Where Have All the Gowns Gone?


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While flipping through the pages of a Photoplay magazine from November of 1931, I stumbled across a rather intriguing article.  It was entitled, “What Becomes of the Clothes the Stars Wear on the Screen.”  Unlike today, the leading ladies of classic cinema were often encased in the most visually enchanting and alluring clothes that a person could ever dream of.  Studios made it a priority to dress their stars in the best, and make them appear as the epitome of class to the public.  However, where do all of these gowns go after they their purpose for a film has been carried out?  That is what this article seeks to explore.


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The article was written by Helen Dade.  One of the basic questions that she poses to kick off this story is, “The film city’s greatest mystery is this:  what becomes of the six million dollars’ worth of fashionable clothes the feminine stars use each year in their picture?”    The women highlighted in this article include Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, and Lily Damita.


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So what is the answer to this mystery you might ask?  One of several things happen to these gowns.  “Some are bought by the stars, themselves — if they happen to like the same sort of thing off screen (Garbo doesn’t).”  However, the same cannot be said of Gloria Swanson who purchased the gorgeous ivory gown that she wore in “Obey that Impulse.”


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Another fate is, “Some return to the studio wardrobe department–to be worn by extras in later pictures.”  It must have been something to be an extra and have to opportunity to wear a gown that one of the greatest cinema queens had worn just a few pictures before!


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“Some are sold to studio employees on the annual ‘bargain day’.”  For some reason, upon reading this I got a vivid visual of women shoving and pulling at one another to get the dress worn by their favorite idol.  It must have been a sight to see.


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“But most of them go to “Mr. Smith,” which means that — they are either sold to the popular second-hand shops in Hollywood and Los Angeles.  They are renovated and sold for new — perhaps to the very stars who once wore them.  Or they are exported to Mexico.”  The last option made me giggle a bit, as I have no idea what Mexico would do with countless discarded Hollywood gowns.  Seems a very strange place to send them, but apparently there was some hidden rationale for this action!


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We will close with a pertinent quote from Greta Garbo.  “I don’t want to be a silly temptress. I cannot see any sense in getting dressed up and doing nothing but tempting men in pictures.”


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