As a much overdue follow up to my previous post looking at Hands Across the Table and True Confession set design and apartment inspiration, here’s how costume design can be inspirational for vintage wardrobe. After that post I bought this dress (below) that made me think about how much I love clothes that evoke my favorite eras…one of my favorites being the 30s.
Above is the first costume we see for Reggie (Lombard) as she is going to work at the salon as a manicurist. We can infer that Reggie is able to afford a sense of style on her budget (there’s no heavy jewelry, furs, silk dress,etc) and the front dress seems to have a zipper down the front which was less expensive than buttons! She’s on her way to a place where she wants to make an impression. The collar, sleeves and gloves are most likely detachable which were common pieces of the era that could make dresses transition to various occasions. The polka dot dress is in the typical calf length that we can associate with the 30s as well as the silhouette of defining the waist and hips. Two toned heels are classic and still available today but challenging to find heels that aren’t stilettos. Websites exist catering to vintage inspired shoes however. Reggie’s heels are an example of how women’s shoes were heels for day/nightwear (even sport shoes had a slight heel) but they were 3 inches and under with more width than today.
This is the first costume for Theodore (MacMurray), which is a great example of daywear suits for men. If the ideal for women was wide shoulders and narrow waists, the ideal for men was wide shoulders/torso. Theodore is meant to be of a rich family now poor from the stock market crash, but we can still infer that he is well to do because he’s wearing a tailored suit with a matching vest that adds formality ideal for formal business meetings. Notice the style of the pants, high waisted and very wide legs that hang straight down. This is a difficult pants style to find ready to wear honestly though not impossible. For example, Levi’s Homerun Chino Pants are 1930s style white slacks. His hat, a fedora (similar to a homburg), is another key element in menswear that was meant to go with various suits. His shoes aren’t clear to see but are the typical polished black shoes that might feature brogue detailed wingtips. Lastly, the necktie, a change from the 20s bow tie, is an example of how neckties were getting wider and a little shorter..in an array of colors/patterns though not to be confused with the wider and short length above the waist that the 40s would bring.
This is from the scene where Reggie and Theodore go out for dinner. For Theodore’s costume his suit of a pin stripe and we can see the wide shoulders enhanced probably from padding. The double breasted coat is an example of a more formal suit. The tie has changed now to a pattern that is obviously not pin stripe. Mixing patterns was very common back then and I wonder if it was because the average man wouldn’t have enough ties or suits to go with each other. Reggie’s costume looks like a dress made to look like a 2 piece (there’s a scene where they drunkenly begin to undress outside of a club when they are told they aren’t wearing the right clothes and I don’t recall her untucking a shirt to unbutton!) The corsage like ordainment and fluffy chiffon detailing could be detachable too but serve as another indication of the details in women’s fashion. Like men’s fedoras, a style popular for women was the basque beret.
In True Confession (1937) Lombard’s character Helen is a housewife and writer while MacMurray’s character Ken is an upcoming lawyer. Pictured above is a much more casual dress compared to the polka dot dress and two toned heels. While still calf length and belted at the waist, there’s no attached collar or sleeves. This pleated dress instead showcases the flared and flounced skirts and sleeves. Her shoes appear to be multiple strapped heels (the featured photo from previous post allows better detail). Overall, we can tell that Helen may have a bit more money for clothes (comparing the apartments for evidence) but she is still in a casual setting but this is not a house dress where she would be cleaning and cooking in. Ken’s attire isn’t as formal as Theodore’s suit with a vest. You can see clearer the style of neck ties. Here his suspenders and button down remind me personally of a slightly more accurate depiction of menswear for the average man. What we can infer about his character is that he can afford tailored business-wear but he isn’t well to do like Theodore exactly.
Here’s a scene from the court room where both are in slightly more dressy attire. Ken is at work defending Helen so he has on his single breasted coat (compare his costume to above picture at home and now in the workplace as well as his posture in both). The necktie has a tiny dotted print compared to the striped one from the previous photo which creates more of a professional look that will allow focus on Ken as a lawyer and what he has to say. Helen’s attire of a black dress with buttons reminds me of what I said earlier about buttons being more costly than zippered garments. The cuffs and collar are detachable but they are also less frilly than Reggie’s. Helen has an impression to make and hers is of innocence to murdering Otto Krayler so her dress is conservative yet polished. The dutch cap is a nice touch as well framing her face. Compared to the slanted one of Reggie’s, in a court room that may seem suspicious–think of how that hat hides 1/2 the face, could it also symbolize hiding something too?
In summary, those who want to enter vintage wardrobe can choose elements of the 30s that will evoke a classic feel without feeling in costume. For ladies, dress length and their patterns as well as clutch purses or two toned shoes could be a starting place. While men may not want to jump in to the vintage wardrobe by wearing the wide leg trousers, they could go with ties with certain prints and fedoras as a starting place.
*Featured photo from Carole and Co