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May 29, 2010

My Favorite Gown

I'm a big old movie buff. 

In early April we talked about glamour, the good the bad, was it still around and did we even care.  For me, if there's one garment that epitomizes what glamour is all about, it's the evening gown.

In old movies, they're everywhere, in almost every film genre barring Westerns.  Gown designers often got their own screen credit (back when screen credits were brief) -- i.e., "Miss So-and-so's gowns by _______." 

It's amazing how prevalent gowns still are on the fashion runway, at "red carpet" pseudo events, and in films like Sex and the City.  Apart from the odd wedding, when does a woman wear a gown anymore?  It's like we're not ready to let them go.  I'd argue that gowns are more popular today than say, forty years ago.

There still are formal affairs like fundraisers and galas where women wear gowns, primarily in big cities.  But it's rare to see a woman who isn't wealthy or a celebrity wearing a gown.  Not good not bad, just the way things are.

I decided to choose my all-time favorite movie gown.  You've no doubt seen it before.  It's the feathered gown Ginger Rogers wore in the Cheek to Cheek number in Top Hat.  It was designed by Bernard Newman, apparently with a lot of input from Ms. Rogers herself.

I actually got to see the original at a Hollywood costume design exhibit Diana Vreeland organized at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the mid-Seventies, a wonderful, wonderful show.  Let me tell you, Ginger Rogers was petite and Astaire wasn't much bigger.

The gown truly seems to come from another world: it floats, it's white (on screen at least; I think the real thing was pale blue so as to photograph better); it shines (on the satin mid section); it's fragile but also sturdy.  It bounces to the music and supports the mood of the lyrics.

You've probably heard the old story that Astaire hated the dress because the feathers had a tendency to fly off and stick to his tailcoat and in the film you can see a few feathers aloft.  Rogers was adamant about wearing it and I'm glad she stood her ground.  

If you've never seen it in motion, you must.  The dance itself starts at 2:10.

It's hard to separate a famous costume from the actor who wears it.  In this case, it was a perfect pairing.  No one wore -- or danced in -- a gown in quite the same way as Ginger Rogers.  Breathtaking.

As long as there's video, kids, glamour lives on!


  1. I adore that gown she wore - she looked like an angel and danced like one too.

  2. Between seeing this and watching Dancing With the Stars, I want a gown and to learn to dance...maybe after my adventures with sewing, ballroom dancing will be next on my bucket list. Thanks for the inspiration this morning.

  3. I have some gorgeous 50s ballgowns that hang around in the closet waiting to be worn. I can't bring myself to shorten them like some people do. Ditto Sassy - maybe I need to waltz rather than swing dance!

  4. Beautiful! And they weren't even out of breath at the end. Now that's a GOOd dancer

  5. Clearly they were both in exemplary cardiovascular condition.

  6. What a treat! Thank you. I volunteer in a Museum (Textile Department) and I never get tired of examining the gowns. The joke is that I am the Captain of the 'Seams' Police since I always turn the garment inside out so I can see how it is made. Thank you again for the great blogging - always a treat with my morning cup of coffee.

  7. One of the things that I find fascinating about patterns from the 30s and 40s is that many times with the dresses, the cover art shows the dress in several different versions and one of them is usually floor length. This indicates 2 things to me - first that the pattern companies were sending the message that "see, you can be thrift here - you can not only get a day dress out of this, but an evening dress too!" Second, that women and girls who made their own clothes had an expectation of having at least one floor length dress in the closet for occasions. My mom was a nurse in Glasgow during WWII and she told us that they had dances every weekend to go to and because most of them only had one floor length dress, they'd share and borrow from one another, change up accessories (lace collars and cuffs and fake bunches of flowers seem to have been the weapon of choice, and so not look the same every week. One other nurse, who had a copper colored satin gown that my mom borrowed extensively, finally just gifted her with it sine it looked so good with my mothers green eyes.

