The Dress Doctor

There is admittedly a generational component to people’s awareness of Edith Head and her stature as the most accomplished costume designer in history. If you are a fan of Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and others from Hollywood’s heyday, chances are you’re very familiar with Edith Head. If you’re of a later generation who has only watched these actors on Sunday afternoon TV matinees, you are most likely wondering who she is and why the fuss. Well, as the hands-down queen of wardrobe design, she has had an impact on Hollywood that still reverberates long after her death in 1981.

The Dress Doctor was first published in 1959, and was written as a memoir and style guide. It is also as much about Hollywood personalities of the time as it is about the fashions that Edith Head created for them. This is a book filled with advice and gossip, style tips and fashion no-no’s. In writing this book, Head wanted to leave a legacy that would help bring fashion to the everyday woman and teach that style is simply a matter of understanding one’s own image – and working to enhance it. The book became a sensation and was re-issued three times during her life.

In its latest edition published in 2008, it has been given a complete makeover. In fact, you could say it is a different book entirely. This fourth edition of The Dress Doctor has been subtitled, Prescriptions for Style from A to Z. And an A to Z collection it is. It has taken all of Edith Head’s most profound advice and best-loved stories, and has compiled them into a catalogue ranging from Audrey Hepburn (who Head called the perfect figure model) to Zooture. This new edition is beautifully illustrated by Bil Donovan, a fashion illustrator who is imminently worthy of the task of recreating Head’s famous designs.

In reviewing The Dress Doctor, one must understand the era in which it was written. The major studios of the time had contracts with stars for creating movies and essentially controlling their careers. Edith Head worked for both Paramount Studios and later, for Universal. She was regarded throughout her career as one who could design an image for a star. As she established herself among the elite of fashion cognoscenti, the studios gave her unprecedented creative latitude in formulating the “look” of their star actors and actresses. This creative license helped to make her book a true Hollywood inside story and, along with her advice for the masses, made it an instant success.

Edith Head was given the moniker ‘the Dress Doctor’ early in her career, while working for Paramount studios – the most successful movie studio of the time. As the chief costume designer for the biggest studio, she was given the duty of transforming the average girl-next-door into a glamorous screen presence, while maintaining the genuine good looks of these stars and stars-to-be. She was privy to all of the Hollywood drama that took place off the screen, and was discreet enough to continue having access to it for her entire career.

Even after publishing The Dress Doctor and her follow-up book, How to Dress for Success in 1967, Edith Head was able to maintain her position and stature among the Hollywood elite – likely because of her unmatched skill at producing the best costumes and styles Hollywood had seen. Throughout her career, she was nominated for 35 academy awards and won the Oscar 8 times. She received more than 1000 screen credits in her 50 years in the industry.

Above all, Edith Head was about style. She believed that everyone should dress their best and that we can all learn style. One of the quotes she is best known for, and the one that closes The Dress Doctor is this; “You can have anything you want in life, if you dress for it”. Here’s to you Edith, and to your style.

Star Style: Hollywood Legends as Fashion Icons by Patty Fox

Hollywood is commonly viewed as a fashion Mecca since so many of the top designers cater exclusively to this crowd of celebrities and starlets. Patty Fox’s book, Star Style: Hollywood Legends, examines the highs and lows of the fashion world from the rose tinted lens of Hollywood. Organized by celebrity, each entry examines the role this person has had on the development of fashion and how the stars of the silver screen not only are at the forefront of the fashion world but also set the tone for most people’s fashion sense.

Although I expected this book to be little more than a fluff piece that focuses on a few tried and true fashion icons, there are a whole host of lesser known fashion icons who usually fly under the radar when it comes time for a retrospective on the best dressed in Hollywood. While stalwarts in the annals of fashion like Audrey Hepburn are present, lesser known ladies, like Delores Del Rio, are also included to provide a far more nuance retrospective on Hollywood’s fashion successes.

