This post is a review of Designing Hollywood: Studio Wardrobe in the Golden Age. Read my thoughts about Christian Esquevin’s book published by The University Press of Kentucky to decide whether it’s right for you or anyone on your (holiday) gift list.
Disclosure: Ad. The book entitled Designing Hollywood: Studio Wardrobe in the Golden Age is a sample of my choice provided by Pacific Court. The post is not endorsed by them, the author and The University Press of Kentucky. I wrote it entirely myself, and it represents my own 100% honest opinion.
Before 1920, film stars wore their own wardrobe in the movies. However, thereafter, the wardrobe and fashion not only became central to telling the plot or story – think: clothing conveys a message. In addition, the studio wardrobe became essential for the movie marketing and advertising strategy.
The latter was especially true for the female actors’ attire. The various magazines featured the stars in the garments they wore during filming which helped establishing the Hollywood Glamour Style, while promoting the movie and its stars.
Major studios started hiring costume designers, seamstresses, and cutter-fitters. Their task was to dress the actresses/actors their best and in line with their role in the movie. While in the beginning of the Golden Age, the designers had long-term contracts, starting in the 1950s, studios began hiring designers for a specific star or movie.
The Golden Age came to an end in the late 1960s, early 1970s. Reasons were the increase of households with TVs, and the related decline in movie visits.
The first chapter sets the historical framework of Hollywood movies in the Golden Age. In the next chapters, the author discusses the various studios, their productions, stars, financial situations, designers, and iconic clothes. Herein, the main focus is on the designer and attire. In addition, the reader learns about the movies, their stars, and the costs of the created attire.
Christian Esquevin elucidates the diverse backgrounds of the designers. He introduces examples of self-made, grass-root designers, design/fashion college graduates and designers of Haute Couture. Photos of employees of the wardrobe department underline the huge efforts spent on the glamor attire.
Despite their central role for the success and marketing of the film, the designers received no mentioning of their work in the early decades. Finally, the end credits of the film listed the head designers. The reason was that the Film Academy began to award designers for the Best Wardrobe for color and black-and-white movies.
Christian Esquevin well illustrates the symbiosis between studios, designers, (glamourous) attire for marketing of the stars and films. In total 74 b&w and 25 color photos of sketches and stars in their movie attire support and enhance the written story.
He also points out the friction among stars on the set, stars and designers, designers on the set, and the head designers and management. Disagreements and even hate led to an often unhealthy, unfair and/or unpleasant work environment. Consequences reached from leaving the studio before the end of the production, over mental health issues, to potentially suicide.
In my opinion, this book is a Must-Read for historic film enthusiasts, fashion historians, and all people who are interested in fashion, design, and/or film. It would be an excellent read as one of the books for an entry course in fashion-, design- and/or film college programs.
The University Press of Kentucky is the publisher of this interesting hardcover book of 256 pages. You can buy the book for $49.95 on their website.
Alternatively, you can also order the book at
Christian Esquevin earned a BS degree in anthropology at the California State University, Los Angeles, and a MSLS in Library Sciences at the University in Southerner California in 1971 and 1975, respectively. He worked as the director of the Coronado Public Library from 1988-2018.
He is the blogger at silverscreenmodes.com, a scholar, collector of classic film costume design sketches, and a researcher of Hollywood costume design history. In 2008, he authored Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label.
Photos: N. Mölders
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