Costume designer Helen Rose is best known for the white chiffon dress Elizabeth Taylor wore in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Rose was the envy of every Hollywood designer when Grace Kelly asked her to design Kelly’s wedding dress. Rumor had it that Edith Head was livid she did not get the commission.
We wrote about Rose and Elizabeth Taylor here.
We blogged about the fascinating manner in which Grace Kelly’s wedding gown was transported from America to Europe here.
Raised in Chicago, Rose briefly dated a nice Jewish boy who was anything but. In fact, he ended up being one of the most notorious figures in the annals of American crime.
In last week’s Friday Fashion post we observed that designers frequently clothe women utilizing fur, feathers and animal patterns.
For as long as fashion has existed, animal metaphors have been an indispensible part of the designer’s lexicon. Hollywood, during its golden age, a leading arbiter of taste, heightened and refined the animal analogy with brilliant costume designers turning ravishing movie stars into expressions of animal desire.
Winner of eight Academy Awards for Costume Design, Edith Head was uniquely positioned to become a brand name, and reach a wide audience with her deep knowledge of fashion. Thus, in 1967, Random House published a handsome volume by Edith Head with Joe Hyams, How to Dress For Success. With its lilac linen cover and cheerful illustrations by Head this handsome volume is a lovely and useful entry into the always popular self-improvement genre.
The prose is lively and straightforward. Head comes across as a stern school mistress who has definite opinions. And if you know what’s good for you, you will pay heed.
Liberally sprinkled throughout the book are references to the dozens upon dozens of Hollywood stars Head has costumed. And really, who’s going to argue with the woman who has dressed, among others, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Gloria Swanson and Tippi Hedrin.
Chapters range from How to Dress for Success for Business, How to Build a Successful Wardrobe, How to Use Color Successfully, and How To Analyze Your Figure—Head orders you to put a paper bag over your head with cut-outs for your eyes and then objectively analyze your shape in a mirror.
Has any woman in the history of the universe ever subjected themselves to this scary advice?
Most unique is Chapter Two, How to Dress to Get a Man… and Keep Him. In a post-feminist age, some might find Head’s advice quaint if not downright regressive, but here at Seraphic Secret we do not scorn wisdom that has come before our time.
Without further ado:
Edith Head’s Success Formula For Dressing To Get and Keep a Husband
Legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head (1897 – 1981) was known for her even disposition, her practical approach to seemingly impossible problems and her ability to costume every genre of film: westerns, musicals, comedies, and biblical spectacles. In her long career she is credited with over 500 motion pictures, more than any other designer in movie history. She received an astonishing eight Oscars and thirty-three nominations for the award. Edith Head was the only Hollywood costume designer with public name recognition.
In 1967, she published a book, How to Dress for Success.
In this primer for ladies Head offers advice on dressing well with an eye towards getting a good job and, even more important, how to get and keep a husband.
My very favorite quote:
“Frequently at parties and premieres attended by Hollywood stars, visitors are shocked when they see the wives of our handsomest film stars. These men who work constantly with women who are the epitome of glamor, very often marry women who are quite ordinary to look at. The unknowing are inclined to ask “How on earth did she ever get him?” I can tell you because I know. She interested him more than any other woman.”
The book feels like a telegram from a bygone era. Head talks about “hunting for a man.” But rather than sit back and feel all superior Seraphic Secret finds acute wisdom in Head’s advice. For the most part—hostess pajamas?—her smart, no-nonsense approach to fashion is classic and timeless.
Here’s her advice on lingerie: