Film Fashion Frenzy: Cinema Fashion Shops of the 1930s

This post is in conjunction with today’s Fashion in Film Blogathon behing hosted by the lovely Angela at The Hollywood Revue!

Carole Lombard, 1937,

Scene: Main Street, USA. 1937. Boy and girl at the local theatre watching the new Carole Lombard comedy Nothing Sacred. Lots of laughter, lots of coddling. The sight of Lombard in a voluminous yet slinky black dress catches both of their attentions. The Boy: “My god,” he thinks, “look at those [insert female euphemism of choice].”  The Girl:  My god,” she thinks, “look at that dress!”

She wants it.

She needs it.

She is instantly convinced that owning it will make her fella think her [euphemisms] are every bit as noteworthy as Lombard’s.

And Hollywood, that eager opportunist, was ready to oblige.

Enter, stage left, a start-up by New York entrepreneur Bernard Waldman called Cinema Shops– a nationwide chain of retail outlets dedicated to bringing big-screen fashion to small town shops.

From the book Movies and Mass Culture by John Belston:

“In 1930, Waldman played the role of fashion middle-man for all major studios except Warner Bros. (Warners, always a loner, established its own Studio Styles stores in 1934). By the mid-1930s Waldman’s system genrally operated as follows: sketches and/or photographs of styles to be worn by specific actresses in specific films were sent from the studios to the bureau. The staff first evaluated these styles and calculated new trends. They then contracted with manufacturers to have the
styles produced in time for the film’s release. They next secured advertising
photos and other materials that would be sent to retail shops.”

By the late 1930s, motion pictures were the most powerful influential means of communication the world had ever known. Itsexponential effects were, as of yet still incalculable, but its tremors deeply felt on an international scale.

An MGM short subject from 1940 entitled Hollywood: Style Center of the World does a succinct succint job of capturing this movement at its zenith. Before descending into an MGM parade of studio propaganda, it captures the very spirit of this fascinating—and never to be repeated—time in popular culture.

Sweet little Mary gets a telephone call from her beau in uniform, Joe. He’s in town and wants a night out. But …

Mary needs a dress. So she drags Papa into the city and they both pause in front of the town’s Cinema Shop.

From Movies and Mass Culture: “Waldman’s concern also established the best known chain of fashion shops, Cinema Fashions.  Macy’s contracted for the first of these shops in 1930 and remained a leader in the Hollywood fashion field. By 1934 tehre were 298 oficial Cinema Fashions shops (only one permitted in each city).”

Mary sees …

Mary remembers …

Mary buys it. (Or rather, Papa does.)

Driving home its point is a montage of middle America fields of grain, waving against the superimposed image of a smartly dressed young lady. Now a country girl, the narrator assures, is every bit as fashionable as her Big City sisters.

And who do they have to thank? Hollywood.

For Hollywood is a factory town just like any other– be it Detroit or Milwaukee. Only the skilled laboreres in this town happen to be writers, musicians, actors and …artists.

Like this one.

Dilligently working with conte crayon and tablet to furnish the natural wonders of his studios’ latest find.

Oh yeah. And his name just so happens to be Adrian:

The inumerable movie fan magazines of the day seized upon this trend and made monthly fashion editorials (featuring, of course, screen starlets) a mainstay fixture. As the MGM short concludes, we get glimpses of factories working overtime to reproduce the fashions created by the black ink and pastel color of Adrian… his canvas creations becoming celluloid dreams-come-true as seen below:

Waterloo Bridge, 1940

Again, from Movies and Mass Culture: “The sale of these fashions was tremendously aided by the release of photos to newspapers, major magazines and dozens of fan magazines. … In monthly issues of each of these magazine, millions of readers saw Bette Davis, Joan Crawford in a series of roles unique to this period: as mannequins modeling clothes, furs, hats and accessories that they would wear in forthcoming films…”

Photoplay magazine introduced “Hollywood Fashions,” was Photoplay magazines effort into the cinema fashion foray. Photoplay’s by then routine fashion sprea featured styles identical to those being distributed that month to Photoplay’s “Hollywood fashions” outlets nationwide. Advertised under banners such as “Now at Modest Prices: Styles of the Stars!”

