64810e98b8be2019bfa976d81a524d36Vulgarity is on the red carpet, on the runway, in the restaurants, and at all the parties. It rules television; it animates the Web. When the age of vulgarity pervades every facet of our lives, it’s a sure thing that it has almost run its course.

– Joan Juliet Buck, American writer and actress and former editor of French Vogue.

Vulgarity run its course? Let’s hope so!!


Simplicity, good taste, and grooming are the three fundamentals of good dressing.

– Christian Dior (1905-1957), French fashion designer.

87d393f069ffa98f860103fd38d2017dMr. Dior was the designer credited with the New Look in 1947. During WWII there was pretty much a fashion void. The years following the war, designers and fashionables alike were starving for something new, different, and indulgent.

The New Look offered longer full skirts, a nipped waist, and soft shoulders. It was a welcome return to femininity after years of more practical, military styling.

By the way, although Dior was the first to put the new silhouette out there he was not the only designer to come up with it. His fellow French designers Jacques Fath and Pierre Balmain were showing similar looks.

I love fashion but I love fashion history even more. That’s all I read about lately and I’m even taking a class, which I’ve mentioned before.

In this class (Fashion Icons of the 20th Century) every three weeks we have to write a short paper and make a presentation on an icon or trend during the time period we have just studied. The latest was 1930s-1950s and I chose Hollywood costume designer, Edith Head.

Here’s my paper. Enjoy!


Edith Head (1897-1981) worked in Hollywood for over 40 years costuming hundreds of films. She received 34 Academy Award nominations for Best Costumes and won a record 8 times. She dressed such stars Mae West, Lupe Levez, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, and Audrey Hepburn, to name only a few. An icon of her era and beyond, she was the inspiration behind the Edna Mode character in the 2004 animated film, The Incredibles.


A former French language teacher, Edith got her start in Hollywood in 1924 after applying for a job as an illustrator in the costume department of Paramount Picture Studios. She didn’t know a thing about drawing but got the job using students’ work as her own. (A story she told on herself years later.)

Edith stayed with Paramount for the next two decades working her way up from assistant to taking over as Head Costumer in 1938. It was during that time that she developed her own personal style. Self-conscious about her appearance she kept her look simple, dressing in tailored suits and sporting a chignon with slick bangs inspired by actress Anna Mae Wong. Her signature accessory was round rimmed glasses with dark lenses, which she wore indoors and out to hide her one crossed eye.

Just as she masked her own flaws, Edith was a master at masking the flaws of the stars she dressed. A thick neck, plump figure, short legs – she knew all the tricks to hide, disguise, and distract. For example, Bette Davis refused to wear a bra and suffered from a sagging bust-line. In the film, All About Eve Edith designed an off-the-shoulder cocktail dress for Davis with built-in support and mid-length sleeves edged with fur, which distracted the eye from the offending area. She won an Oscar for that film in 1950 and the dress is almost as memorable as the film itself.

Although Edith was sometimes criticized for her lack of innovative design, she wasn’t an Oscar winner for nothing. Among her more memorable designs were:

• The sarong she put Dorothy Lamour in for The Jungle Princess (1936) inspired the fashion trend for tropical fabrics and sarong draping in dresses – a popular choice for evening wear throughout the 1940s.
• The strapless evening gown she designed for Elizabeth Taylor in the 1951 film, A Place in the Sun was a smash hit with fashion critics and women across the country, who anxiously bought copies at local department stores. The gown featured a fitted bodice covered in small velvet violets and layers of ivory tulle over a yellow underskirt. Strapless gowns became a popular option for proms and dances and are still a go-to choice. (Edith won an Oscar for this film, too.)

Not only did Edith create iconic looks for stars but she was an icon herself thanks to her specific personal style and her savvy self-promotion. Unlike her peers she was happy to interact with the public. All through the 1950s she appeared on radio shows and eventually television offering advice to women about style and how to dress. She wrote a book called The Dress Doctor and a syndicated newspaper column. Edith became as well known as the stars she dressed.

Edith left Paramount in 1967 to work at Universal Studios where she remained until her death in 1981.


Chierichetti, David. The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer Edith Head. New York: Harper Collins. 2003.

Head, Edith. The Dress Doctor: Prescriptions for Style, From A to Z. New York: Harper Collins, reprint 2008. (Original copyright 1959.)