  8. The way that dress moves is breathtaking - as well as the dance itself. I was fortunate enough to be able to take a ballroom class for a year the first year of college, I really miss the feeling of being whisked along the floor by my competent partner, fox trotting and waltzing like there was no tomorrow. I do not miss the morning after, when my feet felt like they would fall off. I need to go get off my fanny and find a ballroom club in Boston, dancing makes me extremely happy (as does the prospect of making dresses for it...).

    Perhaps Cathy needs a dancing dress next? Can you say location photoshoot?

  9. You're right, there aren't many reasons to wear gowns anymore . . . and I think that's part of the reason that maxi-dresses have become more popular. They're so easy to wear, and they look so stylish (but not as fussy as an evening gown). And they make me feel so pretty when I wear them! Cathy needs one . . .!!

  10. I'd love to see Derek and Julianne Hough duplicate that dance exactly on Dancing With The Stars. They are the right size and it would be wonderful to see a truly graceful dance for a change. In fact, Derek could play Fred in a movie, I think.

  11. Beautiful! I think that would be my favorite to however a close second would be the black bias cut dress Rogers wore in Roberta for "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes". Or maybe the black pom pom one Rita Hayworth wore in You'll Never Get Rich for "So Near and Yet So Far". I'm indecisive, what can I say! Ha!
    Also I heard a story that after the premiere Fred Astaire sent Ginger Rogers a note that said that he was sorry and that she was rights about the dress!
    I love your blog, really great!

  12. I heard that Fred Astaire had a rule... no feathers - since they would get up his nose whilst dancing. And she wore that on purpose to piss him off. Then again, they always say, Ginger was far more talented than Fred since she did everything he did, except backwards and in high heels!

  13. My favorite film gown is the white satin dream that Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight.

    As an aside: I find it disappointing that women, in general, don't Dress anymore. Especially being a lesbian, because lets be honest, a lot of my sisters think that being lesbian is an excuse to just eat all the pies and wear pajamas all the time.

    Effort, ladies. I miss that women don't even wear foundation garments for the most part anymore. Women used to look so beautiful!

  14. My husband is a total movie buff. He has to watch all of the special features on classic films. I learned that Astaire was particularly hard on his partners; Ginger Rogers is the first female lead that agreed to work with him for a second time.

    She had a remarkable tolerance for pain. While Astaire insisted upon dancing even while his partners' feet were bleeding, Rogers just sucked it up. The wardrobe department kept new shoes ready, switching whenever the blood showed up on screen. So she had to dance in new shoes, which are more likely to make them bleed.

    If you watch this dance sequence carefully, you can see one part where the blood shows, but they didn't cut away to switch shoes yet.

    Now that's real glamour. The illusion of effortless ease in the face of extreme effort and artifice.

  15. Yes, this is a stunning dress. I have a favourite of my own and it is actually one of the reasons I started sewing. The inspiration from this dress and the accompanying coat has influenced every jacket I have ever made by making me choose bold and contrasting linings. The film is Do Not Disturb and the dress is worn by Doris Day. You can see it here
    The scene starts with Doris and a man entering a ballroom. Firstly see removes her coat and reveals the dress underneath and the lining of her coat, then a few seconds later we see the rest of the dress. I have wanted this exact outfit since the first day I saw it and one day I will make it. Or perhaps you could make it for Cathy?

  16. Oh, I know that dress! Fun.

  17. I love LoVe LOVE Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies!!

  18. wow this is also my favourite hollywood dress! i cant believe i finally found someone else who thought the same. small small world of the internet. actually right now im trying to find more detailed pics of sophia lorens white ball gown in "a breath of scandal" for prom.

  19. Thank you so much for posting the clip

    Sarah C

  20. Personally, I think the gown has too many feathers on the top and it makes it look a little too much like a yeti costume. But the music and the dancing are beautiful, and his tailcoat is AMAZING!


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