By the end of “Gone with the Wind,” Rhett Butler didn’t care about Scarlett O’Hara, but millions of American women did — and paid close attention to her multiple costumes.
The mid-19th century fashion portrayed in the film, with its corsets and hoop skirts, was not particularly practical for 1939, when the film debuted. But the details of Scarlett’s many dresses and other costumes from the 1930s movies — the prints, embellishments, fabrics and fastenings — entered the fashion zeitgeist, even in Nebraska, according to the company’s research. researcher and former student of Husker Anna Kuhlman.
Kuhlman, who grew up in Andover, Kansas, and came to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as an undergraduate in merchandising and fashion design, has long been fascinated by historical fashion and popular culture. As a child, she volunteered at a living history museum near her hometown, where she dressed in period clothing and remembered it as one of the “coolest things ever.” the temperature”. She also turned to the American Girl range of dolls and books, which followed the stories of fictional girls living through very real American history, as well as the clothes they wore.
A master’s student in material culture and textile studies, she continues her studies in historical fashion practices, trends, fabrics and adornments.
“I’ve always been personally interested in early 20th century fashion,” Kuhlman said. “The Great Depression and the World War II later really changed the way fashion was interacted with, bought and seen. There was already a lot of existing research on the World War II fashion, but less about the Depression. I focused on Nebraska because of our collection here and other resources, but also because the Midwest is less well known. I had never really seen what fashion looked like for women here at that time.
In her dissertation research, she found that although fashion magazines of the 1930s often hoisted industry trends first, the popularity of movies propelled these styles to department stores around the world.
“A common pattern seen across research was evidence of a trend at least several months before a movie was released, then being exaggerated by costume designers for specific movies, which were then changed by makers/ retailers to sell them to consumers matching their tastes, needs, and prices,” she wrote in her dissertation, “The Making of Everyday Hollywood: 1930s Influence on Everyday Women’s Fashion in Nebraska.”
Watching movies in theaters has long been a popular pastime in the United States, even during the Great Depression, when 46-68% of WE the population attended the cinema every week – most of the spectators being women, according to a 2001 research article by R. Butsch. Additionally, more ready-to-wear clothing had been adopted by the middle class by the turn of the century.
To understand how movie fashion translated to middle-class women in the state, Kuhlman delved into the archives of Vogue magazine; five films from the 1930s and accompanying promotional material in film magazines; the clothing collection of the textiles, merchandising and fashion design department; and over 500 photos from History Nebraska.
The films chosen by Kuhlman were based on their popularity, screenings in Nebraska theaters, year of release, and fame of the actors and actresses in the lead roles: “Letty Lynton” (1932), “It Happened One Night” (1934), “Model” (1937), “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife” (1938) and “Gone with the Wind” (1939).
“Joan Crawford, and her film ‘Letty Lynton,’ were known to scholars very specifically as the one who started the fashion film craze, especially the dress,” Kuhlman said. “A lot of previous research has pointed to this movie as a starting point. Similarly, for “Gone with the Wind,” that film’s barbecue dress, a green floral dress, is also cited as one of the most copied looks.
Kuhlman found that to be true in Nebraska as well. She noted that 25 photos taken after the release of “Letty Lynton” featured clothing similar to the film’s fashions, including the famous dress, with its voluminous sleeves and svelte fit. “Gone with the Wind,” meanwhile, produced similar styles in 20 photographs.
“(The) big picture is that the modes that had more promotion and more screen time were the ones that tended to be copied the most,” Kuhlman said. “There might have been a really cool dress in a movie, but if it was only two minutes of screen time, then no magazine or other promotional material really had pictures of it.”
For example, Kuhlman noted that “It Happened One Night”—in which the title character, played by Claudette Colbert, spends most of the film in a striped top and black skirt—likely played a role in the stripes’ adoption. and a more comfortable knit business wear.
“Knitting was definitely growing in popularity, but I think Hollywood and this movie popularized it more,” Kuhlman said. “With the success of the movie, that look, especially with the stripes, was copied more, and I think it carried on the idea of knitwear. It became more socially acceptable to wear clothes that were a bit more comfortable, and it was probably a precursor to sportswear.
Few modes were copied identically, Kuhlman said, but they could be traced to films of the time.
“They were made practical for what these women did in their lives,” she said. “They were mothers, teachers, nurses. They adapted these cinematic modes to what they were doing.
Kuhlman, who received her master’s degree in May, continues to work with the historic textiles and costume collections of the Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design. She also uses her knowledge of historic textiles and clothing at the Stuhr Museum on Grand Island, where she reproduces period costumes for the Living History Museum.