Each entry is also chocked full of interesting stories and entries detail the various ladies of Hollywood and their dalliances with fashion. While the information present is hardly provocative or juicy, tending more to be sentimental trips down memory lane, they are nonetheless entertaining to pass the time in between the glossy photos of leading ladies tearing up the red carpet.

Furthermore, a revised edition was released that included some more contemporary fashion figures like Gwyneth Paltrow, Whoopi Goldberg, Drew Barrymore and Cher, keeping the book relevant and not merely a relic you would encounter at a dentist’s office.

Although most of the info in this book is good natured accounts of fashion successes and faux pas, the reader from cover to cover is enjoyable. This is highly recommended for red carpet aficionados or rabid fans of the shining stars of Tinsel Town. For those more interested in the evolution of fashion, give it a look through but don’t expect enlightenment.


Mod Invasion

All those hipsters running around today owe a big debt to Mod fashion. It’s true. The Mods came about through embracing past fashions, updated for the present, that were worn for ironic purposes. So the next time you see a hipster wearing a reject outfit from the 1970s with a big handlebar mustache, remember the Mods. However, who were these people? How did they come to be?

Mods came into being in late 1950s Britain and grew out of teenagers who had too much money and time on their hands. There was a big increase in personal income in 1950s Britain so naturally many kids were left with an abundance of cash.

What did these kids do with that money? They spent it recklessly of course. The more money a kid had the more fancy clothes they could buy. This in turn led the style to be called “cool” or “hip”.

The fashion sense consisted of the latest trends emerging from the early Rock N’ Roll scene and the Beatnik fashions from New York and London. Custom suits, expensive labels and cutting edge outfits led the charge.

However, Mods took a lot from the past and simply updated it for the present. Dapper suits from the 20s and 30s were tweaked and updated. A lot of classic British symbols, especially symbols from World War Two, were embraced by the Mods and worn for ironic purposes. This is when wearing t-shirts with the British flag on it became popular.

The Mods were really a forerunner for the widespread youth movements of the 60s.

Ultimately, Mod fashion became commercialized and affordable to the masses. Mods stopped being cool when everyone could embrace the lifestyle. The style has slowly regained it popularity these days specifically at New York fashion shows, and it’ll be interesting to see how long it will stay this time around.


The Teddy Boy

Dandies, a style comprised of flamboyant colors, velvets, high collars and strange patterns. It was the closest approximation to a clothing line designed by a young Oscar Wilde. During the late 19th century and early 20th century in England, this style was all the rage. But what were dandies and what do they have to do with the notorious Teddy boy fashion styles of the 1950s?

These two styles of clothing are linked because Teddy boy fashion is an echo of the dandies in that it replicates and modernizes certain aspects of that style. .

Teddy boy was essentially a style with wild combinations. There were greens mixing with purples. People mixing striped shirts with plaid pants. The best way to sum up Teddy boy fashion is to re-watch all of the Austin Powers movies and hone in on Mike Meyer’s sense of style.

Nevertheless, like most fashion movements, Teddy boy had a social component. People who dressed themselves so garishly and out of sync with the rest of 1950’s Britain were the instigators of the upcoming youth movements that would run riot across the Western world during the 1960s and 1970s.

Many Teddy boys had a reputation similar to Greasers in that they played fast and loose with the rules. They had a penchant for rioting and not just your garden variety riot. Teddy boys liked to stir up racial tensions and vent off steam on people from different backgrounds. Ironic considering the diversity of Teddy boy fashion.

The Teddy boys’ influence was felt throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s. This fashion aesthetic was a big part of the early Rock n’ Roll movement and influenced fashion styles during the 1960s and 1970s. Inevitably, the Teddy boys ultimately evolved into new fashion styles as the times changed.

Punk Fashion

If there is any style of dress more widespread and identifiable with a type of music, it is punk fashion. There’s such a huge range of diversity here that it is astounding how people express themselves. It isn’t just all mohawks, leather and piercings. Well, there’s a lot of that but don’t be so shallow.

