Promotion of classic Hollywood film costume in 1930s American fashion magazines

Thumbnail Image
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University of Alabama Libraries

The world of twenty-first-century fashion evolves into new forms at a more rapid pace when compared with clothing developments of the past. Elements of previous fashion trends are constantly recycled into new clothing to appease the public's cravings. But, to whom does the public look for fashion inspiration? According to the "trickle-down" theory proposed by Simmel (1904) and Sproles (1985), the lower classes turn to the upper classes to find out what styles are in vogue at the moment. Although emulation of upper-class fashions appears to have been happening for some time, it seems fashion inspiration was "kicked into high gear" with the glamorous effects and global outreach of American Hollywood cinema, beginning in the 1930s. When the American film industry boomed in the first half of the twentieth century, actors became the inspiration for fashion as well. The glamour exuding from the Hollywood films produced during the 1930s inspired and influenced the clothing choices of the American public. Well-known costume designers such as Gilbert Adrian, Edith Head, Travis Banton, Howard Greer, Walter Plunkett, and Orry-Kelly designed costumes and personal clothing for many Hollywood leading ladies. Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Bette Davis, Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn, Jean Harlow, and Kay Francis were some of the Hollywood stars whose costumes and personal wardrobes inspired the fashion trends of the 1930s. This research, using content analysis of photo layouts and advertisements in 1930s issues of Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Harper's Bazaar, documents examples of two costume designers—Travis Banton and Orry-Kelly—and four Hollywood stars (Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Kay Francis, and Carole Lombard) who influenced American women's dress during the 1930s decade. Thirty-seven advertisements and editorials featuring the costume designer, the actress, or the actress with her costume designer were analyzed for the timing of promotion, the type of promotion, and the garment or accessory pictured. The results of this research show that although Banton and Orry-Kelly were two-thirds of the great triumvirate of Hollywood costume designers, the promotion of their designs did not occur very frequently in the selected fashion magazines.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
History, Film studies, Mass communication