Tag Archives: Fred Astaire

Style on Film: Swing Time

Swing Time - bias cut dressIs this the most gorgeous dress in all of the Ginger Rogers-Fred Astaire films? Quite possibly. It’s certainly one of the most sublime of all the many evening gowns sported by Ginger in her various outings with Fred, from 1933 until 1939, at RKO Studios. Designed by Bernard Newman, who had already dressed Ginger in Top Hat and Follow the Fleet, it comes from the film regarded by many as the best of the Astaire-Rogers musicals – Swing Time (1936). Here’s Ginger in the outfit she’s wearing when her character, Penny, meets a rather overdressed Lucky Garnett (Astaire) for the first time.Swing Time - meet outfitLucky has just had a narrow escape from a wedding – his own – and meets Penny when he asks her for change on the street. Determined to get his lucky dime back from her, he follows her into her place of work – a dance academy – where the only way to get to meet her is to enrol as a student. Cue the classic Pick Yourself Up number in which Penny sports what is now an iconic day dress, black with a white peter pan collar.Swing Time - Pick Yourself Up dressIdeally matched as dance partners, Penny and Lucky are offered employment in the Silver Slipper nightclub, giving Penny the first chance to show off her slender figure in a fluid, flowing – though slightly fussy – evening dress with frou-frou sleeves and trim. Swing Time - frou frou dressNeedless to say, the couple fall in love on the dance floor but, quelle surprise, it’s complicated. On a trip to the countryside with friends, Penny prays for a chance to get Lucky alone, while Lucky  – who is still engaged to the woman he inadvertently jilted – does his damnedest to avoid any (non-dancing!) physical contact.  It’s all very silly, and very funny – and they both look stylish and cosy as they sing Dorothy Fields’s supremely witty lyrics to A Fine Romance.Swing Time - A Fine Romance outfitThe kiss finally happens – and Penny finally gets lucky (and Lucky) when he gets a load of her in THAT dress. (Her other admirer, smoothie bandleader Riccardo, has already seen it, prompting him  to say: “How can I keep my mind on the music when she’s dressed like that?”.) Swing Time - Never Gonna Dance dressBernard Newman, the creator of Ginger’s Swing Time wardrobe, had been a successful bespoke designer at Bergdorf Goodman in New York but came to Hollywood on the recommendation of the elegant RKO star Irene Dunne, having designed gowns for her to wear both onscreen and off. One of his Dunne films was Roberta (1935), which featured a fashion show sequence and also starred Astaire and Rogers.  After only two years in Hollywood, Newman returned to Bergdorf Goodman but continued to design for Ginger for a few more films. Swing Time - back of dressAnd in case the front view and the rear view of this divine dress aren’t enough, here it is in action – viewable from every side ….


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Style File: Ginger Rogers’ Hair

Ginger Rogers was one of the most popular stars of the 1930s and early 1940s – and she appeared in an astonishing number of films, five of which are being screened at the Glasgow Film Festival, which starts next Thursday. What was particularly striking about Ginger was her hair, which seldom looked the same twice and which set one trend after another. She was best known as a blonde, with curls or waves – this was the look she sported in most of the eight wonderful musicals she made with Fred Astaire in the 1930s.

For the most glamorous dances in the Astaire-Rogers musicals, the ones where Fred donned tails, Ginger complemented her evening gowns with a series of much-copied up-do’s, including this pleated style – one of my very favourites – which she wore to dance Cheek to Cheek in the classic 1935 musical Top Hat (showing at the Glasgow Film Festival). It’s still inspirational – and fashionable again – over seven decades later..

The Astaire-Rogers films were made virtually back-to-back though Ginger often crammed in other movies in-between. This meant that the same styles were in vogue from one film to the next. The following photo was taken in 1935, during the filming of Follow the Fleet (showing in the Glasgow Film Festival), which was released less than six months after Top Hat. The picture shows a style which RKO Studios’ hair and make-up department christened “The Golden Plaque”, and Ginger sported it during the big romantic number Let’s Face the Music and Dance (complete with fur-trimmed gown).

By the late 1930s, Ginger had begun experimenting with a sleeker, straighter bob, which can be seen in two 1938 films – the Astaire-Rogers musical Carefree and the romantic comedy Vivacious Lady (showing at the GFF).

Here’s another take on this late 1930s bob.

