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Lamé, Sequins, and Velvet, Oh My! 20 Delightful Women’s Fashion Moments in Classic Entertainment

In the history of fashion we’ve seen the highest of highs, and the most embarrassing of lows. Plenty of lists have tackled the subject of classic Hollywood fashion. Names like Adrian, Edith Head and Givenchy are commonplace, and rightly so. These designers are legends.

That’s why I’m framing this one a bit differently. I tried to stay away from some of the same old. go-to gowns. I’m mean, a few of the usual suspects will certainly pop up here and there, but my goal is to represent the moments that blew my mind, the ones that made me who I am, and above all, those that had me wanting something new to put in my closet.

20.) Mitzi Gaynor and Marilyn Monroe in There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954)

Okay, technically Donald O’Connor is included here too, but that’s a different listicle. This was a hard selection to make because there are so many Marilyn Monroe outfits which could have made the cut. Heck, there were even a few Mitzi Gaynor looks I could have included.

I’ve always loved the relaxed design of this number, particularly the simplicity in Monroe’s costuming. As an actress, Marilyn Monroe often feels very manufactured, so this relatable, easy outfit is such a nice change. At the same time, Mitzi Gaynor’s look in this number is absolutely flawless. There’s her hair, her earrings, the shoes and then that fantastic top! I always always wanted that sweater.

The costume design is credited to: Travilla and Miles White.

There’s No Business Like Show Business is available here!

19.) Julie Adams in The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

I’m cheating a bit here. There isn’t one Julie Adams moment in The Creature from the Black Lagoon which stands out. The entire movie is one long, delightful fashion show piece. That being said, I’m still not quite sure how Kay (Adams) actually found a way to pack all the outfits she brought on that rickety little boat, but she’s absolutely spot-on in each and every outfit choice.

Rosemary Odell receives credit for Julie Adams’ costumes.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon is available here!

18.) Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

I went back and forth throughout Rebel Without a Cause repeatedly, internally debating which of Natalie Wood’s flawless outfits I wanted to include here. Truthfully, I think the amazing use of color stymied me. Everything looks immaculate. I finally settled on this outfit because the whole look comes together so well on-screen and looks effortless in context. It’s entirely realistic for a teenager, yet it’s still easy to dream of being Natalie Wood in her cinematic glamor. *chefs kiss*.

Costume Design is credited to Moss Mabry.

Rebel Without a Cause is available here.

17.) Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas (1964)

Ann-Margret makes things look so darn easy: from dancing, to dressing, to being a mid-sixties sex kitten, (okay, there’s a lot more to her, but I digress) to even wearing a shade of yellow that few people manage to pull off without looking like Big Bird.

This look in Viva Las Vegas is constructed so simply, yet it pops vividly on-screen. Audiences have no choice but to look at these two amazingly good looking leads. They dominate the frame. Ann-Margret is one of those performers whose always been in my life, and this look is one which easily stands out in her already highly fashionable career.

Costume Design is Credited to Don Feld.

Viva Las Vegas is available here.

16.) Jean Harlow in The Girl from Missouri (1934)

If I remember correctly, The Girl from Missouri is the first Jean Harlow movie I ever watched, and it is still one of my favorites. This look in particular is one which I always come back to in the pantheon of all things Harlow. It always sticks in my mind. There is something about this dress which works so beautifully on-screen, particularly in the crafting of this scene. It’s delicate and feminine, but at the same time it oozes the strength inherent in each and every one of her performances.

Costume Designs are credited to Adrian.

The Girl from Missouri is available here.

15.) Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

This is an example of everything in a scene working seamlessly together to craft a stunningly delightful look. Debbie Reynold’s dress in “You Were Meant for Me” photographs so, so, so well. The flow, the material, and even that super-soft lilac color. Everything about this scene looks like a pastoral painting. At the same time though, I can’t help but wonder how much of the dress’ amazingness is thanks to the background, the smoke and the spotlights, all of which perfectly compliment this design. This music number quite literally calls attention to the manufactured nature of Hollywood romance, and it pulls me right along with it.

