Guest blogpost by Casci Ritchie, a postgraduate student studying Dress and Textile Histories on placement in the University of Glasgow archive services. Casci has been working on digitising department stores catalogues from the House of Fraser archives and making the content more accessible online to researchers and students. Find Flickr albums of examples of textile swatches and colour illustrations found within the House of Fraser archives here.
Whilst digitising the John Falconer catalogues, an Aberdeen department store selling fashionable womenswear, I came across some interesting garments that instantly caught my eye. My personal interests include the influence of films on the way we dress in particular the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood films from 1929 to 1946. I was both surprised and extremely happy to find the effects of Hollywood style within the pages of a Scottish department store product catalogue in the 1930s.
Costume designer Gilbert Adrian designed a white cotton organdy gown for Joan Crawford in the 1932 Hollywood production Letty Lynton. The designer wanted to reclaim the femininity lost by the popularity of androgynous, streamlined styles of the 1920s and created this romantic gown for Crawford, emphasising her infamous broad shoulders with layers of exaggerated ruffles. Whilst the film was not an instant success, the dress certainly was. Macy’s department store in New York copied the dress shortly after and the replica sold over 50,000 units in the US. The powerful relationship between fashion and film was born.
Over the pond, the Aberdeen department store John Falconer’s sold an evening gown with a striking resemblance to the original Adrian ‘Letty Lynton’ design in the 1933 Christmas catalogue. Described as an ‘essentially feminine’ the gown was made of crepe with a fine net overlay with a satin sash bow at the back. The dress was definitely an investment piece retailing at £5 5/-which equates to approximately £200 in today’s currency. Looking at the original Adrian design and the John Falconer gown it is clear that the Lynton dress definitely had a strong influence on the department store dress. Falconer’s seemed to add their own artistic flair with layers of ruffles at the bottom. This example of department store design shows the growing power of fashion portrayed in film and highlights that the popularity of Hollywood influenced designed was not just apparent in America.
During the period of 1933 the influence of Adrian’s exaggerated shoulders can be seen throughout the catalogues of John Falconer. This style was adapted by Falconer to suit the tastes of their Aberdeen shoppers. Also included in the 1933 Christmas catalogue is this selection of ruffed capes and coatees which could be worn over a simple garment perhaps to update the ensemble.
Shoulders were broadened and slim waists exaggerated with puffed flounces of lace, chiffons, organza and netting. The ‘smart neckwear for day and evening wear’ encourages shoppers to adopt the everyday glamour seen in Hollywood films and embrace the fashionable frivolity of the emerging 1930s style. These stylish garments were easily accessed from Falconer’s department store and I would love to find some examples of some glamorous Scottish ladies wearing their feathered finest.
Images from John Falconer are held within the House of Fraser archive at the University of Glasgow archive, a full online catalogue of House of Fraser archives can be found here.
Joan Crawford image found in the Gowns by Adrian. The MGM Years, 1928-1941 (Abrahams Harry N, 2001).