This movie has me positively stammering. I can’t even…I don’t know how…quilted upholstery…color fashion show sequence…glass-sided bathtub. Should I bother with words, or should I just show you pictures and let you marvel? Let’s start with the absolute most important thing to see:
When entertaining guests in your bathroom, a transparent bathtub might defeat even the most voluminous modesty bubbles.
Now that that’s out of the way, a brief synopsis is in order. The Women (1939) is about a bunch of rich “friends”, played by some of the biggest stars of the time: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford,Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, and Joan Fontaine. Some are sincere, some are catty, all dress to the nines, always. They flit about having their nails done (jungle red, of course), exercising at the spa, shopping, eating rolls made only of gluten (ha!), and gossiping, gossiping, gossiping. The main character, played by Norma Shearer, finds out her husband has been seeing a shopgirl, played by Joan Crawford. Drama ensues, she goes to Reno for a divorce at the urging of her friends, she meets more amazing movie stars (flimsily disguised as characters in the movie), and she returns to New York. The plot and the dialogue are immensely enjoyable, so don’t think that I mean to say that this movie’s value lies only in its fashion. It is witty and quotable in every scene, and no man is ever seen on screen, because with women this talented, who even cares?
The costumes of The Women were designed by Adrian. He was always known for his eye-popping evening gowns, and he delivers the goods in this movie. In fact, even though it was shot in black and white, there is an extended color sequence for the sake of a fashion show, where we see this gem.
My cover-up at the beach is significantly less interesting.
My enthusiasm for all of the sights of this movie is hard to contain, so I’m just going to show you a few of the best (and most unusual) details. If there is one lesson to be learned from the fashion of this movie, it’s that unexpected details make your outfit memorable. Adrian’s designs truly typify the idea that Hollywood at that time didn’t want a lady to look like a lady–“Hollywood wants a lady to look like two ladies!” If you are thinking of using the costumes of The Women to inspire your own wardrobe, here are some details that could easily be integrated into any modern woman’s style. Just don’t copy the whole shebang unless you want to look like you’re wearing a costume!
The eyes on this blouse were likely inspired by fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who frequently collaborated with modern artists like Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau. The merging of art and fashion should happen more often. Adrian’s fashion sequence in this film features so many other art-inspired outfits that Silver Screen magazine said, “Adrian and surrealism go on a rampage.” This blouse doesn’t show up in the fashion show sequence, though. It’s just what Rosalind wears to lunch.
There’s a dog and a kid in this scene, but all I see is that fabulous jacket.
Most of the time I don’t miss color in black and white films, but I’m dying to know what color this jacket is. Is it four shades of blue? Maybe red, orange, yellow, and white? Whatever it is, it’s striking, and I would love to see that color pattern on a structured blazer or a full skirt.
A fabulous apartment for a fabulous woman.
Quilted upholstery: quilting is great because it’s both a texture and a pattern, but it can still be understated. Purses and vests are often quilted, but why not furniture? It’s brilliant.
Send in the gowns!
This is from the last scene of the movie, and by now we all know the characters well. You can tell a lot about each character based just on her gown in this scene. Paulette Goddard is elegant and sexy, Joan Crawford is glamorous, but perhaps tacky, Rosalind Russell is comical and over the top, and Norma Shearer is regal. Paulette Goddard’s dress in particular is perfectly modern and versatile. I can imagine a shorter version worn to a cocktail party, or an even shorter version worn to a club.
Now go forth and watch the movie. I barely scratched the surface here–I didn’t even mention the hats and turbans!
Written by Team Glamorous Housewife Movie Expert: Mary D. Freiman.