Punk fashion is kind of this critical mass fashion sense that has taken in everything from the 20th century, warped and tweaked it and then spit it back out, influencing in turn all those that influenced it. Because of this, punk fashion is difficult to pin down.

This clothing style emerged during the rise of punk music in the 1970s in Britain and the 1980s in the United States. Again, with most clothing and aesthetic movements, there was a youth component.

Early punks were the Generation X-ers coming into their teens and twenties. After the glitz and pop of the 60s and 70s, punk was a twist on the fashion sense of their parents. Little Timmy raided his dad’s old closet and took all of his clothes and just modified them or added accessories.

Because punk was such a hodgepodge movement based around music that was fast, loud and anti-establishment, what people wore differed greatly. You had many people dressed as stereotypical punks with leather and piercings, but you also had glam punks who looked like hippies, hardcore punks who would be decked out in tattoos, big heavy boots and white t-shirts. Ska punks wearing retro 50s fashion. The list goes on and on.

Each subgroup of punk was based around a different style of music. Pop punks took in more upbeat influences from the 50s and 60s while death punks were heavily influenced by 80s metal. Attitudes varied wildly between groups.

It’s a big tangle of different groups and whole books can be written on the subject. The real thing to keep in mind is that punk fashion is all about self expression. Any goes in punk and that attitude flowed out of punk music. The diversity of the punk sound led to so many different subgroups. Punk fashion is really the place you can be yourself without having to conform to any set style.


Behold the Tie!

Do you think that you know ties? What’s to know, you might say. Well, the story of the tie is a complicated knot of changing tastes and fashions that has gone on throughout history since the 17th century. This august piece of formal wear has a storied tradition that’s every bit as great as the brightest and boldest power tie. So snap on your clip on, tie up your bow tie and string up your Texas rancher tie for an abject lesson in the history of this piece of fashion.

For those who may not know, the tie was originally named in battle. This came about because Croatian mercenaries who liked to raid and pillage about Europe had a sudden stroke of genius to tie and knot a bandana around their necks so they could not only dominate at a board meeting but also appear fashionable too. French soldiers encountered these ne’er do-wells and mingled up their word for Croatians, applying it to the Croat’s dapper invention.

From that blood-soaked beginning, the tie would grow into a symbol of fashion and authority. What an auspicious start for a piece of clothing. Perhaps the term corporate raider is more fitting than people generally imagine.

Regardless, the tie today has grown into a ubiquitous item of fashion that men, and sometimes women, have embraced. There is an entire spectrum of ties to choose from.

You can start with the always sensible necktie, sure to be dependable to the end.

The bowtie took the principles of tying a shoe and moved it from the foot to the throat.

Who can forget the ascot? Always the domain of the rich and pretentious.

The venerable cravat is still around for those with a penchant for dressing out of style.

Skinny ties are out there for all you hipsters, both actual and faux.

Finally, for the cowboy in all of us comes the nonsensical bolo tie for those who like to keep their own noose handy.

You see, ties come in all shapes and sizes, just like people. The next time you’re suiting up for a hard day of sitting down, remember the gore soaked origins of the tie. You’ll suddenly realize your job isn’t so bad.


Zoot Suit Riot

Do you like the feeling of walking down the street to the sound of cascading laughter? A sound that rolls across the road like waves lapping at the rocky coast of a southern California beach? That’s likely the reaction you’ll get today if you wear a zoot suit. However, there was a time when the toughs of So-Cal proudly strolled the broad avenues of Los Angeles in their zoot suits. Woe to those who mocked them during this fashion statement’s heyday. Here’s a quick lesson on the whys and wherefores of this infamous clothing choice.

A zoot suit is basically where you buy a suit that’s two sizes too big, stuff it with padding, pin the ankle cuffs tight and wear a funny hat. Sounds charming, right?