A Cinema Fashions Shop

The Screen Book magazine shots below illustrate the cinema fashion frenzy, with Anne Sheridan and Priscilla Lane modelling their latest film frocks:

Ann Sheridan

Blog it for Baby: Day Three of the Jean Harlow Blogathon

Day Three of the Jean Harlow Blogathon!

"A square shooter if there ever was one." - Spencer Tracy. (Image colorized by Victor Mascaro.)


Day three of the Blogathon is here and Jean’s 100th is one day away!

Tomorrow the Pictorial will be celebrating in high style, along with countless fans around the world, to commemorate the life of this unforgettable legend. Things are kicking into high gear around here, and if I haven’t replied to any requests to participate: I WILL! So keep those posts coming!


Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel

Christina runs Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel which is a real labor of love, dedicated to a neglected Hollywood actress. She’s joined the Blogathon with “Harlow & Dvorak at 100: An Appreciation,” and compares the difference between two women’s careers:

At first glance it seems that Jean Harlow and Ann Dvorak were worlds apart. Harlow was the wise-cracking platinum blonde who was able to use overt sexuality as a comedic weapon. Dvorak was the brooding brunette whose high-wire intensity played out best in dramatic form. Harlow landed at M-G-M, a studio who carefully crafted an on screen persona that film fans loved and sent her skyrocketing to the top of the box-office. Dvorak was at Warner Bros., a studio focused more on making movies than movie stars and who let Ann languish in mostly supporting roles unworthy of her talent …

(read more)


Freewheelin’ Pilgrim

Mark at Freewheelin Pilgrim has penned a love letter to a screen goddess. “The Boy Who Loved the Bombshell” is a sweet, sentimental and honest account of just why this 21st Century young’un just can’t get enough of an early 20th Century actress:

Jean Harlow is my celebrity crush. Sounds a bit strange doesn’t it? I mean, I’m 20 years old and she’s been dead for nearly 74 years. But it’s true. Whenever my friends sit around discussing who is “the hottest actress”, I always say “Jean Harlow”. This, naturally, gets a chorus of “huh?”s and “who’s she?”s. I simply tell them to look her up

My love for “Baby Jean” (my nickname for her) began at the tender age of 16. I was in Big W (a department store like K-Mart) for their quarterly DVD sale. I had my eyes set on the “Warner Brothers Gangster” DVDs I’d seen in the catalogue and, thankfully, I managed to get all 6. So I went home and put The Public Enemy on…

(read more)


Evangeline Holland

Evangeline Holland joins the Blogathon today with “The Platinum Blonde Goes Red.” In it she tackles the topic of the highly risky decision by MGM to cast the most famous blonde in movies as a red-head….

Jean was under contract to Howard Hughes at the time and his publicity director, Lincoln Quarberg, ran with the new phrase by organizing 3,000 Platinum Blonde Clubs and offering $10,000 to anyone who could replicate the “secret” forumla used to keep Miss Harlow’s hair its celebrated shade. Quarberg planted stories in the popular movie magazines to feed the fictional origins of Jean’s hair, claiming her luminous white tresses were the result of an accident at the beauty parlor…

(read more)


Harlean’s Heyday

Quickly becoming a favorite around here, Harlean’s Heyday is back today with a second installment in a series discussing they style that made Harlow a fashion icon. “Harlow’s Casual Style” is a treat because it undresses the image to uncover the real girl beneath it all:

Jean’s casual looks are quite a departure from the dramatic, curve hugging bias-cut gowns that largely mark her formal and on-screen style. It is actually her everyday style that I personally find the most inspiring.

In her own home you’d most frequently find a make-up free Jean Harlow wearing a pair of shorts, a polo shirt and tennis shoes. She didn’t wear stockings, not even during the winter months. Jean was an athletic lady, who played golf and tennis, rode horses and enjoyed swimming. Her flair for sports is certainly evident in her casual style….