Walter Plunkett is credited with the costume design.

Singin’ in the Rain is available here.

14.) Lesley Gore on The Ed Sullivan Show (1963)

Now, there are bigger looks deeper on this list, but Lesley Gore is one of my earliest fashion icons. This is the absolute honest truth! I still remember when I first watched this number and the clouds parted. Since that faithful day in 1997, I’ve been on a quest to copy her hair and make-up… and I’ve never quite cracked it. And yes, darling readers, I’m still working on it. I bow to my fashion queen.

13.) Rosemary Clooney on The Mitch Miller Show (1954)

Rosemary Clooney is a titan. She’s a legend and we didn’t deserve her. Don’t tell anyone, but this isn’t the first time you’ll see her on this list either. This is one of the those dresses I would do anything to put in my closet. As a decade, the 1950s were so structured, so organized, and the dresses just… defied gravity. I love everything going on in this look, from the texture in the bodice, to all the life in that skirt and Clooney absolutely sells all of it with her confidence.

12.) Ingrid Bergman in Casasblanca (1942)

Casablanca is a perfect movie. I remember the first time it blew my mind twenty years ago during a late night PBS airing. As the years passed, I’ve loved it even more with each and every viewing. In a movie where Ingrid Bergman is already iconic, this look raises everything to another level. Is it the use of the stripes? I think it might be the stripes. How does someone make horizontal stripes look so good? She’s Ingrid Bergman. That’s how.

Orry-Kelly is credited with the costume design.

Casablanca is available here.

11.) Kim Novak in Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

Kim Novak is an actress who looks immaculate in each and every role she tackles. There are so many moments in Vertigo (1958) which could rate on this list. There’s even a few I thought of in Boys Night Out (1962). However, Bell, Book and Candle emerges as a visually iconic film. Novak’s costuming carries such weight in the unique crafting of her character throughout this gem of a movie. There’s hardly a typical 1950s look in the bunch, but Gillian is also not a typical 1950s woman, so this girl isn’t going to complain.

Jean Louis is credited with the costume design.

Bell, Book and Candle is available here.

10.) Jean Harlow in Bombshell (1933)

Here we have Jean Harlow making her second appearance on this list in my other favorite of her films, Bombshell. This frilly and girly outfit looks amazing on camera. At the same time though, it is used smartly in context. In this scene, the dress is a symbol. This dress is chic, Hollywood glamor. This is how the audience sees movie star Lola Burns (Harlow). However, this entire look is held in contrast to her behavior as well as the chaos in her house, thus crafting a truly fascinating internal struggle for Lola to work through in this delightfully entertaining movie.

Adrian is credited with the costume design.

Bombshell is available here.

9.) Eydie Gormé and Dinah Shore on The Steve Allen Show (1958)

Okay, I’m cheating a bit with this technical marvel of a clip (just watch it and see!). “You can hardly see anything!” You’re exclaiming. I suppose this is true. It’s a bit grainy to really see the fashion. However, there’s a lot going on here. Just remember that Dinah Shore is an icon who never put a fashion foot wrong. Google it. It’s well documented. She enters the clip at 2:25 and I’d love to know what this dress looked like in real life. Meanwhile, Eydie Gormé enters the clip 0:43 rocking the structured, but energetic 1950s fashion which keeps appearing on this list.

8.) Ginger Rogers in Top Hat (1935)

The infamous dress. As I sit here writing this article, I needed to include one of the oh-so-many fabulous dresses Ginger Rogers wore throughout her career and realized, it had to be this one. I mean, sure, there is a bit of a shedding problem. However, aside from those issues, this dress looks stunning on camera. I love the subtle ways it picks up the light, as well as the drape and movement of the feathers. At the same time, the use of the extra materials on the dress adds so much to the rhythm and flow of the dancing, resulting in a number that stands out in a sea of already amazing Astaire and Rogers numbers.

Bernard Newman received credit on the costume design while Rogers is said to have had a hand in designing the gown herself.

Top Hat is available here.

