Swing Time (1936) is full of lovely outfits, and all very luxurious thirties to lure cinemagoers out of their economic depression.
Fred is near permanently attired in full evening suit – bar an immaculate fur collared overcoat and silk scarf for the snow sequence, while Ginger dons costume designer Bernard Newman’s flowing gowns for dancing and Chanel style suits and fox fur for day wear.
Among all this luxury is a plain, yet deliciously feminine black dress worn for the ‘Pick Yourself Up’ waltz. This is a classic example of 1930s praise for a curvy female form. Post Hays code, dresses displayed less flesh but were pulled in tighter for that ‘poured in’ look.
Here Ginger not only shows off what an incredible figure she has (despite those perfect pins being insured for $500,000 less than good old Fred’s), she also displays a dainty, buttoned up cheekiness that renders the viewer utterly charmed by her presence:
Black day dress with fitted bodice. Full skirt from natural waistline and pleated hem. Ruffled Peter Pan collar with matching bow neckline, half sleeves with gently pronounced shoulder roll.
Matching patent leather shoes with almond toes and platform heel.*
Difficult to the ascertain dress’ material. Possibly then trendy rayon for its practical, silk-alike properties.
This was functional, wearable couture of the era. It principally evolved from the 1920s craze for ladies’ sportswear; Ginger does play a dance teacher after all. The dress has Newman’s name all over it. He could do glitz and glamour, but after training at New York luxury store Bergdorf Goodman, from window dresser to designer, he could also do simplicity.
Apparently Ginger used to bombard Newman with all sorts of crazy ideas for dresses, including a bizarre ‘granite’ costume and even a gown made of mirrors – to which RKO director Mark Sandrich apparently remarked, ‘Ginger, we can’t use it. You can see the camera reflected in your tits’. It is said she stormed off set after that, and quite right too.
Another fun tidbit concerns Ginger having lead weights sewn into the hems of her dresses so they would dip and twirl as she moved. This is neatly demonstrated in Swing Time with three astonishingly graceful vaults over the dance floor railings – and if Fred wasn’t there guiding her tiny frame in his arms you’d swear she could float.
Here’s a clip of the Pick Yourself Up waltz on YouTube. Notice how Ginger claps her hands together in a ‘done and dusted’ gesture at the end of the dance. Just love this gal.
© 2009 – 2013, Christopher Laverty.