(read more)


Platinum Page

Lisa Burks, the grand dame of Harlow blogging is back today with a great plug for the new Jean Harlow exhibit at The Max Factor Museum in Hollywood, which finally opens tomorrow:

The new Jean Harlow Exhibit, guest curated by Darrell Rooney, opens this Thursday (Jean’s 100th Birthday) at The Hollywood Museum in the Historic Max Factor Building. Back in the day, long before it was even a make-up museum, Jean often visited this building to be treated by Mr. Factor himself when it was his salon.


Sinamatic Salve-Ation

A highly literary entry comes from Ariel at Sinamatic Salve-Ation and the Blogathon is very proud to present it to you readers.  “Jean Harlow and the Magnetic Fields Get Lost” takes its inspiration from a modern rock album and effectively paints Harlow’s portrait in what is a most beautiful piece:

This is my first blog for the Jean Harlow blogathon, which is being done to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday (March 3rd). In a way, I felt compelled to write for this because Harlean Harlow Carpenter née Jean Harlow was only 26 years old when she died. She deserves a little more recognition. We all know about Marilyn, but without the original Platinum Blonde, Ms. Monroe wouldn’t’ve had a high heel to stand on…

(read more)


Via Margutta 51

We’re so pleased to Via Margutta along for the Blogathon! Clara’s blog  is a thorough delight as is her entry for the Blogathon: “Red-Headed Woman Meets Twitter.”  You read that right, and you gotta see this—it’s just a real kick and the icing on the cake for a day of stellar Harlow blogging!

My favorite tweet so far in the Lil Andrews/Bill Legendre affair:

@Lil: OMG!

Read it here


Blog it for Baby: The Jean Harlow Blogathon Day 2

The Jean Harlow Blogathon Day Two!

Jean Harlow

Okay kids, day two of the Jean Harlow blogathon is here and I am thrilled to present another lineup of some simply terrific contributions! The photos presented are particularly beautiful and I am sure that every Harlow fan is going to have a ball pouring over them.

Here we go with today’s lineup!



Kevin at Clarosureaux is back again today with more of his lovely colorized images of Harlow, this time from her beloved 1932 pre-code Red Headed Woman. He also includes a few film reviews from the press that are a kick to read:

Lucius Beebe

New York Herald Tribune

All this viciousness, and a dose of gratuitous snideness to boot, is transferred to the screen version of Red-Headed Woman, which was presented to a generously admiring audience yesterday at the Capitol as a fast and at time hilarious satirical comedy… Whether the pleasure of the first audience of this picture was derived from appreciation of Miss Harlow’s satirical characterization of a feminine type, or from the belief that she is the hottest number since Helen of Troy started her career of firing topless towers, was difficult to determine. That it enjoyed the film vastly was patent.

(read more)


Harlean Heyday

Lovely Riika runs the Harlean Heyday blog, a site dedicated to vintage fashion, classic lifestyle and, of course, classic movies. She’s going to be posting a few Harlow pieces throughout the week and explains her fascination with Harlow’s fashion in the post “High Glam a la Harlow”:

This post is all about gorgeous gowns, flamboyant feathers, high glamour and high drama! “You have to have faith in your clothes, just as you have to have faith in yourself, to be successful in dressing,” Jean told Modern Screen magazine in 1933.

When one thinks of the Jean Harlow look, what comes to mind first is her iconic look in the George Cukor directed movie Dinner at Eight (1933). To this day it still largely defines the quintessential Harlow look. All of those long, sweeping, bias-cut white gowns created by MGM costume designer Adrian highlight her every curve and stunning silhouette. They are an essential element of the character of Kitty Packard. “Even Jean’s clothes show emotions. They live and breathe with her,” the designer said.

