Putting On The Style

A revolution in beauty and cosmetics took place in the 1930s, thanks again to Hollywood. Make-up became socially acceptable and widely available for the first time. It was associated with being glamorous, as an editorial piece in Home Chat (1939) demonstrates. 'That Touch of Glamour' advised readers on the application of make-up, including rouge, eye-shadow and lip pencil. Max Factor of Hollywood was the leading brand of beauty products in Britain, and was marketed there from 1930 onwards, with the London Salon opening in February 1937. Elizabeth Arden, although she had never produced make-up for use during actual filming, did advise women in 1934 to: 'Hitch Your Beauty to a Star' in Film Fashionland: 'It's fun to have a new face, to be exotic in one's new trained evening gown, "out of door" in tweeds, and demure in a "little" dress. . . . Round faces can be made to look oval, thin one plumper. These are clever little tricks that are not reserved for stage and screen folk, but you and I can copy' (March 1934: 23). The advertising for such products used the moderne vocabulary, with the same swept-back lines, and incorporated literal references to Hollywood and Hollywood stars with the introduction of celebrity endorsements in 1930. It was not only Max Factor that used star endorsements; products like Icilma Peach Powder featured Universal Pictures star Gloria Stuart. The scope for emulation of Hollywood stars by means of beauty products was used by Amami henna shampoos during the 1930s. In 1936 an advert in Home Chat read 'Is this Jean Harlow? No! This attractive young lady is Kay Dillon of London - another Amami lovely!' The lettering can be described as elongated in form and asymmetrical, quite unlike its art deco or Bauhaus contemporaries.

A sample of adverts from women's magazines of the 1930s also reveals the extent to which the British aristocracy was still an important a source of fashionability, almost as important as the Hollywood stars.

Pond's Face Powder was endorsed in a run of adverts by Lady Ursula Stewart, Lady Marguerite Strickland, Lady Milbanke, Lady Barbara Gore and Viscountess Moore. California Poppy perfume enjoyed the endorsement of Lady Moira Combe and the Countess of Carlisle. What is interesting about the two campaigns is that the portraits of the women are based on Hollywood prototypes, to judge by the use of lighting, profiles and clothing. Discussion of presentations at court, foreign royal families, births, deaths and marriages and visits to the races also featured on the pages of a mass-circulation magazine like Home Chat. It was often the glamorous clothes of the aristocrats that occupied the magazine. In April 1936 readers were presented with a portrait of the Countesse de Crayamel, younger daughter of shipowner Sir John Latta, with the caption: 'The very lovely person below in the glorious silver fox cape (doesn't it make you sigh with envy?) . . .'. My mother recalls that sources of fashion came not only from Hollywood but also from the British aristocracy as glimpsed in the pages of The Tatler, which her father bought occasionally as a treat, particularly at Christmas, when a colourful bumper version was sold (In interview with author 1998)

Hollywood fashions were highly influential, and British women were able to emulate them, adapting them to their own requirements and taste if necessary through home dressmaking. Home Chat featured clothes from Hollywood films and illustrated sources for paper patterns. On 1 January 1938 there was a photograph of Marlene Dietrich in a full-length evening gown featured in the film Angel, with examples of Bestway Patterns that could be bought and a dress that could be made to emulate the look. However, this was not straightforward copying: women were advised about the types of fabric suitable for such a gown, but the choice was definitely left to them. There was even a shortlived magazine devoted solely to Hollywood fashion. Film Fashionland began publication in March 1934 under the strap-line of : 'The Charm of the Film World Brought to Every Woman's Life'. Priced at 6d, it was three times as expensive as Home Chat and was beautifully produced, with heavier quality paper and colour illustrations. The magazine came with a free pattern in every monthly issue, the first being for a shirt and skirt modelled on the cover by Fox Film star, Miriam Jordan. Further paper patterns could be ordered from the magazine, based on examples worn by Hollywood stars. The magazine carried adverts that featured other brands of patterns and recommendations for fabric. In July 1934 Horrocks, the textile manufacturers, advertised their piqué voile dress, as worn by British film star Dorothy Hyson. 'Nothing Difficult About This Charming Film Frock - You Can Make It For A Few Shillings' ran the copy. For the more affluent woman, dresses could be bought ready-made from major department stores like D. H. Evans and Parnell's in London or by mail order.

In addition to the plethora of ways in which Hollywood affected everybody's lives in 1930s Britain in the form of fashion, interior décor and make-up, it also affected those growing up in the Hollywood era. As American film grew in respectability as the 1930s progressed, so the movies appealed more and more to children. The appeal of Shirley Temple meant that my mother was very nearly christened Shirley instead of Gwendoline. My father also recalls: 'Spin-offs - children were named after film stars. My brother Raymond Massey. There were Shirleys, Deannas, etc.' (In interview with author 1998). Children were also trained to dance like Shirley Temple: 'Young Girls learned to tap dance - Miss Madison's in Consett where my cousin Doreen - a lookalike Shirley Temple - tapped away in front of local audience' (In interview with author 1998). Special children's Saturday matinées also became popular during the 1930s. It was not only seeing the films but the stars in the flesh that remained in my father's memory: 'In my time my mother took me to Newcastle frequently to see shows or music hall (variety acts they were called). Many of the film stars appeared. As a young boy I particularly remember the "cowboy" Tom Mix with his white horse and cowboy gang. Also Alan Jones who was famous for singing "Donkey Serenade" on a film' (In interview with author 1998).

The moderne style was all-pervasive during the 1930s in Britain. It was used for the design of virtually all building types and their interiors, including hotels, houses, flats, factories, shops, garages, airports, railway stations, golf club-houses, cinemas and offices in almost every town and city. It inspired aspects of transport design, fashion, furniture, advertising, film-set design and beauty products. The word itself did have meaning in Britain at the time: for instance, the Moderne cinema was built in Winton near Bournemouth, Dorset in 1935. The opening of the cinema was only mentioned in the local newspaper, The Times and Directory, which gives a useful contemporary definition of the word:

The 'Moderne' Cinema fully justifies its name. It is, indeed, the last word in the modernistic style of building and architecture. Externally, of course, the main building has no special features and is, in fact, almost unnotice-able from the main Wimborne Road, bur the brilliantly lighted entrance from which a wide corridor leads to the main hall, is an attractive feature. Inside the visitor cannot fail to be pleasantly surprised by the luxurious atmosphere of comfort which is conveyed by the very simplicity of the furnishing. This may seems a paradox, but in conformity with the modern taste the fittings, in which chromium plays a large part, have an illusive attraction which contrasts with the former vogue of elaborate ornamentation. The new type of interior decoration produces a pleasing effect of plastic design. The most novel feature is the streamline shape of the auditorium and the grilled effect of concealed lighting.

The glamour of Hollywood through the allure of the moderne had a huge impact on both sides of the Atlantic during the 1930s. Glamour was equated with modernity and an American lifestyle. This provoked the British elite to retaliate with acts of parliament restricting the exhibition of American films and an intellectual elite who used the terms 'jazz' and 'Hollywood' to denote what they regarded as inferior design aimed at the masses. The fond hope was that the masses would wake up and realise the intrinsic value of British cinema and Modernist design, which they did not.


1. Grand Hotel is the only film where Garbo utters the lines: 'I want to be alone.'

2. The couple lived apart from December 1931. James financed two ballets as showcases for Tilly's talents in 1933, but the marriage ended with a messy divorce. Tilly filed for divorce but James counterfiled, naming Prince Serge Obolensky as the third party. James was then shunned by upper-class society.


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