Hollywood Fashions Provide Much Talk

From The Santa Cruz Sentinel, California; page 7, 22 October 1947.
By Virginia MacPherson
United Press Hollywood Correspondent
Evening gowns, 1947
“That lo-o-ow Parisian neckline hit Hollywood today, and its ‘open-air bodice’ has all the skimpily endowed ladies hereabouts clutching frantically for more realistic padding.

“Four ‘frontless bosom’ designs brought the loudest gasps at the Los Angeles fashion group’s premiere of world styles.

“And the lady who can smirk ‘I told you so’ is Renie, the RKO designer who predicted the chilly chests three years ago. Only nobody believed her then.

“It was a Renie gown that first raised the carefully-plucked eyebrows of the 1200 merchandisers, stylists and fashion reporters at the $17-peek show at Earl Carroll’s lush nightspot.

“‘And was that neckline ever low,’ shivered the model, a pretty blonde named Bobbie. ‘I was almost afraid to open my coat for fear everything wasn’t covered up.’

Jean Louis, who designs gowns for the movie queens at Columbia Studios, brought out the next ‘pneumonia neckline.’ A so-called suit – with not much between the chin and belt except a strip of cloth and an artificial pink rose.

Designer Dorothy O’Hara, who says she believes in “emphasising body contours,” proved her point with a marquisette and lace evening dress sprinkled over with gold gauze. The neckline was a scant two inches more “covered-up” than Frenchman Christian Dior‘s “open-front” style.

“But Stylist Orry Kelly‘s strapless satin creation stole the show. It also answered the question about whether the darn things stay up. This one didn’t. The model let out her breath for a minute – and it happened. The revolving platform whisked her backstage in a hurry.

“But the fashion experts at our table turned up their noses at Hollywood’s “front-less bosoms.” Said they were ‘freaks’ – not ‘trends.'”


This report goes on to describe other trends, but I wanted to snip the bit focused on early strapless dresses as I have been researching them for my upcoming book on Fifties Fashion. While I believe the strapless dress was probably invented quite early on,especially given how many dresses were built upon very tightly constructed bodices with bones and stays , and it is certainly well-documented from the early 1930s onwards, the modern strapless dress was certainly perfected in the 1940s. But not quite perfected, as the all-too-classic wardrobe malfunction described above shows!

I also have to share how the article ends, with an intriguing reference to an electric blanket coat that could be plugged in for flying/driving, and the casually reported final note of a hunky male model being objectified by the female audience – both quite unexpected for 1947!

“The show had its other surprises: […] thermostatic coat wired for quick heat that you can plug in on a plane or automobile, and Adrian‘s answer to the new round shoulders – a ‘wing-sleeved’ affair with shoulder padding a foot wide – guaranteed to make you look like a bat in full flight.

“The men were taken care of, too. Tuxedos with Eisenhower jackets in midnight blue. Suede topcoats in bright maroon. But it was the plaid rompers on a muscle man the ladies went for – with whistles and catcalls.”


The other reason I wanted to post this article was because, reading it, something nudged at my memory. I had a feeling I recognised the descriptions. I looked on Wikipedia Commons, and tracked down the image that I had in my head. Strapless gowns by Orry-Kelly and Dorothy O’Hara? Check. 1947? Check. Fashion Group show? Check. The photograph HAS to be from the same event. Even if not, it fits too flawlessly not to be used.


Beauty and the Beast

From The Advertiser,  Adelaide, South Australia; page 7, 7 July 1911.

Anthonis van Dyck 013 “It is the fashion among Parisian beauties just now (writes a correspondent of an English paper) to heighten their charms by having some very ugly animal for a companion. The effect of contrast makes the beautiful creature seem more beautiful and the ugly more ugly.

“Quaint Mile. Mistinguette has the ugliest monkey she could find for a pet. It is a horrid beast with a red and blue face, and all sorts of unpleasant habits. When you are asked to take afternoon tea with the beauty, you must profess to be devotedly attached to monkeys, and especially to the one before you, or you will speedily find a place in the mistress’ bad books. While making himself very polite to Boni, the visitor must be careful not to tread on Sadi, mademoiselle’s tame boa constrictor. Snakes, you will be told, arc very affectionate, companionable creatures, but you must be very careful not to surprise or shock them, for they are extremely nervous and sensitive.

“To complete the bizarre effect of this beauty’s home there are dusky Hindu attendants, always attired in their native costume. An equally celebrated beauty, Mile. Manon Loti, has very ugly dwarfs to wait upon her. A hideous dwarf, with a head nearly as large as his body, and looking as if it had been beaten down by a pile-driver, a malevolent expression and hardly any legs, is her favourite attendant. As your eye wanders from this unhappy, hideous little creature to the dainty Mlle. Loti she appears to be of superhuman beauty

Victorian paper scraps showing dressed rats

“Mile. Papierkowski, another very famous beauty, has taken to the society of rats – she has a company of 100 tame rats of all ages and sizes. She fondles them and allows them to run all over her. They are remarkably intelligent animals, and have learned to do all sorts of tricks. One of them walks around with an umbrella over his head, looking very much like a stout, fussy old lady. It gives mademoiselle’s admirers, a shock to see wicked, sharp-eyed rats crawling over her beautiful form. The greatest advantage of keeping rats, mademoiselle finds, is that she can scare away any woman she does not want to see, and there are a number falling in that class.

