July 10, 2012
Last Updated on May 5, 2022 by Dominique de Merteuil
Mommie Dearest film costumes
I’m fortunate to have been brought up by a very glamorous and sophisticated mother, who at an early age, introduced me to the wonderful world of vintage Hollywood. I was mesmerised by the performances and beauty of such stars as; Veronica Lake, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth and particularly Joan Crawford, of whom I’ve read probably every biography that’s ever had pen put to paper. Of those, one caused huge controversy, its title is Mommie Dearest and it was written by her daughter Christina.
Christina Crawford is Joan’s adopted daughter and her hugely successful 1978 biography of her mother was turned into a 1981 film starring Faye Dunaway. Mommie Dearest, either rightly or wrongly, portrayed Joan as a very cruel woman, an alcoholic and an abusive mother, an image that many of her adoring fans , myself included, have found difficult to accept. Nevertheless, the film has found a place in popular culture and for me, it’s been an inspiration set-piece for my 1940s costuming and styling.
My Love For Joan Crawford
Suffice to say that I’m a huge fan of Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn. I find their acting talent, beauty and immaculate sense of style simply intoxicating.
I was about six years old when I first watched The Women (1939) and The Philadelphia Story (1940). And from that moment on, I was hooked on the Hollywood glamour that became the inspiration for my look. The hair, the make-up, and those magnificent gowns created by the most talented costume designers in Hollywood: Adrian, Edith Head, Orry-Kelly, and Irene Sharaff, helped transform every bland-looking actress into the most beautiful woman in the world. I so wanted to become THAT woman.
By the time I was a teenager, I’d seen almost every film with Crawford Davis, Hepburn and Hayworth. I learned from watching my favourite movie stars, with a similar look and body type to mine, what styles of clothes worked and which ones didn’t.
How fortuitous that my body is so similar, shape-wise, to my biggest style inspiration, not counting my mom, Joan Crawford. I used to hate my broad shoulders until I realised that they were almost identical in size to Crawford’s shoulders. Now, instead of trying to make them look smaller, I emphasize their size with the help of 1940s jackets.
Why am I sharing this with you? I want you to know that I love Crawford and take the Mommie Dearest book and its film adaptation with a grain of salt. Let’s not forget that she was not the first or the last movie star portrayed by her child in a harsh, almost unbearable to read about, manner.
This post is my tribute to Joan Crawford, the style icon, and my excitement about owning a couple of garments designed by the great costume designer, Irene Sharaff.
Mommie Dearest Film Costumes in My Private Collection
A few years ago, by sheer coincidence, I went to an auction at Bonhams, that consisted of clothing from some of the films that Angels has been involved in the production of. Amongst the odd assortment, I stumbled upon two dresses from Mommie Dearest that were being sold as one lot. I tried them on, they fitted me like a glove and I knew then that I simply had to win them, it was beyond my control.
Well I did win the auction and two wonderful outfits that were worn by Ms Dunaway are now in my possession and just so we’re clear, that means FOREVER, and I will never ever sell them.
*Unless someone owns a dress that Joan Crawford wore in one of her 1930s or 1940s films and would want to swap with me.
Why? Well, one of the dresses was worn in what has become the seminal and arguably its most controversial scene of the film. It’s the ‘No wire hangers!’ dress that puts in an appearance when an off-the-scale with rage Joan returns home to beat her daughter senseless for hanging her clothes on a wire hanger.
No Wire Hangers Dress
Without further ado, I present the infamous ‘No Wire Hangers’ dress from the movie Mommie Dearest that is now in my proud possession. Photography, by Gregory Michael King.
The Ice Follies of 1939
The other dress was worn in the opening scene of the film. In it, Joan is preparing for a dance scene in The Ice Follies of 1939. It’s a blue ice-skating outfit made from thousands of hand-sewn sequins and from what I’ve been told since meeting someone who worked in the costume department for Mommie Dearest, the hat alone for it was more expensive to make than many designer dresses of the day.
The reason for this? The perfectionism is the legendary Irene Sharaff, Chief Costume Designer for the film and whose last film work this was to be. Ms Sharaff created costumes for Hello Dolly!, The King and I, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, West Side Story and is second only to Edith Head in Oscar count for film costume designing.
All The Other Costumes From Mommie Dearest film
So many wonderful garments, I wish were now hanging in my closet.
Any woman who appears in public without being well-groomed is digging her own grave.
I think that the most important thing a woman can have, next to her talent, of course, is her hairdresse.
I was born in front of a camera and really don’t know anything else.
If you want to see the girl next door, go next door.
Care for your clothes like for the good friends they are.
Love is fire, but wheter it is going to warm your heart or burn down your house, you can never tell.
I’ve persuaded myself that I hate things that are bad for me-fattening food, late nights and loud and agressive peaople head the list. I’m friends with myself, so I do things that are good for me, otherwise I couldn’t be good for others.
Joan Crawford, My Way of Life
You might also be interested in my article on the Joan Crawford Inspired Look!