Monday, July 28, 2008

Movie Costumes of the 1930's and early 1940's

When movies added sound, the medium took off. What followed was a few decades of prolific output of all types of film. This put a huge burden on the costume and wardrobe shop, which cranked out countless styles for the next few decades. Out of this wealth, there are some memorable standouts. It tends to happen when designer, star and script are well-matched.

The first photo is a Gilbert Adrian design for Katherine Hepburn in "Philadelphia Story" (1940). Adrian achieved notice through his strong creative genius. He was able to generate originality apart from the Paris scene, an achievement that was important in establishing Hollywood glamour.

This striped top is memorable for its amazing patternmaking technique where the stripe and seamlines create a novel approach to a very simple silhouette. I have found that every patternmaker I know can remember the first time she/he saw this costume. Then of course, there is Clark Gable's costume, or lack of, to consider.

"Bringing Up Baby" (Howard Greer gowns, 1938), put Katherine Hepburn into more remarkable gowns that support her airy character.

"The Women" (Gilbert Adrian, 1938), is a huge reminder of how a costume designer can affect and reflect their time. Rosalind Russell's costumes are hilarious, yet they do depict a style trend of that day. Joan Crawford, by now an Adrian devotee, wears the sliky bias cuts that helped to make her famous. But don't miss the fashion show that is part of the plot, where surrealism takes a fashion turn on stage (in a nod to Schiaparelli).

There are many more important movies to absorb in the pre-WWII era. Not to be missed are the musicals, where Rogers and Astaire sport fabulous costumes and wonderful settings. The list below is only the tip of the iceberg. I selected easy to locate, well known movies with important gowns or costumes. I am sure that you can add to this listing, as it is short, but sweet:

It Happened One Night—1934:
Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable
Costume design: Robert Kalloch
The big fashion item here is her striped top. Try to solve how it is cut.

My Man Godfrey—1936:
Carole Lombard, William Powell
Bias cut….

Gold Diggers of 1933:
Orry-Kelly costumes
Stage and fashion costumes

Bringing Up Baby—1938:
Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant
Howard Greer costumes
Hepburn wears some nifty bias cut dresses

The Thin Man—1934:
Myrna Loy, William Powell
Dolly Tree, wardrobe
This is the beginning of a multiple movie series. Myrna Loy’s dresses are always a treat. Her character is a foil for the drama, and the costumes are dramatic and often witty.

Philadelphia Story—1940:
Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant
Glibert Adrian, costumes
The gowns reflect Greek drapery influences, with lots of bias cut crepe.
Don’t overlook Hepburn’s crazy hat she wears into town.

The Women—1938:
Glibert Adrian, costumes
Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell
This has so much fashion, it’s hard to take in one viewing.
Lots of bias cut and ‘gay nineties’ influences. Don’t miss Roz Russell’s witty bustles and hats.

Dinner at Eight—1933:
Jean Harlow
Gilbert Adrian, gowns
Bias cut

Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire
Howard Greer, gowns
Bias cut dance gowns and other fashion items for Ginger

Shall We Dance—1937:
Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire
Irene Gibbons, gowns
Ginger wears a variety of fashion outfits and dance gowns

Flying Down to Rio—1933:
Dolores Del Rio, Fred Astaire
Irene Gibbons, gowns (uncredited)
This has some ‘casual’ looks, and nightclub scenes in it.

His Girl Friday—1940:
Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant
Robert Kalloch, gowns
Suits, this is an early display of the suits that women will wear through the 40’s.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Selecting Fabric for Vintage Patterns

It can be a real chore to make the leap from a vintage pattern to fabric selection. This is especially difficult when your fabric resources are limited. Each era has several silhouettes and fabric type that dominate its range of style. If you can identify what type of fabric will be best for your vintage style, that can help you get started.

This 1940's ensemble consists of a little jacket, skirt and faux blouse (it's a dickey). This could mean as little as one fabric, or as many as three are possible when using this pattern. If a print is considered, then the remaining textiles will probably be solids.

Determining the hand or drape of fabric is the next step in finding the best textile for a vintage pattern. It is apparent that the outfits shown here have a soft drape that flows over the figure. Even though the skirt has pleats, the final result is soft and fluid. If a genuine period garment can be found, the fabric used for it may give a clue as to what will work best. In this case, rayon and acetate crepes, broadcloths, and other smooth fabrics can be seen in dresses from this era. Aviod crisp cottons and other textiles that resist draping. There is nothing quite like using actual fabrics from the original time period. For this project, a drapey rayon or acetate would be desired. Also note the type of print common during that time: quaint and detailed, or bold and dashing (this is the era when Hawaiian florals began).


Finding the right fabric to create your pattern will move the project along. The two examples shown here are original and will drape on the fashion garment. Both date from the period, so the finished outfit will appear to be genuine vintage. Either print would be paired with a solid. A contemporary textile might be found in a rayon blend. If 1940's fabrics are not available, look to the next era with rayon (the 1980's) when many prints copied earlier designs from the 1930's and 40's.
(Vintage pattern and textiles are available at our BabylonMall shop)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

1960's with Renaissance Inspiration


You have to see these sleeves, they are great. This dress has Renaissance inspired sleeves with a soft puff and pleated ruffle. Who makes anything like this anymore? The whole look is topped off so romatically with a wide ruffled portrait collar. The textile is red/pink and green Pucci-style floral geometry. Red and green are visual opposites on the color wheel, which makes them a vibrant, hot combination. This is a lesson we have had to re-learn about color as we pulled ourselves out of the "let's all wear black" 1990's.

So, if you are feeling colorful, adorable, cute and whitty, this is a dress (or top) for you. It's up for sale now on our shop, or come see it in the store on the rack.


(test the icon on the right side here, it should take you there)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Halter Tops for Summer


Let's face it, we probably have a good 2 months left of summer weather. You still have time to make up some cute summer tops, and THEN you can cruise the town!

What's more classic than a halter top when the weather is hot, and this one is so cute. It's made from a single piece for each bra top, and a midriff panel that is shaped in front to create a slender look.

This style works best if it's lined with something crisp and cool, like cotton broadcloth. That also makes the edges neater than trying to turn and stitch all the way around every edge. The pattern here gives some idea how the bra top is cut: with an open dart at the bottom that has been converted into gathers under the bustline (pattern piece G).


This pattern is part of a great group of summer styles: tops and pants with that 70's style. We love those wide leg pants too. It's all so "1930's beach pajama" in style, something Katherine Hepburn would wear so well. Or sew it up in black satin and Joan Crawford comes to mind!