Inventing glamour

Appearing on Culture Concept Circle site, October 2017


Costumes show a remarkable journey

Edith Head in studio.jpegOver 70 costumes created by Hollywood legend Edith Head are on display in a remarkable show at the Bendigo Art Gallery. Head’s career spanned five decades and included nearly a thousand films, first at Paramount Studios and then at Universal Studios. She was largely responsible for associating Hollywood with fashion, glamour, and sophistication.

The exhibition includes costumes made for stars like Gloria Swanson, Natalie Wood, Dorothy Lamour, Hedy Lamarr and Veronica Lake. Moving easily between lush, flowing dresses and tailored suits, Head had a particular knack for adding telling details, such as beads or pleats. She was able to disguise apparent flaws in actresses’ bodies by using cut, drape and pattern, and made a point of understanding the character being played so the outfit was appropriate.

Although much of her work was contemporary with the time she also worked on period EH - Joan Fontaine The Emperor Waltz.jpegfilms, including huge productions such as The Ten Commandments and Samson and Delilah. Head was able to produce sensual costumes while meeting the strict requirements of the censors of the era.

An odd piece is a gown designed for Bob Hope when he pretends to be a woman in Casanova’s Big Night. The dress not only had to hang fairly well on Hope’s large frame but also had to be tough enough to withstand several comedic pratfalls.

But most male actors usually had to supply their own clothes. An exception was the Head-designed jacket worn by Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief, which was – and still is – both casual and classical.

The exhibition includes movie clips featuring Head’s costumes as well as a short film, in which Head appears, explaining the role of tEH - Olivia deHavilland The Heiress.jpeghe costume designer in the movie-making process.

Despite her association with glamour, Head was very unassuming in her own wardrobe, wearing only black, white, beige and brown. This was, she said, so the star she was dressing remained the centre of attention. However, her contribution was recognised to the extent of her receiving eight Oscars over her career, the largest number ever won by a woman.


The Costume Designer: Edith Head and Hollywood is on at the Bendigo Art Gallery until 21 January 2018. It is a ticketed exhibition.

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