Edith Head's "How to Dress for Success"
July 7, 2011 11:24 PM   Subscribe

Winner of more Academy Awards than any other woman in history, costume designer Edith Head authored a 1967 bestseller titled How to Dress for Success which featured her own illustrations.

Head's first Academy Award came for The Heiress starring Olivia de Havilland. Her final screen credit was Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid - which was dedicated to her memory.

Her notable creations include:

- Dorothy Lamour's sarong

- a mink-lined gown for Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark that gained notoriety for flouting wartime austerity

- Barbara Stanwyck's ecdysiast ensemble in Ball of Fire

- the costumes for Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard

- the dress Grace Kelly wore to receive her 1954 Oscar (the most expensive in Academy Award history to that time)

- Miss Kelly's stunning wardrobe in Rear Window

- Kim Novak's costumes in Vertigo

- this widely-copied dress for Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun

- the period scanties worn by Natalie Wood in The Great Race
posted by Trurl (34 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
What made Edith such a success was her ability to recycle costumes from production to production, thus keeping the studio very happy. Her sketching ability was always debated.
And you know she's the inspiration for Edna Mode, right?
posted by Ideefixe at 11:27 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Edith Head's a cultural figure we don't know a lot about...
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:51 PM on July 7, 2011


Okay, take-a two. Lighting by Edith Head.
posted by unliteral at 11:55 PM on July 7, 2011


Best graffiti seen in a Toronto nightclub's unisex restroom during the late 70s, according to my god mother: "Edith Head gives good wardrobe".
posted by zarah at 12:09 AM on July 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Barbara Stanwyck's ecdysiast ensemble in Ball of Fire.

Stanwyck is insanely cute in that film, which is weird melange of show business backstage antics, part view of N.Y.C slice of life in the 30s, part love story, part comedy and murder mystery. But Stanwyck is the spunky gold-hearted firecracker that keeps everything jumping.

Did I mention she is insanely hot and cute in that film?

Sigh.

posted by Skygazer at 12:25 AM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


(I really like her advice to wear the same thing over and over if it looks good, just changing the accessories...okay, I was doing that already, but, y'know, now that she said I could...)
posted by Mooseli at 12:27 AM on July 8, 2011


Oh and Edith Head, once you begin to take notice of how many films she's listed in the credits as the costume designer, and how many era's of Hollywood she spanned it's mind boggling. She must've been working on so many films simultaneously for so many years, and her creations were almost always incredible for some of the starlets she outfitted.
posted by Skygazer at 12:28 AM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


And superhero costumes - no capes!
:-)
posted by anonymisc at 12:30 AM on July 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Only two comments to They Might Be Giants. That's one more than I expected.

To be fair, TMBG have probably exposed their audience to more than a few obscure and interesting things with their references.

posted by mykescipark at 12:32 AM on July 8, 2011


Oh, this is good. Awesome post!
posted by Space Kitty at 12:51 AM on July 8, 2011


Did I mention she is insanely hot and cute in that film?

Skygazer, you're going to have to fight me if you want to date the ghost of Barbara Stanwyck.

Okay, that sounded weirder than I thought it would. But yes, I defy anyone to watch that film and not fall in love with her.
posted by Rangeboy at 12:55 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


love it!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:13 AM on July 8, 2011


"Costumes by Edith Head" is about as ubiquitous a credit in old movies as "Visual effects by Faciot Eduart" (who apparently doesn't even have an entry on Wikipedia? What the hell?)

Also: Edith Head was in an episode of "Columbo" so, bonus points for that.

(and thank you for putting Dorothy Lamour in a sarong. You made the world a better place for it.)
posted by ShutterBun at 1:25 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


* Farciot Edouart, that is.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:25 AM on July 8, 2011


Rangeboy: ...you're going to have to fight me if you want to date the ghost of Barbara Stanwyck


Okie dokie, cutlasses at dawn it is, you cur.

(It'll be difficult to draw blood with the sweet sound of Stanwyck's ghost laughing delightedly in the ether.)


Actually, a correction to my comment above: the film description I gave is n't Ball of Fire, but rather, Lady of Burlesque, (1943) Stanwyck plays a burlesque Gypsy Rose Lee-type character (Lee wrote the murder mystery, the film is based on).

Did I mention how umm...

posted by Skygazer at 2:39 AM on July 8, 2011


Did I mention she is insanely hot and cute in that film?

Skygazer, you're going to have to fight me if you want to date the ghost of Barbara Stanwyck


Doesn't sound weird at all, sounds like an awesome movie idea to me.
posted by Fizz at 3:55 AM on July 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


And superhero costumes - no capes!

Ha, I'd never seen a picture of Edith Head before and didn't know that the costume lady was a direct caricature/tribute. That makes that scene even better.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:15 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I loved her in The Incredibles.
posted by tommasz at 5:18 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


If Edith Head's name was in the credits, that the principals would look great was a given. She managed to improve some of the best looking humans on the planet, which says plenty.

