Holly Poe Durbin pulls a floor-length, coral-hued gown from the racks at UC Irvineâs Claire Trevor School of the Arts costume shop, a repository of period, vintage and fantasy clothing and accessories used in campus productions.
Like the other garments, the lavishly ruffled gown has a story. Durbin, UCI associate professor of drama and an award-winning costume designer for theater, film and television, explains: âThis dress is a replica of one Joan Crawford wore in the 1932 film âLetty Lynton.â It created a huge sensation, and Macyâs sold about 500,000 copies.â
The original gown, by MGM chief costume designer Adrian, was white organdy and featured a risquĂ©, plunging back and frilly, exaggerated shoulders. It marked the introduction of Hollywood as a major arbiter of style at a time when Paris couture houses ruled.
âFashion and film went together for marketing purposes in the 1930s, and I think it still works that way,â Durbin says. âYou can watch âMad Menâ and see looks from the 1950s and â60s that are affecting current trends.â
âPutting on the Glitz: Hollywoodâs Influence on Fashionâ is the UCI Librariesâ fall exhibit, highlighting movies and designers from Hollywoodâs golden years through the 20th century. Items on display will include drama department costumes (opening reception only) and books, magazines, photos, videos, and posters from the librariesâ collections.
The exhibit, at Langson Library, kicks off with a reception on Wednesday, Oct. 20, and continues through April 2011. The opening-night event will start at 5:30 p.m. and feature a talk, âFrom Hollywood to Main Street: The Democratization of Film Fashionâ by history professor Lynn Mally.
âHollywood became a potent cultural force in the 1930s, with the ability to reach almost all social classes,â says Becky Imamoto, research librarian for history and the exhibitâs curator. âNew fashions spread quickly.â
Movie studios capitalized on this by marketing home sewing patterns based on popular film designs, Durbin notes.
In fact, the exhibit will include a homemade, Renaissance revival-style wedding dress made from a sewing pattern inspired by 1936âs âRomeo and Juliet.â A Pasadena estate donated the 1930s-era gown to UCI, Durbin says.
But Hollywood didnât just dictate fashion trends; it promoted escapist fantasies during the dark days of the Great Depression.
âYou wouldnât believe the furs and jewels shown in films in the 1930s!â Imamoto says.