Secrets Of Screen Fashion

Secrets Of Screen Fashion

The film as an arbiter of fashion is a new force in women’s lives. Through its medium the newest ideas of Paris are transported to the ends of the earth in the shortest time. The stars of the screen serve as models for women all over the world. In this contribution Alice Williamson shows the relation of the screen fashions to every day. She advises the reader which players may safely be followed and which should be avoided. Than Alice Williamson no one is better qualified to write about women—or about films. Her novels are as famous as she herself is famous in Hollywood.

by Alice Williamson

ARMS AND THE MAN ” may be a good song ; but “ Dress and the Woman!” is better.

In fact, woman is armed if she is well dressed. If she is not well dressed, she is hardly a woman at all. To be well dressed needn’t mean expensively dressed. It means suitably, expressively dressed. The right style of dressing can make a woman important in her own circle. The wrong style will leave her utterly unimportant. And she must not forget how bearing and carriage set off the right clothes.

This is really a serious question for every girl or woman, whether she can spend as much as she likes, or must study each shilling; for it is good taste, not money, that does the trick; good taste in dress, and in wearing a ten-guinea dress as if it had cost forty.

It is not the brainless woman who dresses well. It is the woman of intelligence ; and so it is something to be proud, not ashamed of, if one is known to give thought to one’s clothes.

I have seen many a rich woman with plenty to spend on her wardrobe who did not look half so well dressed as the girl who made her own frocks, or had to tell a " little dressmaker ” exactly what she wanted.

I wonder if every girl realizes how worth while it is to^makc a man proud of showing her off when he takes her out ? She can do this easily if she will study her own personality with coolness and courage, and make sure what is most becoming in line, colour, and design. She must be in the fashion; she must be distinctly chic; but what she must not do is to wear a thing entirely because it is the latest fashion.

The screen can and does serve as an admirable fashion guide for every woman. But it is a guide which must be followed with moderation and restraint. To copy it slavishly is as unwise as to ignore its obvious possibilities. It is my endeavour to show you the best use of the screen as a guide to fashion, beginning with this warning—take care.

Look at some of our blondes, for instance—many of them a little more blonde than Nature intended them to be. Because they have been to a film and seen Tallulah Bankhead with her high forehead uncovered on one side by the newest beret, they copy her. The result might be pleasing, and it might not. In some cases it gives an effect of complete baldness which is actually repulsive. They adopt a new and rather bewitching fashion regardless of whether it suits their own particular style.

As a rule, good taste in dress calls for quietness and the kind of simplicity which can be most expensive in the hands of a fashionable dressmaker. But there is a type of woman who may dazzle and almost strike you in the eye with bizarre originality of style, and be a stunning success.

Greta Garbo, for instance. She is tall, long-limbed, and oval-eyed. She has an almost leopard-like grace of her own, and yet the dresses, hats, and cloaks in which she looks best would be disastrous for other women to copy. She has two almost miraculous “doubles” in Hollywood. One is in society—not on the screen. The other, doubling professionally at times, can copy Greta’s extraordinary hair arrangements, quaint little caps or military-looking hats, neck ruffs and the rest, with success. I have never seen anyone who didn’t look like Greta Garbo, however, make a success of stealing her styles.

Lilyan Tashman is another of the Hollywood beauties who can wear the most amazing dance or dinner frocks and have everyone talking about them. She has generally invented them herself for herself, and she knows exactly what suits her best. Even her beach house at Malibu gives you the idea that it has been made to fit her. In it she is like a jewel in a box. Lilyan is one of the few blondes who may count red among her most becoming colours. Her Malibu beach house, inside and out, is entirely red and white ; and when there, she never wears a frock for which the red and white isn’t a pleasing background.

Lilyan Tashman is now practically the queen of fashion at Hollywood and is so seldom seen in the same gown twice that when she is invited to a party, all the women are filled with curiosity as to what she may wear. But Lilyan is almost as difficult a person to copy in style as Greta Garbo. She is marvellous in a dress or hat which would practically kill anyone else.

The best rule is not to copy anyone slavishly. Choose your own style, realizing that what you wear can make or break you. “ Know thyself ” is a fine motto for a woman who wishes for social triumphs. She must be graceful, whatever her age and type may be. If she is over twenty-six or twenty-seven, she must have a youthful dignity. She must not, of all things, be “ kittenish.”

The woman of average height and build should make an almost prayerful study of line. Even the sylph-like Hollywood stars as slender as Joan Crawford and Constance Bennett, study line,because it adds to the wand-like effect of their slightness. But line is still more important for a woman who is trying to get rid of a few pounds here and there ; that is, the average woman.

The style of hairdressing is of paramount importance to the woman who means to make a success of herself. The wrong kind of hairdressing will completely ruin the most carefully thought out dress or hat. The platinum blonde hair, so much copied since Jean Harlow set the fashion, looks well in very few women. But the new “ blue ” hair can be exquisite. Billie Dove, one of the very greatest beauties among the stars, found lately that her thick brown hair was turning prematurely grey and, instead of dyeing or tinting, she has kept the grey effect, with a certain soft blueness, like a twilight shadow, lovely on the screen and off. Hollywood hair experts have been learning the art of giving a grey-blue tint to locks which are inclined to turn an ordinary and unattractive grey. Those who haven’t seen the result can scarcely imagine the charm and bloom it lends to a pretty face.

