Posts Tagged ‘Edith Head’

IMG_20190102_172442218_HDRFashion is what hangs on a rack. But what’s in your closet, that’s your style. 

Manuel Cuevas – American fashion designer.

Mr. Cuevas immigrated to Los Angles from Mexico in the early 1950s when he got a job making slacks. One day he was lucky enough to meet costumer Edith Head and began costuming Hollywood films and television shows, including Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and The Big Valley. He has also worked with celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Prince, David Bowie. and Lady Gaga.

What’s hanging in your closet? Do you feel your clothes reflect who you are? The start of a new year is a good time to consider a new look.

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Edith HeadIn the days of the motion picture industry and even as late as the 1950s, stars had trademarks: Jean Harlow with her white satin dresses; Dietrich with her tailored slacks; Garbo with her slouch hats and trench coats; and Marilyn Monroe with her slightly tousled hair and tight clothes. But as we moved into the 1960s, the female stars didn’t really care what what they wore on the set or off. If two stars showed up at a party wearing the same dress, neither of them cared. Nobody cared. It was as if individualism had been thrown out the window in the name of realism. 

Edith Head (1887-1981), Hollywood costume designer.

Ms. Head certainly had a signature look or trade mark – she always sported a suit, she wore her hair up in a tight bun, and she loved those very round glasses.

My signature look is hats! I sport a hat of some kind every day. My mother likes to wear a silk scarf. What’s your signature look?

Happy Birthday to Ms. Head who would have celebrated on October 28th.


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Edith Head design for Grace Kelly in the 1954 film Rear Window.

My favorite era in Hollywood costume design was the 1930s with Dietrich and Lombard and their glamour. But the films of the 1950s came about as close to that kind of glamour as Hollywood will ever see again. The films of the decade did not have the look of the 1930s, where everybody was rich and totally unrealistic, but they offered an opportunity to show different levels of society as well as different values.

Edith Head (1897-1981), Hollywood film costume designer.

Speaking of Hollywood and costume designers, the Academy Award nominees have been announced. Up for best costumes are:

Colleen Atwood – Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them

Consolata Boyle – Florence Foster Jenkins

Madeline Fontaine –  Jackie

Joanna Johnston – Allied

Mary Zophres – La La Land


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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.)


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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.


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A young Edith Head before she developed her iconic look. This was probably a photo taken by Paramount Pictures for whom she worked from 1924 to 1967.

Just after Dior brought out the New Look, every film I had done in the past few months looked like something from the bread lines … I vowed I would never get caught by a fashion trend again … When skirts became full, I widened mine gradually. If lengths were at the ankle, mine were mid-calf. The result has been that if you look at my films it is very difficult to date them.

– Edith Head (1897-1981), legendary film costume designer and eight-time Academy Award winner for Best Costume Design. Her last win was in 1973 for The Sting.

In the run-up to the Academy Awards ceremony this Sunday, February 28th OverDressed will have a new post every day this week, giving readers a little tidbit on each nominated costume designer this year.

Check back tomorrow and read about Sandy Powell, costume designer for Carol and Cinderella.

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ginger-rogers-costume… Ginger wore one of the most expensive costumes in Hollywood history. It has come to be known as the Mink Dress, but actually it was a mink over-skirt which was lined with sequins, worn over a matching sequined bodysuit. There was also a mink bolero and muff. It cost about $35,000 to make in those days and couldn’t be made today without a limitless wardrobe budget.

– Edith Head (1879-1981) Hollywood costume designer.

Ms. Head is speaking about the costume she designed for Ginger Rogers in the 1944 film, Lady in the Dark.

Today’s quote is from the book Edith Head’s Hollywood by Edith Head and Paddy Calistro (Angel City Press, 2008). A reprint of Ms. Head’s autobiography, this edition celebrated the 25th anniversary of the original posthumous publication in 1983 by Knopf.

In her autobiography, Ms. Head discusses all her films in detail and provides additional tidbits and insights to old Hollywood. Co-author Ms. Calistro is a fashion journalist and considered among the leading authorities on Edith Head. As a publisher of City Angel Press she reprinted Ms. Head’s book with an expanded photo section.



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Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Costumes by Edith Head.

I recently needed a break from all the holiday hoopla and decided on a night in with a classic non-holiday movie – Sunset Boulevard.

What a great film of “glamorous” Hollywood, which stays on the comfortable side of creepy but adds a pinch of noir. Directed by Billy Wilder in 1950 and starring Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond and William Holden as Joe Gillis, Sunset Boulevard tells the story of an unstable middle-aged actress who is living in denial. She’s striving for a Hollywood comeback or rather a throwback to her youth as a big star in silent films thirty years earlier. Writer and debt-ridden Holden comes along and gets snared into her time warp.

Swanson received an academy award nomination for her work in this film but she was not the fist choice for the part. She accepted it after actresses such as Mary Pickford and Mae West turned it down for the story-line hitting a little too close to home.

It must have for Swanson as well. She had been a star in the 1920s but at age 50 she had long since faded into Hollywood history. Still, being a bit of a health nut, particularly about food, Swanson looked great and Wilder made the choice not to turn her into an old scary hag for the role of Norma Desmond.

Although she is stuck in her heyday era, Norma Desmond still looks chic thanks to costumer extraordinaire Edith Head.

In her biography Head discusses Wilder’s vision:

Billy explained to me that he wanted Gloria to convey a feeling of the past, but he didn’t want her to re-create it. He didn’t want anything ridiculous or laughable … Norma Desmond tried to be as contemporary as possible by wearing fashionable styles … To accomplish this I added a touch of the bizarre to each costume to remind audiences that she was living in a dream world of the past.

I think Head did a fabulous job creating a look for Norma that is unique and timeless.

Escape the holidays for an evening and visit Sunset Boulevard.

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edithhead3What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage. 

Edith Head (1897-1981), Hollywood costume designer.

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