Is 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.Lucky 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.Ideally 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. Needless 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.The 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?”.) Bernard 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. And 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 ….
Tag Archives: Irene Dunne
I grew up on a diet of old movies and I love to style-watch them – to play at spot the fabulous frock or the ace accessory. Recently I’ve been a bit obsessed with some of the ridiculous – but wonderful – hats that popped up in 1930s films. And they don’t come much more wonderfully ridiculous than Greta Garbo’s in the 1939 comedy Ninotchka.
The Ninotchka hat was much more than a fashion accessory; it was symbolic of the fact that its wearer had succumbed to the romance of Paris and was shaking off the shackles of communism…. Irene Dunne’s crazy black heatgear in the priceless 1937 screwball comedy The Awful Truth, on the other hand, was representative of nothing more than high fashion – though her newly ex-husband (Cary Grant) doesn’t look convinced…
Cary Grant looks much more at ease in the next picture, from the 1938 romantic comedy-drama, Holiday – maybe because he’s just resigned himself to the fact that he’s outnumbered (by Doris Nolan, left, and Katharine Hepburn) on the silly hat front..
I don’t know if Linda Darnell wore this next hat in a movie, but, given that it seems to be Saturn-inspired in design, it’s way ahead of its time: after all, the sci-fi movie genre didn’t take off until the 1950s!
Similarly, I don’t recall ever seeing Ginger Rogers wearing this next natty hat – by celebrated hat designer Lily Dache – in any of her 1930s films. Maybe the stars circling the pointy peak of the hat was too much like Paramount Studios’ logo for RKO’s (her home studio’s) liking..
And finally, my favourite daft hat of the 1930s – worn, as only she could, by the inimitable Rosalind Russell (pictured here with Joan Crawford) in the gloriously funny and stylish 1939 movie The Women..