The following is my humble contribution to the Fashion in Film Blogathon, graciously hosted by Angela over at the Hollywood Revue.
Everyone has their ideal decade in mind in regard to fashion. Mine is the 1940s – the decade where humans came the closest ever to perfection. Everything from Humphrey Bogart’s trench-coat to Esther Williams’ swimsuit was designed perfectly to compliment and enhance the person’s features and appearance. Let’s re-wind and head back to the years before WWII, in the late 1930s. Granted, fashion had been dictated by cinema long before the late 1930s. In fact, to really grasp cinema’s influence over fashion, one would have to travel back to the 1920s and early 1930s. Such names as the designer Adrian, or actresses such as Greta Garbo in Romance (1930) or Irenne Dunne in Cimarron (1931) led in certain aspects of fashion for that decade.
But for the sake of this article, let’s head to the late 1930s with such films as “The Women” (1939) that included a colorized 10 minute clip that showed off Adrian’s fashion designs. We’ll rewind and take a look at both men and women’s clothing during the late 1930s and 1940s, skipping the manners, hairstyles and makeup for now, although I’m certain that would make a very interesting article. Perhaps some other time!
Ladies, you’re up first!
Women’s fashion during this time period cannot be properly discussed without first knowing the different types of wear. Not only did the seasons play a role back then, as they do now, but also the different time of day, and different occasions. It would not be uncommon for a woman to change her outfit 3 -4 times a day, starting with a morning outfit, perhaps changing into a sports outfit, afternoon, and finally ending with an evening dress, not to mention going to bed. Classic film fans have probably noticed this more than once on their screen.
So what exactly were the designs? And how did cinema influence women’s fashion?
With the fashion trend going towards the ultimate feminine figure during the late 1930s, and into the 1940s, designers constantly enhanced and improved their latest developments. However, with the coming of WWII, supply of material sharply curtailed. But the American woman still looked her best. Because of the war in Europe, American fashion designers took the lead, replacing those of Paris. In contrast to that of the 30s, skirts were raised from the ankle-length to knee-length. Square, broad jackets were usually worn over a blouse or shirt. Paris came out with new designs and the “new look” in 1947, trying to take the lead in fashion design towards the end of the 1940s.
The then starlet Susan Hayward wearing a jacket over blouse, 1942.
However, the “suit” was the most popular day outfit during the war years, but faded in popularity after the war. Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca can be seen wearing a suit in many scenes, most notably in Rick’s flashback in Paris, and during the final scene of the film, where Ingrid is wearing the suit and an open-collared blouse.
Watching this style of dress on the screen is ever so common among classic film fans.
The dress was not as popular during the war years – the suit was worth several dresses in the everyday lives of thousands of women that worked in defense jobs. But dresses did not fade, and soon after the war, the dress became increasingly popular again. Cocktail dresses were called “smarter than a day dress but not as formal as a dinner or evening dress”.
Evening gowns were either full or tight, and usually came within 6 – 10 inches above the ground.
If you could afford it, you would probably wear a fur of some type with your evening gown. Otherwise, a nifty shawl would have to do.
Other accessories common to the 1940s included elbow-length gloves that accompanied the evening gown. During the day, smaller gloves would do just fine. Hats were popular with many day outfits, and shoes came in all shapes and forms.
Sports wear was commonly white, flared shorts, and squared shoulders. Or, a loose skirt.
Sorry I ran through all these different styles and designs rather briefly, skipping over many including women’s trench coats, trousers, swimsuits, negligee, hose, hat styles, shoe types, jewelry, and much more as well as neglecting some details. Wish I had forever to write this article
The flashy colors of the 1920s started to fade in the 1930s, bringing out more subdued tones during the 30s and onward. Stars like Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, and Gary Cooper popularized a new style of the “suit” that came out in the mid 1930s, enhancing the man’s overall appearance. But the war’s curtailing of material didn’t only effect the women. However, as the war came to an end, and more material became available, the suit’s shoulders broadened and trousers became fuller. Suits became the man’s day wear.
Formal attire consisted of a black tail coat. For an informal evening, you might consider a black or white dinner jacket with a bow tie. During the day, an informal might be a cutaway coat or a frock coat, followed by grey, striped trousers.
The most popular hat of the time was the Fedora, easily followed by the trench coat. The Homburg hat started to replace the top hat in informal wear, and the top hat was reserved for formals.
So what ever happened to those days? When men and women both had class and beauty – Well anyway, the next time you watch a classic film, be on the lookout for some of these designs, see how they vary and so forth. And again, I do wish I had more time to write this article. And a special thanks to Angela for hosting this blogathon!