A bit like Meryl Streep – who, coincidentally, is the subject of the main retrospective at the Glasgow Film Festival – Ginger received the most critical acclaim and was taken most seriously when she dramatically changed her appearance for a part. In Kitty Foyle (showing at the GFF), the 1940 melodrama about an unwed mother which won Ginger her Oscar, the blonde bombshell wore her hair long and brunette.

Just a couple of years later, Ginger was favouring a straight style and a colour that was somewhere between the extremes of bright blonde and dark brunette. Here she is in 1942.

And, that same year, she sported curls and an updo in the comedy Once Upon a Honeymoon. She was only 31 at the time but Ginger’s movie career had clearly peaked: most of the roles she played after that were inferior to her earlier parts – and the memorable hair-do’s became a thing of the past.

* The Glasgow Film Festival runs from February 17-27. Visit www.glasgowfilm.org/festival for more info.


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Top That!

I just got an invitation through the mails: “Your presence requested this evening – it’s formal. Top hat, white tie and tails …” Ah, it was so much easier for men like Irving Berlin, who wrote this, or Fred Astaire, who sang it. But for us gals, trying to decide what to wear on a night-out can be a nightmare – especially when there’s little to inspire in the shops.  Perhaps it’s time to take a leaf out of such style-leaders as Sarah Jessica Parker (above, in Dior Couture hat), and turn to men’s formal wear for inspiration. Of course, she wasn’t the first:

Marlene Dietrich sported top hat, white tie and tails (plus corsage) at a Hollywood ball in 1929, and often returned to the look – giving it a feminine twist in sparkly white, and investing it with even more sex appeal and glamour in Blonde Venus in 1933.  Just look at the effect on Cary Grant!

Dietrich was not the only 1930s style icon who cross-dressed in a memorable fashion.. Josephine Baker, the snake-hipped darling of La Revue Negre in Paris, may not have been French but she shared Dietrich’s continental sense of playing with expectations, and had a similarly daring fashion outlook:

One of the most stylish young women I’ve met is the wonderful jazz singer Melody Gardot who shares my passion for old movies . When she’s not channelling Lauren Bacall, Veronica Lake or another film noir heroine, she has something of a French look about her – check out the Breton stripes with the top hat:

By strange coincidence, Melody’s stablemate at Decca, Madeleine Peyroux (another old movie and old jazz fan) was photographed looking stunning in top hat and tails (like a sexy circus ringleader) for her last album, Bare Bones.

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Style File: Audrey Hepburn in the 1950s

Audrey Hepburn – the ultimate gamine – may have had beautiful doe eyes, a slender, gazelle-like frame and an elegant swan neck but it’s the way she wore clothes that we all envy. She may be best remembered for the  iconic dresses she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the early 1960s, but her 1950s wardrobe is worth a look too.  Here’s how she looked playing an incognito princess (opposite Gregory Peck) in her breakthrough movie, the delightful Roman Holiday (1953).

Hepburn won an Oscar for her performance as the princess who lets her hair down (well, gets it lopped off) as she enjoys a day of freedom in Rome. She followed that film with the Cinderella-esque romantic comedy Sabrina (1954), in which she played the chauffeur’s daughter who goes to Paris as an awkward young girl, and returns every inch the chic young demoiselle.

As with Roman Holiday, the clothes in Sabrina were credited to Paramount’s now-legendary chief costume designer, Edith Head – who won Oscars for both films. But in Sabrina, many of Hepburn’s most memorable outfits and gowns were actually the work of couturier Hubert de Givenchy who became her life-long friend. The elegant suit (above) which Sabrina wears when she makes her comeback to Long Island was undoubtedly a Givenchy creation, as was this exquisite evening gown, which our heroine wears in the tennis court/Isn’t It Romantic scene with David (William Holden).

Then there’s the casual, ballet pumps and capri pants/leggings, look that Sabrina wears when she nips in to Linus’s (Humphrey Bogart’s) office in Manhattan..

Funny Face (1957) is another must-see  for devotees of Audrey Hepburn and fans of fashion on film. It’s the story of an “ugly duckling” who is transformed into an elegant swan of a model by a fashion magazine, and whisked off to Paris for her first shoot, wearing Givenchy of course. Here are a couple of the shots of our heroine in model mode.

Hepburn loved this film because it gave her the chance to dance with the wonderful, and equally stylish, Fred Astaire (below). Whether Edith Head or Hubert de Givenchy designed the ensemble that Hepburn wears as she trawls the cafes and caves of Montmartre and Montparnasse is anyone’s guess, but the combination of black turtleneck, black cigarette pants and loafers with a beige parka is sublime – and nobody else, before or since, could have worn it better.

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