Signaling the start of Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age, Depression-era cinema set the foundation for trends in film, culture, and fashion throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The star-powered studio system, the moral conduct code, and the typical film personae were crafted and fleshed out during this period. Directly following the gay twenties and collapsing into the economic disaster of 1929 and 1930, Hollywood sought to keep audiences paying to see films and fought to maintain a theatre-going culture, where seeing a film was an essential part of daily life. In order to keep attendance high, studios sought the biggest stars, the best talent, and the most intriguing and sometimes raciest story lines. Known as the pre-code (as in, the period prior to the enforcement of the Hays Code which restricted what was portrayed on film) era, the period from 1930 to about the middle of 1934 allowed for some of the freshest, most provoking portrayals on film the public had and ever would see (at least until the 1960’s). During this period, women’s roles in films flourished, as pre-code starlets such as Barbara Stanwyck, Ruth Chatterton, Norma Shearer, and Greta Garbo were given meaty roles that went against the stereotypical ideals of femininity (as seen in the 1920’s archetypes). Playing divorcees, professional women, ‘loose’ women who were never punished for their sexual depravity, maneaters, women who used men for their own personal gain, and on and on, pre-code actresses were really allowed to let loose on the silver screen. Some of the most fun to watch performances were given during this period by women who modern film lovers often remember for their latter (more sober and classical) roles during the forties and fifties.
But what does all this mean in terms of fashion? Continue reading