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This exploration of fashion in American silent film offers fresh perspectives on the era preceding the studio system, and the evolution of Hollywood's distinctive brand of glamour. By the 1910s, the moving image was an integral part of everyday life and communicated fascinating, but as yet un-investigated, ideas and ideals about fashionable dress.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

1. Introduction

Abstract
In 1914, a young Gloria Swanson dressed up in her most fashionable ensemble to visit Essanay studios in Chicago. In her autobiography, Swanson recalled it was “one of the new Staten Island outfits [she] was dying to wear. It was a black-and-white checkered skirt with a slit in the front from an Irene Castle pattern and a black cutaway jacket with a green waistcoat. I wore a perky little Knox felt hat with it.”1 Her memory of this day was probably sparked by the photograph of the graphic ensemble that is tipped into one of the innumerable scrapbooks documenting her career (Figure 1.1). Swanson wrote in cursive above the picture: “Simple Sixteen and oh so chic.” Although she did not go to the studios to look for work, the casting director asked her to return the next day to play a role in a moving picture. Swanson told her aunt that she was certain her suit’s provenance – modeled after the clothing of famed dancer and fashion icon Irene Castle – was the real reason for his interest. The next day the casting director telephoned and requested that she wear the same outfit, proving her right.2
Michelle Tolini Finamore

2. The Working Girl and the Fashionable Libertine: Fashion and Film in the Progressive Era

Abstract
The 1913 film Fashion’s Toy (Lubin) follows the travails of a young country girl named Nora Burton. Nora’s chaste beauty attracts a socialite named Mrs. Morison, who takes her back to the city to transform her from a country bumpkin into a fashionable urbanite. The experiment progresses well, until Mrs. Morison’s beau shows romantic interest in the newly stylish Nora, prompting Mrs. Morison to throw the girl out of her home. Nora’s country beau comes to her rescue and she soon sees the error of her ways, proving that she is, in the words of the contemporary movie reviewer, an honorable girl rather than a “fashionable libertine.” The “Cinderella” story is a common one in the Progressive era because it allowed for a contrast between the lives of the wealthy with those of the working classes. The double appeal is obvious: viewers from a lower socio-economic background could relate to the storyline, yet also lose themselves in an escapist world of wealth and extravagance. As evidenced by the title, the most important aspect of the plot, however, was the moral message.1
Michelle Tolini Finamore

3. World War I and “American” Design in Fashion and Film

Abstract
World War I had a dramatic impact on the fashion and film industries in the United States and many of the resulting changes had long-lasting effects on the development of Hollywood’s wardrobe departments. The satirical presentation of French designs in American film from its earliest days related to large and complex cultural issues, including nationalism and economic competition. After the outbreak of World War I in Europe in 1914, the quest for “American-ness” in both film and fashion intensified, eventually affecting film content, as the United States sought not only to capture European film markets and establish the country as the center of the industry, but also to challenge France as the center of the fashion industry.1 US popular culture media’s resulting association of French cinema, “Frenchness,” France, and fashion with immorality, pretension, and bad taste was established in opposition to an increasing focus on American design, which was presented as less commercial, more practical, and, most importantly, informed by “authentic” American values. The “American” values that were being reinvented during this period affected not only what was produced in the film and fashion industries, but also how fashion was presented on the screen. The US film industry benefited greatly from the disruption to the European film industries during the war, continuing its expansion in Europe and increasing its growth in markets outside of that continent.2 Contemporaneously, as the film industry continued its move to the West Coast of America, the foundations were being laid for an expanded industry, based on a more sophisticated, corporate studio system.
Michelle Tolini Finamore

4. “Goddesses from the Machine”: The Fashion Show on Film

Abstract
In 1913, the first time a New York Times journalist saw a filmed fashion show of couturier Paul Poiret’s work, he described the models drifting across the screen as “goddesses from the machine.”1 The film magically brought the viewer into the garden of Poiret’s Paris couture house, where his models moved about in a dream-like way, showing off gorgeous, beautifully crafted garments that were, perhaps most astonishingly, in color. The phrase “goddesses from the machine” captures the sense of wonder that was still very much part of the filmgoing experience in the early 1910s. The models were “goddesses” not only because they represent the aesthetic and sartorial ideal of their day, but also because they appeared to be emerging from a netherworld, a beautiful unreality that was not part of the viewer’s everyday life. On still another level, the writer alludes to the contrast between the cold machine and the warm bodies of the “goddesses” – bodies that appear so real yet remain cloaked in an aura of mystery. This conjures up a vision of the models literally marching out of the projector and the phrase also reflected the contemporary fascination with film technology.
Michelle Tolini Finamore

5. Costumes and Gowns: The Rise of the Specialist Film Costume Designer

Abstract
The 1918 film You Can’t Believe Everything (Triangle Film Corp., dir. Jack Conway) included an elaborate dinner sequence in which the guests, dressed in bathing suits, participated in a “Neptune party” aboard a floating barge. For the scene, Triangle’s costume designer Peggy Hamilton created special bathing suits that also functioned as eveningwear. According to the promotional copy, instead of the usual wool, these bathing suits were made of silks and satins “trimmed in various ornamental effects.” The bathing suit that Hamilton created for Gloria Swanson was titled “Aviation” and made of gray and military green satin, and its unusual design was featured in much of the press about the film (Figure 5.1).1 By 1918, garments such as Swanson’s bathing/dinner ensemble, which followed contemporary fashion trends but were most emphatically fantasy “costumes” created by in-house specialist designers, were becoming increasingly common.
Michelle Tolini Finamore

6. Peggy Hamilton: Queen of Filmland Fashion

Abstract
Charismatic West Coast designer and fashion impresario Peggy Hamilton often cited Marie Antoinette as her primary source of inspiration. She was so enamored of the historical monarch that her home boasted a bed formerly owned by Antoinette and she often had herself photographed in eighteenth- century-inspired wigs, face patches, and garments for her fashion pages in The Los Angeles Times. Hamilton likened the French queen’s use of “affluence and power to make France recognize its own designers” to her own crusade to promote native Hollywood design through her fashion columns and fashion shows of the 1920s.1 Hamilton, whose early career involved working as a costume designer for Triangle films, was firmly ensconced in the dream-like world that is inextricably linked to both fashion and film.
Michelle Tolini Finamore

7. The Birth of Hollywood Glamour

Abstract
The power of both fashion and film to engage illusion and reality simultaneously is implicated in the evolution of Hollywood as a manufacturer of dreams. Lucile eloquently summarized the sheer power of film and fashion in creating the desire for beautiful clothes, or her “dream dresses,” as she often called them. She wrote in her autobiography that “All women make pictures for themselves … they watch Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo acting for them at the cinema, but it is themselves they are watching really.” She continued, likening the act of going to the movies to a fashion show:
and when the lights are lowered to a rosy glow and soft music is played and the mannequins parade, there is not a woman in the audience, though she may be fat and middle-aged, who is not seeing herself looking at those slim beautiful girls in the clothes they are offering her. And that is the inevitable prelude to buying the clothes.1
Michelle Tolini Finamore

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