The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Friday Night Costumes

All during the month of December, TMC will be running a series of movies and talk about the costumes.  I love stuff like this cause even today we get so much from costumes in the movies.

Here are the movies they will show and feature:

Cleopatra (1936) Claudette Colbert, Vicky Williams (who wasn’t even credited!)

Anna Karenina (1936) Greta Garbo, Fredric March, costumes by Adrian

Casablanca (1942) Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, costumes by Orry-Kelly

The Women (1939) (a whole list of famous women), costumes by Adrian

Chinatown (1974) Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, costumes by Anthea Sylbert

Auntie Mame (1958) Rossalind Russell, costumes by Orry-Kelly

Funny Girl (1968) Barbra Streisand, costumes by Irene Sharaff

The Big Heat (1953) Glen Ford, Gloria Grahame, costumes by Jean Louis

Klute (1971) Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, costumes by Ann Roth

Forbidden Planet (1956), Walter Pigeon, Anne Francis, costumes by Walter Plunkett (men) & Helen Rose (women)


This is an interesting selection of movies. Notably Edith is missing and some others as well.  But that’s not all bad.  I don’t think that Adrian has ever gotten his due, because he did some fabulous gowns.  Ann Roth is another unsung designer.  In the movie industry infancy, designers weren’t even credited, and the Oscar history in which the award was divided into two categories, combined again as one, divided again, and now combined as one.  Since that last combination it has almost exclusively been won by period films.


My cousin’s wife, does designing in Hollywood, and I get insight from her on the tales, trials and triumphs of designing for the movies.  She’s done some pretty big ones, and watching her films I get a real sense of how important costumes are.


In one movie, a period piece, she notice how the costumes and garments never hung correctly.  It was only when she started having the actors/actresses wear the underwear and undergarments of the period, that they hung correctly.  Those are the subtleties that the designers have to be aware of.

At the same time they are not constrained by anything as mundane as comfort or range of motion (well a little) and certainly not ease.  The garment only has to have enough ease to work in the scenes its worn and that’s it. It also doesn’t have to last for years and years.  She replaced Dick Tracy’s yellow trench coat 7 times in the movie, cause it kept getting dirty.  She limited her palette for the movie to colors that you would see in a comic strip.  Think about it.

There are only about 10 or so colors here, and when you notice the movie, you’ll notice that not only do the costumes keep to this palette, so do the sets.

But back to the costumes.  My favs were Breathless Mahoney’s.

I loved this second one, cause it was seductive and yet was most likely easier to wear than a lot of the other costumes.  Vera Wang had invented a stretch netting that she employed for her costumes when she was a figure skater in her youth.  She started using it on her bridal gowns, which made for a seamless, yet very fitted netting, which was probably pretty close to what was used here for Breathless’s dress.


But by far it was this dress that was my favorite as it was a killer look, but was designed, believe it or not, to be very comfortable and to move a lot in.  I had a client who wanted this dress, and it wasn’t all that hard to transfer from moviedom to real life as all the design work had been done for it, and done well.  There are three anchoring points on the bodice, the two shoulders and the waist.  The straps on top that criss-cross in back (preventing the straps from falling off the shoulders), and the laced up back which can be cinched in nicely at the waist and left a little loser at the bust/chest area, all go toward making this dress very comfortable.  My client was thrilled and looked like a million dollars in the outfit, although it was not as low-cut as Breathless’s was in the movie!!! 😉


It will be fun to watch this series this month and more fun to listen to some of the inside info as to how the costumes came about and were designed.  I know costume designers don’t like to think of themselves as clothing designers – but they really are, and these designs have a huge effect on the trends of fashion.



1 Comment
  1. Looking forward to watching this series! Got to see Deborah Nadoolman Landis when she spoke at OKCMOA, and I was totally enthralled by her presentation. Thanks for your thoughts on this series!

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