The Golden Age of Hollywood is a term often thrown around as a catch-all for a time when motion picture-making was fueled by big studios, big money, and even bigger stars. An era of growth and experimentation (especially from 1930 to 1945), it was a time when the “big eight” studios (20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, MGM, Paramount Pictures, RKO Radio Pictures, United Artists, Universal Studios and Warner Bros.) employed pools of incomparable acting talent on long-term contracts and hordes of talented artisans who turned screenplays into vivid films. In those 15 years, more than 7,500 features were released and the number of Americans who watched at least one movie in a theater per week swelled to more than 80 million.
Hollywood glittered not just with profit, but with brilliant filmmakers and of course, glimmering and glamorous stars capable of igniting cultural controversy and fashion trends. In fact, the styles depicted by the costumes of major Hollywood motion pictures of the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s had a significant effect on the popular clothing trends during these decades in America. Epitomizing and popularizing a particular idea of elegance and glamour, department and specialty stores often mass-produced and sold inexpensive copies of popular movie costumes, which proved to be lucrative and successful for both the stores and the film studios.
Though Hollywood costume designers often followed the silhouettes dictated by Parisian designers, Paris’s influence over American fashion began to wane as Hollywood costume designers and up-and-coming American designers became more proficient at translating European trends into fashion available for the public. Beginning in the 1930s, daywear was portrayed as simplistic and practical, while evening wear was formal and elegant. Art Deco became an important influence, resulting in strong, well-defined silhouettes—womenswear that featured floor length dresses, cowl necklines, exposed backs, and bias cut skirts, menswear defined by handsome layers and geometric paneling.
Films during the Golden Age also commonly featured the theme of costume as a symbol of personal transformation and upward social mobility. This encouraged moviegoers to continually shop and purchase new products in order to improve themselves and their social standing. Fueling not only the economy, the Golden Age lent itself to a sense that independence could be had via consumption, that individuality was but a purchase away. Whether you find this liberating or nauseating, it helped shape the perception of a globally informed but distinctly American identity, one which continues to influence contemporary fashions today.
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