Re: Stanwyck, I've always been partial to The Lady Eve, although I try not to miss anything she was in.

I think a film featuring Skygazer and Rangeboy in a duel to the death over the ghost of Barbara Stanwyck would be a blockbuster--but only if the costumes were designed by the ghost of Edith Head.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:51 AM on July 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have to get this book. Just have to.
posted by orange swan at 6:34 AM on July 8, 2011


I fell in love with Barbara Stanwyck from watching reruns of The Big Valley - which began filming when she was 58. Whatever was the It she had, she never lost it.

I mean it as very high praise when I say: She was a classy broad.
posted by Trurl at 6:37 AM on July 8, 2011


Nice post, and I'm glad someone already commented with "No Capes!".
posted by immlass at 6:48 AM on July 8, 2011


Her sketching ability was always debated.

I can sort of see that, but on the other hand she has a great sense of pose and facial expression. Maybe not helpful for costume design, but it makes for very entertaining illustrations!
posted by muddgirl at 7:13 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Beautiful clothes, designs, etc. but man, she sure couldn't get a decent "look" or haircut for herself. Yow.
posted by stormpooper at 7:42 AM on July 8, 2011


Head was the dept head--that's why she has the credits. She had an army of people working under her. She hated Audrey Hepburn for insisting on Givenchy in Sabrina. (I used to produce DVD extras for Paramount's back catalog.)
posted by Ideefixe at 8:39 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love this! Although, I do not know why I get this unnerved, "this isn't right" feeling whenever I see movie stars I am more familiar with in black and white (i.e. Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck) in color.
posted by spec80 at 9:20 AM on July 8, 2011


The "mink-lined gown for Ginger Rogers" (as well as the million-dollar legs it briefly conceals) can be seen on YouTube. Though, on second thought, the gown is not actually "mink-lined." It's a gown with a bodice and skirt lining of beaded silk, with a skirt and matching bolero jacket of mink. What's delightful here is that the ensemble as it first appears looks rather conservative if very rich: apparently a slim mink coat dress with a wide beaded belt. Then, when la Rogers begins to peel, it turns into a total Star Lady look.

The letdown of the Lady in the Dark movie (besides cutting the Kurt Weill score to shreds) is that the big "reveal" of staid Liza Elliot suddenly starting to bump and grind is no surprise at all: everybody knows that Ginger is going to go hotcha sooner or later!

Another Head credit, less heralded but demonstrative of her expertise and work ethic, was her whipping up all of Bette Davis's clothes for All About Eve in about a two week timeframe, since the actress was (as we all know) a late substitute for Claudette Colbert in that picture.
posted by La Cieca at 10:00 AM on July 8, 2011


"Edith Head" is also just a damn awesome name.

That is all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 AM on July 8, 2011


Stormpooper:Beautiful clothes, designs, etc. but man, she sure couldn't get a decent "look" or haircut for herself. Yow.

The woman was the Hitchcock of costume design, and you really don't think the way she dressed was intentional?

I think the whole pageboy-cut and cokebottle glasses thing was a brilliant idea - I mean, you're not going to outpretty an endless parade of people who get paid to look attractive and saying the right things. Going for 'distinctive yet nonthreatening' instead is a brilliant stroke: If you can't win, play a different game and win that one.
posted by Orb2069 at 11:06 AM on July 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


That's a great point, Orb2069. She definitely nailed the "Edith Head" look. Likea handful of other great entertainment characters, she could be personified by a few simple pen strokes. (Chaplin, Hitchcock, John Lennon, etc.)
posted by ShutterBun at 1:41 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the first time I heard of her was when I saw Lucy Gallant on American Movie Classics (back when AMC still showed classic movies. The highpoint of the movie was a Texas boomtown department store fashion show with cameo appearances (as themselves) by Texas Governor Allan Shivers and Edith Head.
posted by Ranucci at 3:25 PM on July 8, 2011


I was just at the Academy Library today, and was reading the Oral History of Adele Balkan, who worked with her. Head came back from a trip to Paris and banned chewing gum in the Paramount work rooms.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:50 PM on July 8, 2011


Zahrah, I read somewhere that someone had seen an "Edith Head gives good costume" graffito.
posted by brujita at 8:59 PM on July 8, 2011


She hated Audrey Hepburn for insisting on Givenchy in Sabrina.

I have heard Edith Head was very mad, and nearly quit, when she found out that she was only to provide Audrey Hepburn's wardrobe for the "pre-Paris makeover" segment of Sabrina. And I don't blame her — what costume designer would want to be known as the one who made Audrey Hepburn look like a frump?

Head did win an Oscar for costume design in Sabrina and though the award was based on Givenchy's costumes, she never mentioned him in her acceptance speech. Audrey Hepburn was very upset about it and told Givenchy he would never be slighted in that way again. He wasn't, and he designed much of her wardrobe, both on and off screen, for the rest of her life.
posted by orange swan at 6:11 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


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