Film Fashion Frenzy: Cinema Fashion Shops of the 1930s

This post is in conjunction with today’s Fashion in Film Blogathon behing hosted by the lovely Angela at The Hollywood Revue!

Carole Lombard, 1937,

Scene: Main Street, USA. 1937. Boy and girl at the local theatre watching the new Carole Lombard comedy Nothing Sacred. Lots of laughter, lots of coddling. The sight of Lombard in a voluminous yet slinky black dress catches both of their attentions. The Boy: “My god,” he thinks, “look at those [insert female euphemism of choice].”  The Girl:  My god,” she thinks, “look at that dress!”

She wants it.

She needs it.

She is instantly convinced that owning it will make her fella think her [euphemisms] are every bit as noteworthy as Lombard’s.

And Hollywood, that eager opportunist, was ready to oblige.

Enter, stage left, a start-up by New York entrepreneur Bernard Waldman called Cinema Shops– a nationwide chain of retail outlets dedicated to bringing big-screen fashion to small town shops.

From the book Movies and Mass Culture by John Belston:

“In 1930, Waldman played the role of fashion middle-man for all major studios except Warner Bros. (Warners, always a loner, established its own Studio Styles stores in 1934). By the mid-1930s Waldman’s system genrally operated as follows: sketches and/or photographs of styles to be worn by specific actresses in specific films were sent from the studios to the bureau. The staff first evaluated these styles and calculated new trends. They then contracted with manufacturers to have the
styles produced in time for the film’s release. They next secured advertising
photos and other materials that would be sent to retail shops.”

By the late 1930s, motion pictures were the most powerful influential means of communication the world had ever known. Itsexponential effects were, as of yet still incalculable, but its tremors deeply felt on an international scale.

An MGM short subject from 1940 entitled Hollywood: Style Center of the World does a succinct succint job of capturing this movement at its zenith. Before descending into an MGM parade of studio propaganda, it captures the very spirit of this fascinating—and never to be repeated—time in popular culture.

Sweet little Mary gets a telephone call from her beau in uniform, Joe. He’s in town and wants a night out. But …

Mary needs a dress. So she drags Papa into the city and they both pause in front of the town’s Cinema Shop.

From Movies and Mass Culture: “Waldman’s concern also established the best known chain of fashion shops, Cinema Fashions.  Macy’s contracted for the first of these shops in 1930 and remained a leader in the Hollywood fashion field. By 1934 tehre were 298 oficial Cinema Fashions shops (only one permitted in each city).”

Mary sees …

Mary remembers …

Mary buys it. (Or rather, Papa does.)

Driving home its point is a montage of middle America fields of grain, waving against the superimposed image of a smartly dressed young lady. Now a country girl, the narrator assures, is every bit as fashionable as her Big City sisters.

And who do they have to thank? Hollywood.

For Hollywood is a factory town just like any other– be it Detroit or Milwaukee. Only the skilled laboreres in this town happen to be writers, musicians, actors and …artists.

Like this one.

Dilligently working with conte crayon and tablet to furnish the natural wonders of his studios’ latest find.

Oh yeah. And his name just so happens to be Adrian:

The inumerable movie fan magazines of the day seized upon this trend and made monthly fashion editorials (featuring, of course, screen starlets) a mainstay fixture. As the MGM short concludes, we get glimpses of factories working overtime to reproduce the fashions created by the black ink and pastel color of Adrian… his canvas creations becoming celluloid dreams-come-true as seen below:

Waterloo Bridge, 1940

Again, from Movies and Mass Culture: “The sale of these fashions was tremendously aided by the release of photos to newspapers, major magazines and dozens of fan magazines. … In monthly issues of each of these magazine, millions of readers saw Bette Davis, Joan Crawford in a series of roles unique to this period: as mannequins modeling clothes, furs, hats and accessories that they would wear in forthcoming films…”

Photoplay magazine introduced “Hollywood Fashions,” was Photoplay magazines effort into the cinema fashion foray. Photoplay’s by then routine fashion sprea featured styles identical to those being distributed that month to Photoplay’s “Hollywood fashions” outlets nationwide. Advertised under banners such as “Now at Modest Prices: Styles of the Stars!”