Nevertheless, the zoot suit was often worn by disaffected youth, especially Latinos settled near the Mexican-American border during the 1930s and 1940s. They stood out as symbols of rebellion in a time of economic depression and war.

Zoot suits were hard to come by in those days. You couldn’t just walk into a resale shop and pick one up for a few bucks. No, you had to get one tailored to exact specifications. It was intensive work and it made the zoot suit a hot commodity. They were like iPhones that you wore minus the touch screen.

Those who bandied about town in a zoot suit were so attached to their sense of style that when the government decreed that the materials that made zoot suits should be used for making bombs, ostensibly ones that would deliver payloads of laundry, riots broke out.

These Zoot Suit Riots, despite having the unfortunate honor of a terrible song named after them, were really about racial tensions and social inequality but this isn’t a sociology lesson so just ignore all that. In all likelihood, people were just fed up with having to deal with people wearing the equivalent of 1940s parachute pants.

The zoot suit is still hard to come by today. You’ll rarely see anyone wearing one who isn’t cast for a role or blind. Nevertheless, for those true outsiders, zoot suits can still be had.


Worst Men Haircuts

Most men can’t maintain the long golden locks of a lion for most of their life. It’s just impractical. Imagine how difficult it would be to walk around in the wind. Plus, you’d have to compete with all those bodice buster romance novel cover hunks with their flowing hair and half opened shirts. No, most men need to rein in their hair and opt for a proper haircut.

However, not every haircut can be a winner. Sure, at the time it may have seemed like a good idea for a pony tail but in retrospect it just looks wrong. Here is a quick rundown of some of the worst haircuts for men that are sometimes so wrong that they’re right.

Rat rail- Honestly, this style is just an uglier version of the male pony tail. Plus, it just sounds gross. Still, most young boys rock this hair cut in their formative years. Embrace your youth!

Mullet– Business in the front and party in the back? How can you deny that? This is perhaps the cardinal sin of men’s haircuts but in the land of the bald, the mulleted man is king.

Flat top- Probably only two people in history have pulled off the flat top haircut, Frankenstein and J. Jonah Jameson. What do both have in common? They’re fictional and ugly. But you’re real! Cut your hair flat enough for airplanes to land.

Grunge– During the 90s there was a fascination with wearing ripped jeans, flannel and not showering. It’s hard to say why it was a good idea for a bunch of disaffected men to begin rejecting the idea of bathing but grunge haircuts were born out of this desire to stink. If you feel like tearing down the Man and standing apart from those corporate drones, rock the grunge style.

Jerry Curl– This style had its heyday in the 80s and it looked slick back then. But they don’t make Soul Glow anymore and the Jerry Curl has gone the way of the dinosaur. Do some hair archaeology and dig up this classic find from a more funky era.

Dreadlocks– Only very few people can pull off dreadlocks effectively. Unless you’re from the Islands, it’s a safe bet to say that you’re not one of them but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. Sometimes it’s the journey and not the destination that counts.

While these aren’t all of the offending haircuts these are the most common. Break out of the sensible mold and be an individual with these questionable cuts.


Derby Wear – Derby Day Fashion

So, what do you get when you cross Southern charm and culture with couture fashion, and throw in a little horse poop for good measure? Why, the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, of course. No other sporting event is so focused on high-fashion and elegant attire. From the men in their powder blue seersuckers or Madras jackets to the ladies in their pastel suits and flowing sleeveless dresses, the air is dense with pomp and style.

For the ladies, the attire is all about the elegance of southern decorum and grace. Ankle-length dresses and stylish high heels add to the feeling that these lovely figures have been granted the ability to hover an inch or two off the ground for today’s event and will return to walking like mortals tomorrow. Brightly colored dresses, vibrant frilly pastels and classic print smocks all vie for the attention of an expectant crowd of onlookers, as the fashion show builds throughout the day.

