I’m a big fan of 1930s film. The more obscure, the more fashion-centered, the more I love it!
Here’s just a short list of a few films from the 1930s I have seen that have fashion show sequences. Unfortunately a lot of these are lost to time, so finding photos is a bit of a challenge. Take my word for it and try to hunt down some copies- some are not the best quality, but if you’re a fashion hound it’s great to see Hollywood’s take on high fashion in the 1930s.
Fashions of 1934
As with a lot of 30s films, Fashions of 1934 is mostly fluff with a bit of a plot line about high fashion knock offs thrown in, but it’s a great chance to see a young Bette Davis paired with William Powell, with Busbey Berkeley musical numbers. Gowns by Orry-Kelly are to die for and makeup by Perc Westmore. I had been dying to see this film for years and finally found a copy for sale at Scooter’s Movies. It’s fab!
I make no secret of my love of Fred and Ginger films. So, they all have a somewhat similar plot line- the costumes are always AMAZING and I would kill for Ginger’s wardrobe in nearly any of the films. Luckily some generous soul has uploaded the Roberta fashion show sequence onto YouTube so you can see how wonderful the costumes in this film really are! Don’t forget to keep an eye out for a young (and platinum blonde) Lucille Ball. The gowns in this film were by Bernard Newman, who did a lot of Ginger’s gowns in other Fred and Ginger films.
Vogues of 1938 (1937)
Vogues of 1938 is fluffy little film about an heiress who is all set to marry a man she hates- and all the chaos that ensues. She signs up as a model for the House of Curson much to the dismay of her elite fiance, and has quite a funny little fashion show sequence at the film climax. Great fun! Joan Bennett is in the leading role in this film, with gowns by Helen Taylor and makeup by Max Factor. I bought my copy on Amazon, but I think it might be elsewhere around the web as well. This is one I wish someone would remaster as my copy is a bit fuzzy.
Artists and Models Abroad (1938)
A theatrical troupe stranded in Paris in 1930s western clothes with hokey musical numbers and fashion thrown in? Rich society girl tries to pass as a starving artist to join the troupe? 1938 Paris Exposition? Yes, please. Artists and Models Abroad is such a fun and fluffy little movie of little substance but great clothing. In this one we’ve got Jack Benny and Joan Bennett, and a whole slew of real life Couturiers represented including Alix, Jeanne Lanvin, Lucien Lelong, Paquin, Patou, Maggy Rouff, Schiaparelli, and Worth. Film costumes by Edith Head. It’s enough to make you dream of jumping into the film just to play dress up. It’s hard to find a copy but I finally tracked one down through Ebay (but it’s now on Amazon and cheaper there), and even though it does need restoring (someone? please?) it’s still quite a treat. Apparently there was a prequel called Artists and Models but I’ve been unable to track down a copy yet.
The Women (1939)
It’s hard to imagine a time before I knew The Women. It seems that every gal who finds out about it thinks she has discovered gold and immediately wants an entire Adrian wardrobe. Well, it’s true- it’s that good and you’ll find yourself not only loving the witty dialog, but laughing at the underhanded humorous way they picture various “types” of women- not to mention drooling over the amazing hats. The fashion in this from beginning to end is fabulous- including the fun technicolor fashion sequence in the middle of the film, and we get a bit of a view of Hollywood’s approach to surrealist fashion as done by Adrian (while in high fashion Schiaparelli was the leader of this art-meets-fashion movement). You can buy this DVD on Amazon, and I know Netflix should have a copy- though I know once you see it you’ll want to just own it. For more on the surrealist fashion trend try to track down some Harpers Bazaar magazines from 1938-1939- libraries in older large cities or universities often times have them in the reference section and you can look through them to your heart’s content. If you want to see more fashion from The Women, Casey has an excellent blog post with stills. The fashion show sequence used to be on YouTube but it seems to be disabled.
There are still lots of movies I’d love to track down and see that have fashion show sequences in them- including On Your Back, Our Blushing Bride, Street of Women, Employees Entrance, The Bride Walks Out, Colleen, The Golden Arrow, Stolen Holiday, Artists and Models, and Mannequin.
If you want to read more about 1930s fashion in film and it’s impact on society I very highly recommend the book Screen Style: Fashion and Feminity in 1930s Hollywood. It’s mostly text and choc full of information. My wish-list of films are what are referred to in the book!
After seeing some of these films you’ll see why the fashion show sequence in Singing in the Rain is such a riot!
Do you have favorite films for 1930s fashion, or movies from the 1930s about the fashion industry? If so please share!