(read more)


Immortal Ephemera

Cliff Alperti at Immortal Ephemera is really hitting on all six cylinders for this Blogathon. Today in his Happy Hundredth to TCM Star of the Month: Jean Harlow he outlined  TCM’s outlined his plans for the festivities and unveiled a gorgeous vintage movie card gallery. Do yourself a favor and swing by to be visually dazzled:

Then there are the collectibles, and hopefully that’s where I come in! Below I’ve gathered over 60 images of the Jean Harlow vintage movie cards and collectibles I’ve seen come through here over the years. Enjoy the gallery, I’ll try to add to it as more items make their way through. It looks like I currently have a dozen of these beauties left, at least in my eBay Store. I wonder if they’ll last the month?

I’m also going to be taking a look at one of Harlow’s movies sometime this week–I actually haven’t decided which one yet, but I do have it narrowed down! In the meantime I have written about a couple of Harlow films in the past, The Beast of the City (1932) and more recently China Seas (1935), feel free to check those out.

Also, time permitting, I’m going to put my subscription to work with hopes of turning up some interesting Harlow items from her own time. Certainly there will be nothing new with a star so huge, but maybe I’ll come across something interesting and at least a little out of the ordinary. We’ll see…

(read more)


Jungle Red

Jungle Red has posted a fun little excerpt from a 1931 Photoplay interview with Jean Harlow. It’s a total kick to read the flowery fan magazine prose of yesteryear, such as:

“Yes, young men, your worst fears are turue! Miss Harlow (Jeanie to me) is calculated to knock you over with an eyelash at fifty paces. Both in circumference, diameter and altitude she is altogether eminently satisfavtory. Oh her right ankle (and  what an ankle it is, not to mention the left) she wars a silver anklet, or “shackle d’amour” as we French have it….”


Midnight Palace

Gary Sweeney at Midnight Palace has graced us with this gorgeous profile of the Baby. The Midnight Palace is generally regarded as one of the most thorough, handsomely researched classic film sites out there and his words about Jean reflect that same integrity that is the undercurrent of his work:

Jean Harlow was the face and personality of a generation. On-screen, she usually portrayed the kind of woman who could make a man fall to his knees. She had a devil may care attitude like the rebellious flappers who kicked a hole in the 1920s. Her platinum blond hair, infectious laugh, and blatant sex appeal made her a triple threat – a triple threat that left an irrefutable mark on Hollywood in the wake of her sudden death at the young age of 26…

(read more)


The Clark Gable Project

Michelle Morgan is the author behind Marilyn Monroe: Undisclosed and currently in the middle of a Clark Gable project entitled The Ties That Bind.  Given Harlow’s onscreen partnership with Gable, it was only natural that Michelle send The Blogathon this sweet little post about Harlow:

Jean was Gable’s co-star on many occasions and when she passed away Gable was too upset to even give a statement to the press. It has been said that his wife, Carole Lombard, told Clark that if she died, he was to make sure her funeral didn’t turn into the ‘spectacle’ that she felt Jean’s was. When Carole did pass several years later, her husband made sure that it was the quiet, respectful funeral she had wanted…

(read more)


The Platinum Page

Ever wonder what Jean would have looked like in the flesh? Harlow fan extraordinaire Lisa Burks over at the Platinum Page is back again today with “Jean Harlow in Living Color”. She writes:

Back in the day when The Platinum Page was just getting started the only photos I had to add to the site were in black and white, just like Jean’s films.  Who among us didn’t watch her on screen and wonder what she looked like in real life?

Early on I met the very talented artist and fellow Harlow fan Victor Mascaro who felt the same way, and had begun to colorize her images…

(read more)


Keep the links coming, everyone!

Join in the celebration and email The Pictorial!

Charade (1962)

"How do you shave in there?"

This film is a fine bottle of 1962 French romantic-comedy that has aged with the same charm and class as its lead characters. From the opening titles, you know you’ve got yourself a winner: directed by Stanley Donen, music by Henry Mancini, title cards by Bruce Binder, Audrey in Givenchy. A real 90-pointer.

Grant and Hepburn, just minutes into the film, are in top form. Hepburn, spunky, witty and wonderfully dressed in Givenchy couture, is a natural alongside the tongue-in-cheek, been-there-done-that, gray-haired Grant.

It’s sexy, stylish, smart, and in the words of one film critic, the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made.