7.) Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954)

This outfit comes from a quiet moment in the legendary musical White Christmas, but it has long stuck in my mind. While actress Vera-Ellen wears a number of iconic dresses in this movie, I had to give this one a mention. Look. At. This. Skirt. Friends, this is the skirt I’m subconsciously searching for when I look for vintage clothing. The fit. The bounce. The flow. It’s all amazing. Take note next time you’re watching White Christmas.

Edith Head is credited with the costume design.

White Christmas is available here.

6.) Sandra Dee in Come September (1961)

Come September is a little joy of a film, probably best remembered by viewers as the movie that brought Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee together as a couple. Sandra Dee wears a number of delightful looks throughout, so it’s hard to pick just one. (However, this yellow number is so much fun!) Like Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause, each manages to somehow be teenage and relatable, yet Sandra Dee feels utterly glamorous and capable of romancing Bobby Darin in Italy.

Morton Haack receives credit on the costume design.

Come September is available here.

5.) Diahann Carroll on The Danny Kaye Show (1964)

This is a small, but mighty moment. Diahann Carroll is an actress who (like Dinah Shore mentioned above) had a sense of style to which most of us mere mortals could only aspire. She never never put a foot wrong. In fact, this clip represents only one amazing fashion moment in a career that is absolutely full of them. Deep dive into her work if Carroll is new to you!

4.) Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Meet Me in St. Louis was a surprisingly late watch for me, but it remains one of my favorites among Judy Garland‘s varied filmography. I once saw someone write, “Find yourself someone who looks at you the way Vincente Minnelli‘s camera looks at Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis“. This is so accurate. Garland is absolutely radiant throughout the entire film. So many elements gel seemlessly for Esther to absolutely shine: Garland’s hair and make-up design, the fabulous period fashions, her vibrant performance and then you have to factor in Minnelli’s luscious use of color in the must-see musical.

Irene receives credit on the costume design.

Meet Me in St. Louis is available here.

3.) Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946)

Here’s one of the iconic fashion moments which makes all of the listicles, but I don’t apologize. Rita Hayworth is well-regarded as one of classic Hollywood’s greatest talents, and Gilda is arguably her most famous role. This scene is a great example of how a performance can elevate a costume in the scope of a film. While this dress isn’t the brightest or most ornate on this list, in “Put the Blame on Mame”, the dress takes on new life and deserves all the praise it receives.

Jean Louis is credited with the costume design.

Gilda is available here.

2.) Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954)

Rear Window is one of the most popular movies, from one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema. At the same time, the film features a performance from the equally iconic Grace Kelly in a series of costumes which can only be described as luminous. I mean, Lisa (Kelly) is a fashion model, so her extravagant wardrobe makes an awful lot of sense. This doesn’t mean I’m not jealous though. Her costuming throughout this film shows 1950s fashion at its brightest, most elegant and classiest. Each and every design here is a work of art. There is so much in this movie to love, so make sure to check out Rear Window if you haven’t.

Edith Head is credited with the costume design.

Rear Window is available here.

1.) Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas (1954)

I told you Rosemary Clooney would be back. And for that matter, White Christmas becomes the only film to make this list twice. This dress appears in the “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” number in the second act and shows Clooney reaching new levels of amazing sultriness in this intricately crafted dress. However, for some reason I never see this beautiful dress written about nearly enough. Let’s try and remedy this folks. There you have it! My number one.

Edith Head is credited with the costume design.

White Christmas is available here.

**

There have been so many gorgeous, well-crafted designs to cross the silver screen throughout the history of Hollywood. So, this list is by no means comprehensive– fashion is subjective, after all. There are so many more looks and designs to study, worship, and above all, try to capture during a vintage shopping spree.

So, what are your picks for delightful moments in women’s fashion on screen? Shout them out in the comments.

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1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960, Lists

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Kimberly Pierce View All

Podcaster at Hollywood and Wine, historian and filmmaker studying contributions of women in Classic TV. Film critic for Geek Girl Authority. Classic film lover for Ticklish Business.

You can find me on Twitter @kpierce624!

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