The fashions and aesthetics of the 1930s are particularly appealing. The intense decadence of the outfits in the films, transported you to a different place outside of your own life. The majority of people were hard up from the end of the first World War, and the market crash caused many families to starve. It was undeniably a harsh contrast to the glamorous locations, glamorous clothing and OTT interiors that movie portrayed. One of my favourite heroines that personifies the Thirties glamour is Claudette Colbert. Relatively unknown now, in comparison to a lot of her contemporaries, like Marlene Dietrich and Garbo, many people did not realise her credentials at the time. Her career was almost unknown in Hollywood, although virtually all the Forty movies that she made were smash hits. David O. Selznick the legendary producer, who was famously hard to get on with, confessed that all her movies had grossed more than 1 million dollars and he would tend to her every whim.
She landed her first movie role whilst studying fashion design. She made her first talkies in 1927, and thereafter she worked on screen for 20 years. Her acting range was varied. She played a mysterious, exotic vixen in ‘The Sign of the Cross’, a spoilt society heiress in ‘It Happened One Night’ and an ambitious, single mother in ‘The Imitation of Life’. All of these, she played with extreme professionalism and unforgettable performances. The timing of her line deliveries was so famous that her co-star Gary Cooper was intimidated by her.
I adore her exceptional beauty, with her extremely arched eyebrows, sphinx-like features and delicate bone structure, she sure had a face one can’t forget.
There was a very famous story that her role in ‘All About Eve ‘ was specifically designed for her. She had damaged her back in another movie and reluctantly she had to pass the flick to Bette Davis. The director spoke of his regret at not having the ability to capture her feline features in the flick. I believe her feline aura, with her liquid, gold physique would definitely have caused riots in that movie.
She was also famous, for demanding to be filmed from the right side of her face. Regardless of technical difficulties, she would insist with this diva-like demand to ensure that this was the only angle she was filmed from. I guess that is why movie stars had such a mystery and mastery in their persona. The image that they projected to the audience only allowed for perfection. The stars were flawless, and obtained a consistent image all of the time.
Claudette Colbert was always impeccably dressed, off and on screen. In ‘Tomorrow is Forever’ (1946), Jean Louis was employed to make eighteen changes of wardrobe for her Colbert’s style is best described with a quote from Jeanie Basinger in The Global Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers: “[Her] glamour is the sort that girls attain for themselves by employing their intelligence to create an eternal private style.”
Claudette Colbert starred as Empress Poppaea in Cecille B. DeMille’s ‘The Sign of the Cross ‘, 1932. The get ups were designed by Mitchell Liesen, who was also the Art Director for the film. As you can clearly see, this film was released before the Motion Picture Production Code, or censorship, was imposed, starting in 1934. Colbert’s costume had a low decolletage, bare midriff, and cut outs at the hips. In this scene from the film, you will see her cavorting in a milk bath with another suggestive costume being worn by Vivian Tobin as Dacia.
The liquid satin, bias-cut evening gowns that she often wore in her movies, would certainly not be our go-to attire for everyday life, but we certainly could aspire to a shorter version. With a bit of luck, you could be a screen siren too, sipping martinis and being a diva in your own right!