The script itself is solid enough, but what absolutely sells the film is the Hepburn/Grant chemistry and a memorable roster of strong character actors. Most notably, a glib Walter Matthau and a remarkably young James Coburn as a wise-cracking Texan crook. “She bat them long lashes at you,” he  tells Grant, in laughing derision, “and you fell for it like an egg from a tall chicken.”

That, for the record, is flipping hilarious.

As is the film. Quick, black comedy is smartly woven seamlessly between the action, successfully toeing the line between farce and action/drama. The likeably smarmy Matthau fires out the one liners (“last time i sent out a tie, only the spot came back”) while Hepburn and Grant make marvelous sparring partners (“how do you shave in there,” she quips of his famous dimpled chin, while he answers each query about the roster of women in his life with the anecdote  “yes, but we’re divorced”).

We laugh, a lot, but are entirely invested into the plot at hand. An accomplishment owing much to Donen’s deployment of such Hitchcockian elements as Red Herrings (the Matthau and Grant characters) and Maguffins (an elusive $250,000.)

Bottom line: Charade is a deliciously versatile film, an exercise chemistry, comedy and contextual sex, which one can enjoy either over dry martinis with serious film friends or over hot-buttered popcorn with your pajama-clad gal pals.

Gotta Hand it to ya, Ann

Sexy “Oomph Girl” Ann Sheridan (sorry Ann–we know you hated that nickname, but darn it all if it doesn’t fit!) packed a walloping punch of ooh-la-la. Beautiful, ballsy and brainy, she was an electrical presence on screen that could rescue any picture from a case ho-hum doldrumery. (<–not a word. but ought to be.) TCM aired The Man Who Came to Dinner recently and, of course, her gold-digging diva is to die for.

But what really walks away with the picture is, sorry, this Orry-Kelly gown.

Ann and her Oomph

This is suggestive early 40s fashion at its haute, passing itself off as whimsical couture. Those are HANDS, after all, allllll up and down Sheridan’s front.

Adrian suggested the same sort of wink-wink-nudge-nudge  playfulness with Rosalind Russell in The Women:

photo from the blog Your New Best Friend ...

We see what you’re up to, Adrian…

Gotta Hand it to ya, Ann

Sexy “Oomph Girl” Ann Sheridan (sorry Ann–we know you hated that nickname, but darn it all if it doesn’t fit!) packed a walloping punch of ooh-la-la. Beautiful, ballsy and brainy, she was an electrical presence on screen that could rescue any picture from a case ho-hum doldrumery. (<–not a word. but ought to be.) TCM aired The Man Who Came to Dinner recently and, of course, her gold-digging diva is to die for.

But what really walks away with the picture is, sorry, this Orry-Kelly gown.

Ann and her Oomph

This is suggestive early 40s fashion at its haute, passing itself off as whimsical couture. Those are HANDS, after all, allllll up and down Sheridan’s front.

Adrian suggested the same sort of wink-wink-nudge-nudge  playfulness with Rosalind Russell in The Women:

photo from the blog Your New Best Friend ...

We see what you’re up to, Adrian…

Frankly My Dear, We * Do * Give a Damn

The LA Times reported this morning that some of the costumes worn by Vivien Leigh in the film Gone With the Wind, arguably amongst the most iconic creations in film history, have been fading away at a research library in Austin, Texas. The Harry Ransom Center has, however, just launched a public initiative to raise the $30,000 needed to properly restore and preserve Scarlett’s gowns, which are, at present, too fragile for public exhibition.

From the website: The Center would like to display the costumes in 2014 as part of a major exhibition celebrating the 75th anniversary of Gone With The Wind. The Center also wants to be able to loan the dresses to other museums around the world.

We are currently raising funds to restore the dresses, to purchase protective housing suitable for shipping them to other institutions, and to purchase custom-fitted mannequins that will allow them to be properly displayed.”

They include Scarlett’s famous “curtain dress,” her dangerously sexy birthday frock, her green dressing gown, wedding gown (hubby no. 1) and blue peignoir.

Click here to donate.

help preserve one of the most iconic costumes in film history.