Vintage 30s Fashion Style - Claudette Colbert

By Sisi Tsoi

The fashions and aesthetics of the 1930s are particularly appealing. The extreme decadence of the costumes in the movies, transports you to a different place outside of your own life. Most people were hard up from the end of the First World War, and the market crash caused many families to starve. It was certainly a stark contrast to the exotic locations, glamorous clothing and over the top interiors that the movies portrayed. One of my personal heroines that personifies the 30s glamour is Claudette Colbert. Relatively unknown now, compared to a lot of her contemporaries, like Marlene Dietrich and Garbo, a lot of people had not heard of this feline beauty, despite her super stardom at the time. Her career was almost unheard of in Hollywood, although almost all of the 40 movies that she made were smash hits. David O. Selznick the famous producer, who was notoriously hard to get on with, confessed that all her movies had grossed more than a million, and he would pander to her every whim.

She landed her first movie role while studying fashion design. She made her first talkies in 1927, and afterward 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 Occurred One Night ' and an impressive, single mum in 'The Imitation of Life'. All of these, she played with extreme professionalism and rememberable 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 famous story that her role in 'All About Eve' was meant to be designed for her. She had damaged her back in another movie and unwillingly she had to pass the movie to Bette Davis. The director spoke of his regret at not being able to capture her feline features in the movie. I think her cat-like aura, with her fluid, gold physique would certainly have caused riots in that masterpiece.

She was also famous for demanding to be filmed from the right side of her face. Regardless of technical problems, she would insist with this diva-like demand to make sure that she was only filmed from this angle. I guess that explains why film stars had such a mystery and mastery in their personality. The image that they projected to the fans was pure perfection. The stars were faultless, and portrayed a consistent image all the time.

Claudette Colbert was always impeccably dressed, off and on screen. In 'Tomorrow is Forever ' ( 1946 ), Jean Louis was hired to make 18 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 women attain for themselves by utilizing their intelligence to form a timeless personal 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 dresses that she often wore in her flicks re not necessarily dresses that we would wear today, but we could aim for a shorter version. With a bit of luck, you may be a screen siren too, sipping martinis and revelling in your own diva atmosphere.

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