Friday, February 18, 2011

Film Fashion Friday: Fashion Show February: Roberta (1935)

In the post above, I gave a brief explanation of just one of the many ways the fashion show can work within a film, specifically a certain kind of show, one that is almost seamlessly intergrated into the narrative of a film. Here, in Roberta (1935), the fashion show sequence is staged almost exactly the same way, so I am going to into more detail how the same kind of fashion show sequence has more than one effect on the viewer.


Irene Dunne.....Stephanie
Fred Astaire.....Huckleberry Haines
Ginger Rogers.....Comtesse Scharwenka
Randolph Scott.....John Kent
Helen Westley.....Roberta/Aunt Minnie

Gown by Bernard Newman
Directed by William A. Steiter

Football player John Kent tags along as Huck Haines and the Wabash Indianians travel to an engagement in Paris, only to lose it immediately. John and company visit his aunt, owner of a posh fashion house run by her assistant, Stephanie. There they meet the singer Scharwenka (alias Huck's old friend Lizzie), who gets the band a job. Meanwhile, Madame Roberta passes away and leaves the business to John and he goes into partnership with Stephanie. (Taken from IMdB)

Fashion Review
As I did with Designing Woman, with the exception of the first image, I have only captured images from the fashion show sequence and will being doing so for the remainder of the films in this series. Again, if I had to pick a few films to steal the costumes from, this would also be among them. Roberta is a prime example for why the 30s were so glamourous and wonderful, from a fashion sense anyway. :) I loved every outfit and would highly recommend that you watch this film if you haven't seen it already. Not only are the fashion models dressed to the nines, so are Dunne and Rogers.

Bernard Newman designed the gowns (and probably many of the outfits too) for Roberta. Newman had quite the career before he made the leap into films. He studied in Paris, at the Art Student's League. After which he worked at Bergdorf Goodman (New York) for twelve years. He worked his way up there from window dresser to head designer. In 1933, he began work at RKO to create the gowns for Roberta. I am assuming that it took RKO a year or more to secure the rights to the broadway play, but they contracted Newman early on to secure a spectacular wardrobe. Although Newman only worked at RKO for three years, he worked on over twenty films. He left in 1936 to return to Bergdorf Goodman. He did make a few more appearances in Hollywood, being contracted in 1937 to work on another Ginger Rogers film and in 1946-1947 for a few pictures at Warner Brothers. Because of Newman's experience at one of the biggest higher end department stores, it's very easy to see why this film (and for that matter, all of his other films) is filled with all the marvelous fashion that it is.

Fashion Show Evaluation: Teaching Women How to Act
It has been said that fashion shows within films teach women spectators to be mannequins. While I don't necessarily agree with this, I feel it's important to show both sides of the coin. I do, however, think it's true that certain clothing makes women (and even men too) feel differently about themselves and might even dictate different types of behavior. I know that I feel the most "womanly" when I am wearing a dress or a skirt and I always feel like better about myself when I dress nicer. I also feel really good when I am wearing something that looks like it cost a lot, knowing that I got it for a deal or paid little to nothing for something that doesn't necessarily give off that interpretation. for these reasons, I can see why many feel or perceive fashion as frivolous and vein. I am not inclined to disagree with this, although I think there is something to be said about something as simple as a new (or vintage new-to-me dress) to brighten my mood and heighten my self esteem. I also think there is something about wearing a crinoline that makes me want to behave more ladylike than I normally would.

These shows within a film are weaved into the plot that is unobtrusive in nature, which helps to draw the viewing in without them noticing. The models in the sequences pose and walk a certain way, which exudes ladylikeness and might even influence women spectators to do so as well, however, presenting the need for these female spectators to purchase the outfits seen in the film in order to do so. While I don't agree that this a a good technique to use on seemingly unsuspecting viewers, I do think it's somewhat harmless, even if it can be argued that these types of scenes in films promote the idea that high fashion is important and what one must wear in order to be considered pretty, important, etc. I do see that that is present, however, I do think that some of what else that is presented is kinda harmless and does serve a purpose. What's wrong with sending the message that sometimes wearing pretty things can make you feel better? While this shouldn't be considered acceptable across the board, there is something to this school of thought. As stated above, I find that putting a dress or something pretty brighten my day when I am sad or improved my mood. Maybe it's just the girlie girl in me, but I find nothing wrong with that. :)

Roberta is widely available on DVD and to rent through various rental services.


Lauren Hairston said...

I'm currently re-watching this film for the nth time! One of my favorites--I want every article of clothing. When I was a kid, I wanted very badly to be Ginger Rogers!

marleygirl84 said...

I especially love Ginger's black dress with the really unique back, worn in one of her amazing dance numbers with Fred. Also, don't forget that one of those models was none other than Lucille Ball!!! :)She was very young and very blonde back then.

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