Lately my head has been full of Edith Head (1897-1981). I went a little overboard with research on the Hollywood costumer for my class –  Fashion Icons of the Twentieth Century. I took three weeks slowly reading her biography and writing a short paper while also putting together a presentation. I find her career very interesting and enjoyed every moment.

As part of the class presentations we are supposed to design something inspired by our subject. Well heck, I’m not a designer and I can’t draw worth a damn. But I often put together collages. So, I decided to give Edith a makeover via collage.

She had a very specific look which she sported for years – a suit, slick bangs with a chignon, and tinted round-rimmed glasses that she wore indoors and out. Since pantsuits are big news this season I gave Edith one in tweed and added a pair of chic Gucci boots. I thought it was time to liberate her hair into a bob. Glasses were her signature accessory so I kept those but with clear lenses. Of course she must have a large portfolio for all her sketches.

There we have it – the modern Edith Head (pictured above). What do you think?

Interested in learning more about this iconic costume designer? Stay tuned. I’ll be posting my paper soon.


Bonnie Cashin in 1957.I was wearing boots long before they became popular. I used to buy Haymarket boots in London, regular riding ones. Now that everyone is wearing them, I have a quarrel with the shoemakers. I love things that work but today’s boots don’t work. They let the water in. A boot should be waterproof. I keep telling them.

– Bonnie Cashin (1915-2000), American fashion designer.

Yes! Waterproof! I recall a nasty pair of boots I had as a kid (maybe 8) that let the rain water seep in. Not fun but a thing of the past. It seems the shoemakers did listen to Ms. Cashin.

She made this comment in 1970, when boots were first hitting their stride among the fashionables. Then they went out of fashion for awhile and came back to stay sometime in the 1990s.

Now that it’s officially autumn, boots are out and about. Have you noticed? It seems every style is in, but particularly ankle boots and over the knee.

By the way, September 28th would have been Ms. Cashin’s 101st birthday. Happy Birthday to the first woman of boots!

9145a5c69bf69e4d164ad6b437442539When a man wants to send you flowers, always say, ‘My florist is Cartier.’

– Germaine Mitzah Bricard, French fashion icon of the 1950s and Christian Dior’s muse.


John Galliano design for Dior, 2010.

When John Galliano was head of Dior (1996-2011) he too was inspired by Ms. Bricard for his 2010 resort collection.

I first heard about The Rational Dress Society in a book by Fanny Moyle –  Constance Wilde: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde. Both Oscar and Constance were supportive of the society.

Intrigued, I was happy to research the RDS for an assignment in a fashion history class I’m taking at City College of San Francisco. Now I’m sharing with my readers. Enjoy!


Lovely frocks of the 1880s but oh-so-fussy and the constraints of the undergarments were causing health problems, according to the RDS.

In the year 1881 The Rational Dress Society (RDS) was founded in London by women’s rights advocates Viscountess Harberton and Emily M. King as a push-back against the burdensome fashions of the day. The popular use of petticoats, hoops, bustles, and corsets to create unnatural shapes for the female figure was thought by some to be unhealthy. Doctors reported a connection between these fashions and health issues such as shallow breathing, crushed organs, chronic digestive problems and skin eruptions.

The mission of the RDS was to encourage a shift in women’s fashions away from unhealthy constraints and toward practical options. They sought to educate women by handing out pamphlets, holding lectures, and offering alternative dress patterns for sale. In their mission statement they said:

The Rational Dress Society protests against the introduction of any fashion dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movement of the body, or in any way tends to injure health.


A much more comfortable frock allowing for ease of movement.

The new silhouettes put forth by the society included high and loose waistlines, voluminous sleeves and skirts allowing more freedom of movement. The fabrics used were simpler with fewer if any embellishments.

The RDS gained ground but still wasn’t a popular choice and was often mocked in the press and accused of being dictatorial. The following is a segment from an 1881 article in The Birmingham Daily Post, which addresses those assertions.

It appears from the prospectus that there is no intention on the part of the society to interfere with individual liberty; the desire is simply to release ladies from the tyranny of mere fashion, by permitting them to consult their own taste and convenience upon the sole condition that their attire shall be pleasing to the eye while conforming to consideration of health and comfort.

The society’s philosophy of more practical and comfortable clothing for women planted a seed for future movements from World War I to the 1970s – when women burned their bras and it finally made a more permanent impression.



Hennessy, Kathryn. Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style. New York: DK, 2012.

Mackenzie, Mairi. … isms: Understanding Fashion. London: Herbert Press, 2009.