Don’t be afraid to be different.
Don’t be afraid to grow up.
Stop mentally walking the Atlantic
City boardwalk in a beauty parade.
Make capital of your defects.
Cultivate a color sense.
Learn restraint in dress.
Understand the value of simplicity.
And dress to be interesting!
With these words, Hollywood designer Gilbert Adrian – known simply as Adrian to his public – speaks to the readers of Motion Picture Magazine, guiding them to rethink their attitudes towards dress and beauty, and to embrace their possibilities, rather than feeling quelled by contemporary ideals.
Published in the 3 May 1926 edition, Adrian’s words are imbued with the designer’s understanding of the ways actors’ images could be sculpted by artful costuming. The magazine describes him as a ‘youthful genius’, at the time he was head of wardrobe at the De Mille Studio, and he went on to work at MGM, where he designed costumes for stars including, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, during the 1930s and 1940s.
For readers of a fan magazine, he represented a tangible link to their favourite actors and a means to learn the kind of skills in cosmetics and dress that were evolving as cinema boomed in the 1920s. Like fashion magazines of the period, film journals appealed to women’s desire to emulate their idols – whether society women, fashion models, or stars. While publications such as Vogue targeted a slightly older, more elite woman, fan magazines attracted young women eager to make the most of readymade fashions that now brought style to a wider group than ever before.
The article seeks to manage expectations – while it is clearly designed to guide women’s approach to their appearance, Adrian addresses his audience with both authority and empathy, aware they cannot look exactly like their favourite screen star, but counseling them to be confident and strategic in their choices. For example, he complains that too many women seem to believe only in two age groups-16 or 60- with many therefore dressing too young or too old, and warns: ‘…beware of making yourself ridiculous by clinging to flapperdom too long!’ Instead, women should embrace a sophisticated style, and remember that ‘All pretty women can’t be interesting, but an interesting woman can outshine all pretty ones.’
And how to cultivate being interesting? Adrian assures his readers that this is attainable: ‘ It can be developed, since it is a quality of mind, and it will last and increase while beauty and youth fade and decay.’ Such girlish terms as ‘cute’ should be abandoned, women should ignore men’s interest in frivolous examples of femininity such as the Ziegfeld Follies, and ‘Instead of trying unsuccessfully to hide what you consider your defects make capital of them!’ Don’t, therefore, copy a trend simply to follow the herd, or mistakenly try to ape film costumes designed for an exotic narrative. He advocates ‘individual dressing’ focused on a small number of well-made and carefully chosen garments that highlight one’s personality. Advice that is still being given in magazines now…