Monday, January 19, 2009
Vamps and scamps: The Influence of Hollywood
According to Bredemeier & Toby (cited in Roach & Eicher, 1965) Hollywood did not invent acceptable appearance but was probably responsible for narrowing its range of acceptable variation and exhibited them to millions of people every week. The Depression helped create an enormous boom in the entertainment industry Panati (1991).
Shoes made a stealthy entrance into the world of cinema as a minor element but they soon demonstrated they were able to characterise not only an epoch but also a personality. Shoes became an extension of the character and created in the audience the desire to imitate and make them more important by wearing the same shoes as their screen idols. Mass production meant clothing was more affordable and fashion much less formal. Gradually the glamour sense became more sophisticated for all and not just the privileged few.
The popular cinema influenced the main design of fashion (Cassin-Scott 1997 p.175: Baynes & Baynes, 1979) Screen fashions began to influence the couture houses of Paris (Pattison & Cawthorne, 1997) as the movie stars of Hollywood became role models for millions. Elements of escapism and flights of fantasy crept into every fashion. When skirt lengths came down to mid calf, Hollywood had to re-shoot entire movies to include them.
Improved manufacturing techniques meant clothing became more affordable and as a result fashion became less formal and fashion sense for all became more sophisticated. Repeal of the Prohibition Laws in the US in 1933 gave good reason to celebrate and every reason to dress up.
Italian, Salvatore Ferragamo moved to Hollywood in 1923 where he created shoes for biblical epics of Cecil B de Mille's (i.e. The Ten Commandments and The King of Kings). Soon he was taking commissions for all the top studios, making shoes for John Barrymore, Lillian Gish and Rudolph Valentino, Pola Negri, Mary Pickford, among many others. At first female characters were often portrayed in over-simplistic forms.
The good heroines played by Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish were pure, innocent and sugary sweet. Mary Pickford had tiny feet (Baynes & Baynes, 1979), and both she and her sister had their shoes made by Ferragamo. Lilian Gish preferred to wear multicoloured satin, slippers style sandals.
Bad girls were like Pola Negi were darkly melodramatic and wicked temptresses. They were dressed to emphasise these characteristics. The vampish Negi bought her shoes by the dozen and preferred to buy white satin shoes, which she dyed to suit her outfits. She detested dirty shoes and also hated cleaning them so, was in the habit of throwing five or six pairs out each month.
The idea of dying shoes caught on and many women dyed their white satin shoes to match their frocks often with contrasting heels. Hollywood cleverly adapted the period style of their historic dramas to suit the filmstar's contemporary looks and appearance.
Clara Bow (The It Girl) was far more extrovert and epitomised the bold newly emancipated North American woman. She was full of pep and get up and go. Bouncy bobbed hair with frankly made up face and jokey sailor pants or girlish dresses with pleated skirts became her trademark. In keeping with her character, Clara Bow wore strappy, tap style shoes.
Greta Garbo appeared as the mysterious European with the haunting beauty and chiselled features. Dressed in dipping brim hats, turned up collars, top coats, and evening dresses discretely dotted with glitter she represented a willing partner to seduction in her strappy sandals. Off screen, Garbo bought her shoes in bulk.
Gloria Swanson had beautiful feet and liked to show them off by wearing highly decorated heels on her shoes. She was a self confessed altocalciphlie (heel fetish) and had many expensive high heeled shoes made for her. She preferred her heels to be decorated with rhinestones and imitation pearls. The style soon caught on.
Delores Del Rio had a pair of rainbow evening shoes with gold ankle straps and tall gold heels.
Esther Ralston had a pair of shoes, which were serpent shaped which were black and gold with high heels. On the vamp of each shoe was a snake head, and a sleek flexible gold body with painted scales writhed halfway up each leg. She was supposed to wear them in a jungle scene as a totem to scare off wild animals; instead she wore them to Hollywood night clubs and scared the life out of her fellow revelers.
Claudette Colbert wore a pair of multicoloured pave wedge sandals with tubular straps in Cleopatra (1934).
The shoes were made by David Evins.
Mae West accentuated her hourglass figure and perfected hip-circling sway on 8 inch high platforms.
Fans adored and worshipped their idols as demi-gods. Hairstyles and clothing were copied slavishly. According to Bond (1992) the influence of Hollywood was immense and far outstretched the dress designers, fashion magazines and newspapers of the time. All this came at a time when the rag trade was manufacturing for a mass market.
Of all the Hollywood stars, Shirley Temple generated the greatest national mania and enormous marketing profits. From 1934-38 she registered the country's number one box office success. Entire industries sprang up marketing Shirley Temple clothes including shoes. This was the beginning of fashion shoes for children.
In the ensuing years directors became obsessed with the correctness of clothing in period drama and Frederick Fellini had perfect replicas made of 18th century shoes for his film, Casanova. The shoes were most uncomfortable and pinched actor, Donald Sutherland’s feet forcing him to mince in the same manner as Casanova would in real life.
Baynes K & Baynes K 1979 The shoe show: British shoes since 1790 London :Crafts Council.
Bredemeier HC & Toby J Aesthetic patterns In Roach ME & Eicher JB (eds) 1965 Dress adornment and social order New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Bond D 1992 Glamour in fashion Enfield:Guinness Publishing.
Cassin-Scott J 1997 The illustrated encyclopaedia of costume and fashion from 1066 to the present London: Studio Vista.
Panati C 1991 Panati's parade of fads, follies and manias: The origin of our most cherished obsessions New York: Harper Perennial.
Pattison A & Cawthorne N 1997 A century of shoes: Icons of style in the 20th century Australia: Universal International.