If you are a young girl, dress like a young girl. If you are a woman, dress like a woman—unless you are a Mary Pickford, whom “ young girl ” styles are likely to suit for ever. As instances of young girls to copy, if you must copy, I should recommend Bette Davis, Mary Brian, and Sylvia Sidney. Among the girls who are particularly beautiful in sports frocks is Marion Davies. Her beach and house pyjamas, too, seem prettier than those of anyone else.

Marlene Dietrich—Nobody’s Model.

Marlene Dietrich may not be copied by the average young woman, though off the screen she often wears the plainest things possible. She has learned style and realized the tremendous power in distinctive dressing, since arriving in Hollywood. She was a brilliant star in Germany where she won success by sheer talent and in spite of bad clothes; but she looks a different person to-day—and this is chiefly due to a careful study of dress.

Any girl of intelligence can learn in the same way, and I think that a very great deal may be picked up from the screen—what to do and also what not to do. Almost all girls who have achieved stardom have achieved dress-knowledge for themselves at the same time, if they lacked it before. They can’t, and don’t, trust entirely to the expert studio designers, though they are generally ready to listen to advice.

Norma Shearer knew little of herself and her own very individual personality until, as the wife of Irving Thalberg, she became the talented star she is to-day.

Norma loves “ line,” now that she has learned its value. She is one of the most supple, one of the most delightfully “ slinky ” of all Hollywood actresses. She owes largely that fascinating “ boneless ” effect to her sense of line.

A " cheap ” frock, ready-made, is seldom worth buying. But sometimes exquisite models can be found for low prices in a sale. One very smart, well-cut coat and skirt, with different blouses, several chic little hats, good gloves, and perfect shoes, can call more approving attention to a girl than a number of dresses where the accompanying details have not been carefully thought out. A pair of bad shoes, slightly soiled gloves, or a hat placed on the head at an unbecoming angle can spoil the most expensive costume.

I know a very fastidious young man who says that he could never love a girl if she had a crumpled handkerchief. “ But,” I asked him, “ what if the poor dear had a cold in her head ? ”

” Well, then she ought to start out with plenty of fresh handkerchiefs,” he argued sternly.

Also, he could never love a woman who wore a bandeau round her head ! I thought, when the young man made this assertion, that he would change his mind if he could see lovely Constance Bennett in negligee. Her Parisian tailor-mades are often quite severe, which gives them an added elegance. Small, fragile, yet exotic in her blonde beauty, “ fussy ” things would dim her radiance on the screen. But if this fastidious man could catch a glimpse of Connie in a white or blue negligee, resting from work, with her golden hair fastened back by a pale blue band, he would be lost !

I think that Constance Bennett is perhaps the one and only blonde who doesn’t look banal in pale blue. She could never be a chocolate-box beauty, even if she dressed for the part.

If a girl is not well off, yet realizes the importance of dress, she will buy dark colours and not be tempted by a Connie Bennett baby-blue ! If she has brown eyes and brown hair of a rich shade, she will look well in brown. Black in the evening seems equally becoming to blondes and brunettes. A fair girl, with pink cheeks and dark brows, is lovely by daylight in the right shade of grey. Purple, though beautiful, as pansies are beautiful, adds years to the age and had better be left to old ladies.

Tall girls with dignity of carriage may follow the lead of Kay Francis, who is one of the best-dressed young women in the world and knows as thoroughly as any what suits her. Ruth Chatterton knows also. She is an outstanding example of the woman who can make herself actually beautiful with the right clothes ; above all, with the right arrangements of hair.

I have sometimes seen Ruth Chatterton come into the studio cafeteria to lunch, tanned deep brown, slightly freckled, her hair squashed anyhow under a sports hat and wondered how I had ever thought her worth looking at on the screen. Then, perhaps, I have seen her that same night at a dance or on the sound stage rehearsing for a picture, perfectly made-up, prefectly groomed, no detail exaggerated, yet not one forgotten in its harmony; and I have said to myself : ” Ruth Chatterton is as attractive to look at as her charming voice is to hear.” Hers, you know, was the first really good voice with which a woman spoke in a talking-picture.

She is a particularly safe person for the woman between twenty-five and thirty-live to follow, for she is so seemingly simple, so really sophisticated and what the French delight to call ” Ыеп soignee.” This can be said of Gloria Swanson also, since her first and most important visit to Paris years ago. But Gloria can now no longer be associated with Hollywood only.

If you are lucky, you might meet her any day in Bond Street—when she isn’t at work ! The hats and dresses which suit her in the daytime will suit almost any young woman who knows that she may practically make or mar her life by what she wears.

The world film encyclopedia, 1933

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