A Cinema Fashions Shop

The Screen Book magazine shots below illustrate the cinema fashion frenzy, with Anne Sheridan and Priscilla Lane modelling their latest film frocks:

Ann Sheridan

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11 thoughts on “Film Fashion Frenzy: Cinema Fashion Shops of the 1930s

  1. Pingback: Fashion in Film Blogathon: The Contributions | The Hollywood Revue

  2. Wouldn’t it be great if stores like this still existed? I know after every major awards show, there are always designers eagerly waiting to copy the most sensational dresses, but I love that at one time, you could go to a store and buy those replicas. Thank you so much for your post!

  3. I’m with Angela. I know people who would sell their soul for an affordable knock-off of any one of Grace Kelly’s Rear Window costumes (I’m one of them). But no such stores.

    And really, Mary? I know Joan Crawford is stylish but is that really the outfit you’re going to wear on a date?

  4. Oh my gosh, what a GREAT post! I had no idea there a whole, efficient industry organized,around bringing Hollywood fashion to gals from coast to coast. After reading your post it seems an obvious thing to do – another, more subtle way to get people hooked on the movies (like we ever needed any encouragement for *that*…!) – but I guess it’s one of those aspects of modern life that get left in the past. Thanks for bringing it back!

  5. Never realized what a big business that was. I agree with the first comment, “Wouldn’t it be great if stores like this still existed?” The only thing is, I don’t think most modern outfits are nearly as interesting as what was being designed in the 1930s. Not that those kind of outfits couldn’t be designed, I just think a majority of people today are much more casual about their dress.

  6. Great post Carley! And how about if Banana Republic started carrying a fashion line based on Mad Men? The iconic images of the movie stars would/could still sell. How about the subway grate Marilyn Monroe cream chiffon dress? And women are still looking for the Helen Rose designed halter top “Cat” dress worn by Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (I show it in one of my blog posts). There was so much demand at the time for it that Rose started her own line. Thanks for the fun images from the fan magazines.

  7. This was so interesting! I wish these were still around….except with old movies clothes, not whatever Hipster clothing Kristen Stewart and Leighton Meester are wearing haha.

    I didn’t know this is how it worked. I read in another article about the dress from Letty Lynton and how it sold something like 500,000-1 million copies of the dress. I thought, “Well how does that work out? Was it illegally copied?” Your blog post answered that for me!

    Haha and P.S.) The corn field bit is pretty funny. I guess its bad that I noticed the particular picture of the corn field outfit you posted was from “Algiers” (I think-looks like the one of Hedy Lamarr I posted)

  8. Scene: Main Street, USA. 1937. Boy and girl at the local theatre watching the new Carole Lombard comedy “Nothing Sacred.” Lots of laughter, lots of coddling. The sight of Lombard in a voluminous yet slinky black dress catches both of their attentions. The Boy: “My god,” he thinks, “look at those [insert female euphemism of choice].” The Girl: My god,” she thinks, “look at that dress!”

    She wants it.

    She needs it.

    She is instantly convinced that owning it will make her fella think her [euphemisms] are every bit as noteworthy as Lombard’s.

    And Hollywood, that eager opportunist, was ready to oblige.

    If that euphemism stands for what I think it does, assuming you’re referring to the top half of her body (and not her shoulders!), somewhere Carole is laughing uncontrollably. Because she never deemed her [euphemisms] anything special….even during her Sennett/Pathe days, when she was tagged as “Carol(e) of the Curves.”

    • Ahahaha– I didn’t know they dubbed her “Carole of the Curves”! Gotta love that Hollywood publicity…

      Actually, I’ve always thought Carole had a pretty damn near perfect bottom half. 😉

      • The “Carol of the Curves” was generally the Lombard of 1927-28, when Mack Sennett hired her and told her to gain a few pounds to add to her figure (important for the swimsuits Sennett girls were regularly seen in). Carole did that, heeding his advice to eat bananas, and while she was never overweight, she was a bit more voluptuous than the Lombard we know and love. She didn’t take the poundage off until her post-Sennett days of 1929, when she was a full-fledged Pathe player and enlisted the aid of the noted Sylvia to get back to her sleek figure. I wrote an entry about it at http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/110803.html

  9. I love the photos and fashion of old hollywood. I wish somebody would publish the covers of vintage Photoplays and the other covers of Old Hollywood fan magazines.

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