Designing Hollywood: Studio Wardrobe in the Golden Age

Image of Designing Hollywood: Studio Wardrobe in the Golden Age
Release Date: 
August 29, 2023
University Press of Kentucky
Reviewed by: 

Hollywood in the studio era was devoted to the definition and production of glamour, particularly for the large female audience, accomplished not only through the female stars the studios developed, but also through the elaborate costumes they wore. As Christian Esquevin writes in Designing Hollywood, “The studios were successful beyond their dreams in selling fashion.” Thus costume design was a crucial element in the experience of watching a film. It should come as no surprise that the major designers were almost exclusively focused on the women’s costumes.

Designing Hollywood is a history of costume design through the end of the studio era. Author Christian Esquevin has chosen to devote a chapter to each of the Hollywood Studios. Within each chapter, Esquevin offers information on the most noteworthy films in terms of design. In the process, he tracks the careers of the most important designers beginning with Travis Banton and Orry-Kelly at Universal. Many of the leading designers like Kelly and Edith Head moved from one studio to another, so they appear in more than one chapter.

Esquevin’s book is more a catalogue of credits than a discussion of particular designs or styles. We find out little about the personalities of the major designers, though alcohol seems to have been a problem for many of them, no doubt a result of the pressure they were under to produce quickly a large quantity of quality designs. Esquevin does not deal with the interesting issue of contrasting studio styles. Was Kelly’s or Head’s work noticeably different when they worked for MGM? Nor does he describe many costumes in detail.

The book contains a number of black-and-white and full-page color illustrations.

Designing Hollywood is useful in telling the film buff who did what when and where, but it doesn’t give the reader much detail about the costumes or costumers.