The gentlemen know better than to upstage their elegant dates on this day, and can be seen wearing cream-colored suits or navy blazers, and generally creating the background for their female companions to be viewed against. Chivalry is most definitely alive and well on this day. One or two of them may choose to wear a brightly printed tie with his outfit, but only if it enhances his partner’s ensemble.

As a first-time attendee at the Derby however, you’d of course be forgiven if you mistook this event for a high-society costume party and show. For all of the elegant and colorful attire, many aren’t able to drop their gaze further than the outlandish and costume-like hats being paraded about like fantastic dessert creations on the heads of the wearers.

The Kentucky Derby after all, is as much about the hats as it is the horses. From wide-brimmed and elegantly feathered to just plain ridiculous, the hats are the show. And as you travel from the clubhouse and upper decks down to the raucous and rowdy infield track, the hats begin to take on a distinctly cartoonish tone. Miniature scale models of everything from horses and riders to the actual Churchill Downs track itself, sit perched atop adoring fans’ heads.

Known as the Run for the Roses, the Kentucky Derby is nothing if not tradition-bound. There are traditional foods, the traditional garland of red roses, and even a traditional Derby song. But no tradition is more respected and sought after than the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep. A fairly simple drink concoction, always made from Kentucky Bourbon, the Mint Julep is a potent elixir suspected of contributing to the downfall of more than one Southern Belle.

And of course, the backdrop for all of this revelry and merry-making is an actual Class-1 horse race. The Kentucky Derby is the first race of the Triple Crown, and the three year old thoroughbreds that run in this event are the finest examples of their breed in the world. Past years’ winning horses have become household names, including the fastest horse to ever run in the Derby; Secretariat, who set the record of 1:59.40 in 1973, that still stands today.

Also called the “Most exciting two minutes in sports”, the Derby has been run continuously since 1875. Of the 80,000 or so fans who attend the Kentucky Derby each year, a few dozen actually have their faculties in tact enough to see the race finish and are always rewarded with a great showing. Tradition, fashion, party and event, it’s hard to equal the Derby for excitement and fun. And when the race is run and the winner has earned the blanket of red roses, the hats will be boxed and put away, in preparation for next year’s Run for the Roses.

Costume Design: From Fashion House to the Big Screen

The tradition of fashion in the film industry reaches back to its very beginnings. As soon as the first leading lady stepped onscreen, she became known for her sense of style. In fact, many of our current and past fashion icons made their mark by showing off their trend-setting look on film. The question is, when did the marriage between film and fashion begin?

From Costumes to Everyday Wear—Film Fashions Through Time

When filmmaking first began in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they were silent films filled with interesting costumes. The drama required in early films was reminiscent of that which was seen in theaters at the time, which meant the styles were far different from everyday wear. As movie making progressed into a popular source of entertainment, which was more easily accessible, actors began to take on more realistic personas.

As this transition occurred, distinct differences in costuming could be noted. What was once seen as ornate costuming meant to steal the show on the silent screen became a more accessible style that could be found in fashion houses. Leading ladies and men alike would begin to don styles that were common to the people watching the films. Trendsetters were now seen onscreen and the styles they wore would become the latest fashions.

From On Screen to Off the Rack

As this transition occurred in the movie industry, fashion houses began to see the powerful advertising tool films could be. Movie stars like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor would emerge in the 20th Century as fashion icons. The careful selection of accessible styles the audience could find in their own towns would change movies from a simple source of entertainment to a powerful marketing tool used to influence the public.

As movie making continued to grow throughout the 20th Century, the role of fashion in film would flourish. No longer a matter of creating one of a kind costumes for performers to wear, costuming in movies is about building a character the audience can relate to. Fashion is one of many tools used to build a character and generate a connection to the audience. Today’s fashion-forward stars make their mark in film and on the red carpet, their fashion choices creating a stir wherever they go. As costume design continues to evolve, the film industry continues to influence the style choices of audiences worldwide.