: an Italian-style collar, bold but balanced buttons, a feminine but understated peplum, small shoulder pads, over a slim, dart-fitted, knee-length skirt.
And it completely seams seems like something Barbara Stanwyck would wear…
“Foiled again” has a whole new meaning with this stunning vintage silver suit — make that two meanings… If you’ve ever been lucky enough to be wrapped in silver silk satin jacquard, you’ll want to be foiled that way again! But if you don’t buy it when you see it, you’ll be foiled in that bad way. Tsk tsk!
When most people think of the fashions women wore in film noir, they think of the sultry, clingy, glamour girl gowns worn by torch singers. They are stunning — but me? I always think of the fabulous female forms in those fabulous fitted suits.
Maybe someone has done an accounting to see which sort of fashions appeared most often in film noir features… I don’t have any idea, myself.
But even if the glamour girl gowns out-number the fitted suits, the suits are more far more iconic to me.
The suits conveyed a sense of power on the part of the women — even if in their situations they were doomed and therefore powerless by definition.
And when they performed the simple act of removing their suit jacket, oh the sexual tension!
Every film noir script or pulp detective novel I ever wrote (yup, I’ve got folders full of ’em!), always featured a woman as powerful & wise as she was beautiful & jaded — and she always walked in wearing a fitted suit above those clicking high heeled shoes. And so, here’s a salute to the film noir femme fatale fitted suit!
1940’s fitted black suit by B. Altman & Co. Fifth Avenue New York:
A stunning vintage Adele Simpson suit with Ermin collar:
A vintage rayon suit in a rainy grey color and deco detailing:
And this 1940’s women’s black suit jacket — with blue glass beading:
“American designer” fashions, running a gamut from a revealing bathing suit (l.) to a cover-up toga-ensemble (below), will be flown to Australia by Neiman-Marcus, Dallas specialty store, and modeled for the “Aussies” by typical American beauties.
Left photo caption reads, “$160 worth of swimsuit, by Cole of California, in fuchsia sequins.” Can you even imagine the decadence of a 160 dollar swimsuit in 1950’s dollars?! With inflation, what is that… like $1000 today? (Makes the prices on buying vintage bathing suits seem like a pittance!) And certainly sequin-covered swimsuits were as practical as they are today too. *wink*
Cole of California was founded in 1923 by Fred Cole, a former actor at Universal Studios. Cole’s attitude toward swimwear design was not typical for the time; while most companies of the 1920s and 1930s concentrated on designing functional swimwear, Cole was interested in making it fashionable & gamorous.
A brief timeline for the ultra glam Cole of California swimwear company:
1936: Began collaborating with Hollywood costume designer Margit Fellegi.
1950: Signed Esther Williams to a merchandising-design contract; her designs & promotions made Cole of California the most popular and glamorous swim & bathing suits of the time.
1955: Began producing swimwear for Christian Dior.
1960’s: The company was purchased by Kayser-Roth, then sold to Wickes Company; Cole of California remains a recognizable name in swimsuits.
1982: Launched Anne Cole Collection; Anne Cole is the daughter of founder Fred.
1983: Licensing agreement with Adrienne Vittadini, until 1993
1989: Cole of California purchased by Taren Holdings,
1990: Juice junior line debuted.
1993: Cole of California acquired by Authentic Fitness Corp. and combined with Catalina to form Catalina Cole.
1997: Anne Cole introduced the “tankini.”
For more images & info on vintage Cole of California bathing suits, see Glamoursplash; visit here for more on Esther Williams & Cole of California.
The other photo caption reads, “Bonnie Cashin’s ‘on-the-go’ ensemble: suit dress, checked toga.” I find it interesting that the checkered wrap would be called a toga, as it does not look like it could drape and cover the whole body (or even the lower half); it appears designed to ensure visibility of the body — or at least other fashions, like the suit. But it’s interesting to note, especially if you’re searching online and need another keyword to try. *wink*
Cashin apparently made “toga” style fashions as early as 1947 in including toga or cape fashions for Neiman-Marcus into the 1970’s… But I’m no Cashin expert; for more on Bonnie Cashin, visit the Bonnie Cashin Foundation.