“Being a beauty is a profession in Paris, and one who belongs to it has to work hard to keep in the first place. Hence the sudden demand for queer animals and ugly dwarfs in the world of beauty.”


Manon Loti. Vintage French postcard.As part of my research a couple years back I had to look up Manon Loti (that’s her on the right) and other notorious “kept women” of the early 1900s. Among the material I found was this remarkably horrifying little article. The attitudes towards those who look/are different are tough to stomach for the modern-day compassionate reader, and yet the content and imagery within the article are pretty compelling.

Manon, a renowned beauty who was an opera singer and actress, really doesn’t come across as very nice. In fact, she was probably the Edwardian equivalent of certain people who often come under intense scrutiny and mockery for being so ridiculously selfish and out of touch with reality that they become almost pitiful as a result. The idea of exploiting other people as accessories – particularly as servants – is a horrible conceit, and yet, very realistic to this day. Making sure you are seen in the company of the right people is a code of life followed by so many. Despite the instinctive reactions of horror at this, maybe Manon was a very kind mistress to her servants and looked after them. There’s so little about her out there though, and to be honest she does sound like she probably was pretty monstrous behind her beauty.

Mademoiselle Papierkowski appears to have been forgotten in the mists of time. But the image of the lovely woman crawling with rats is rather marvellously Dickensian. Would love to know more about her!


Obviously the portrait is NOT of any of the women described above! It is a 1633 portrait of Henrietta Maria, the queen of Charles I, painted by Van Dyck – with attendant dwarf (a term used in its historical context) and monkey. No snake or rats, but you can’t have everything! From Wikimedia Commons. The two rats are Victorian paper scraps found on Christopher R. Willis’s Pinterest but snagged from an Ebay auction several years ago. The image of Manon Loti is from a c.1900 mass-produced postcard found via Google Images and now in the public domain.

The Nude in Art and Artlessness

From “Town Talk”, Vol XXXVIII, No. 1490, San Francisco-Oakland, January 1, 1921.

“The Spectator has heard some talk not in favor of all the plans that were made for the Soldiers’ Memorial. Some of this had reference to the artistic devotions of the edifice. We all have a penchant for art; and art has an affection for the nude. Hence, the municipality of San Francisco, in housing an art school, would be giving official recognition to the fact that there is such thing as the nude figure. In this wonder palace, made sacred by the blood of heroes, would enter female models, who would divest themselves of all their clothes and pose before our sons and daughters. Such is the understanding of the case, and while the critics declare they have no objection to art nor to the human body, the city of San Francisco, they assert, cannot afford to participate in an enterprise which might lower the morale of policemen on the beat, and publish to the world an interest in nakedness. The objection, we fancy, is a weak one; for the memorial should be addressed to all the fine arts; and to leave out the very one that is closest to architectural beauty, would be an ignominious blunder.

Elävän mallin piirustus, opetustilanne, 1920-luku. Taideteollisuuskeskuskoulun opetustilanteita.-TaiKV-07-013

“San Francisco, inspiring to be the Paris of America, in the best sense, as well as the Athens of the Pacific, should remember that both those cities have given official recognition to art in all forms. Thus did they become great; and on that account do we appropriate their names as an epithet for our own art ambitions. Anyway, it is time that the human figure cease to convulse its possessors with moral qualms. It is merely a matter of becoming acclimatized to an environment of nudity, and then we forget all about it.

The Venus de Milo dressed in the fashions of 1870

“Otherwise we may get like that little Florida town, where, last week, a number of statues were found clad in middy blouses and bloomers. These statues were owned by art students, and the garbing was done by the Christian Civic League, whose efforts on behalf of propriety may soon be spreading from town to town. It may come to San Francisco. In view of all these facts, we do not hesitate in saying that there is nothing more indecent than a statue in hasty and ill-considered attire. Fancy a Venus in hat, shoes and stockings, or Diana in a Mother Hubbard, or Juno in an opera cloak. The impulsive person who attempts to conceal nakedness in this fashion is frenetic more than fanatic, and supersensitive to sex thrills. Every pathologist has said so. But the whole affair is not so disturbing in contemplation as it is prospective. We don’t remember that the statues of the P. P. I. E. caused anybody to swoon. Some visitors came prepared to scream, but eventually succumbed to the inevitable, and found themselves none the worse. If we welcome art in all its vicissitudes, we may find ourselves all the better for it.”


What better article to kick off this blog? This addresses so many of my interests in one fell swoop. Fashion, social history, the way people thought then – and interestingly, how very little has changed since then in the way people think…

The P.P.I.E. was the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition that took place in San Francisco. I found a website devoted to the Expo with a page specifically about the sculptures including links to Gutenberg books on the topic.

Illustration notes:

The first image shows a life-drawing class in Aalto in 1920. The second image shows the Venus de Milo dressed in 1870 fashion by the London department store Jay’s. Both images are from WikimedIa Commons