Charlotte Cornelia Herzog and Jane Marie Gaines
Every little girl, all over the country, within two weeks of the release of Joan Crawford's picture, felt she would die if she couldn't have a dress like that. With the results that the country was flooded with little Joan Crawfords. 1
For Letty Lynton (1932), Gilbert Adrian designed Joan Crawford a gown which was to have far more significance than the film in which it was showcased. The white starched chiffon, featuring gigantic puffed and ruffled sleeves, introduced a fashion that lingered until the end of the thirties. Hollywood designers and fashion historians, recalling the period, have continually cited the 'Letty Lynton' dress as the most dramatic evidence of motion picture 'influence' on fashion behaviour. 2
In the following, we begin to divide this idea of mass culture 'influence' into the theoretically more productive concepts of cultural production and women's subcultural response, which is in keeping with developments in feminist film criticism. Some of the issues raised by this criticism translate into consideration of women's fashion. For instance, ready-to-wear dresses, like motion pictures, are industrial products which carry cultural meanings. These meanings comprise the 'image' a woman assumes in her own dress and demeanour. We will deal here with how star image was articulated by means of costume, and how female fans in the thirties managed to put together similar 'looks'. This raises several questions: Did women actually 'choose' new fashions? Were women free to adorn their bodies in any imaginable way or was their appearance shaped by fashion ideas circulated by the motion picture and ready-to-wear industries? Was star imitation an indication that young women believed that clothes could change their circumstances?