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9 Legendary Dresses of Old Hollywood That Can Easily Outshine Modern Ones

When talking about Hollywood divas of the past, we normally recall Vivien Leigh, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe wearing dashing dresses. The gorgeous outfits were usually created by designers of movie companies who stayed in the history of fashion like world-famous couturiers. Every one of these dresses hides a big story, and they even have their own secrets.

We at Bright Side collected famous dresses of the actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age that people still talk about with admiration.

Vivien Leigh, Gone With the Wind

In the cult classic, Gone With the Wind, Vivien Leigh’s character shows up at Ashley Wilkes’ birthday in a tight dress with a deep neckline decorated with ostrich feathers. The dress was created by the costume designer, Walter Plunkett. As the story goes, the dress was picked up by Scarlett’s spouse, Rhett Butler. Having learned she had warm feelings for another man, he wanted to put her in a confusing situation.

As curious as it might sound, before the celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the film, Scarlett’s defiant dark red dress ended up in the hands of restorers because its hem was torn. They immediately understood what the issue was and what was stretching the fabric of the dress. Using an ultrasonic machine, tweezers, and scissors, they removed lead weights from the back of the dress. The weights were then transferred to specially made sections, which are supposed to keep the fabric intact, continuing to hold the weights. Thanks to this alteration, the dress was saved from destruction.

Elizabeth Taylor, A Place in the Sun

Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection / East News, © A Place in the Sun / Paramount Pictures

In the movie, A Place in the Sun, Elizabeth Taylor played Angela Vickers. And though the executives of the film company doubted casting the young actress for the lead role, the director insisted on his decision to film Elizabeth. The famous Edith Head was the costume designer. “Elizabeth prided herself on her tiny waist and was always willing to wear her gowns very tight to achieve a waspish look. I can still hear her telling me, ‘Tighter, Miss Head, tighter,’” Edith recalls.

In order to promote the flick, they held a contest where the winner would get to go to a prom, accompanied by Elizabeth Taylor, wearing the very dress by Edith Head. In 1952, the movie won an Oscar for Best Costume Design.

Barbra Streisand, Hello, Dolly!

In the movie, Hello, Dolly!, Barbra Streisand appears in a dress that is believed to be one of the “most expensive dresses ever made for a film.” The luxury golden dress covered with Swarovski crystals weighed 40 pounds. That made the crew worry that the actress wouldn’t be able to perform the dance, which is why they decided to have a rehearsal first.

Barbra tripped over the hem of her dress twice and was stepped on two times by the dancers. Then they called in Irene Sharaff, the costume designer, for help. However, after watching the scene from beginning to end, she said, “Perhaps if you changed the movements, the dancers wouldn’t step on the dress. Moreover, I don’t think Barbra will be tripping on the dress when it’s finished. And if the dress doesn’t work, there will be some changes made.” Eventually, the scene with the dress turned out to be flawless.

Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday

© Roman Holiday / Paramount Pictures, Mary Evans / AF Archive / East News

Taking part in the Roman Holiday turned Audrey Hepburn into a style icon — she changed the standards of beauty. In many ways, this is due to designer Edith Head, who created outfits for the famous film. Before the appearance of the “fragile actress” in the Hollywood elite, many girls wanted to look like curvy divas but stopped following the imposed ideals and adding cotton to their bras.

Later, the designer redesigned the dress in which Audrey’s character, Princess Ann, appears in the last scene so that the actress could do it at the Academy Awards.

Rita Hayworth, Gilda

The scene from the noir film, Gilda, where Rita Hayworth sings a song in a tight black dress, is deemed one of the top 10 best moments in the history of movie fashion. It was the Hollywood costume designer, Jean Louis, who created it. He was inspired by the painting, Madame X. The character’s image was complemented by long gloves made of the same material, satin.

The filming took place a couple of months after Rita had a daughter, which is why she had to wear a corset. Moreover, in order to make the upper part of the dress retain its shape, it was made of soft plastic.

Grace Kelly, Rear Window

According to the storyline of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the protagonist wakes up a second before Grace Kelly’s character kisses him. The girl has just arrived from Paris and is wearing a gorgeous dress with a black bodice and a mid-calf full skirt with a spray bunch pattern on the hip area. This dress is considered one of the most copied of Grace Kelly’s outfits.

The director wanted it to be immediately clear that she was a rich lady from high society. Perhaps that’s why he invited Edith Head to create the dress. By that time, the designer had already won 5 Oscars for Best Costume. By the way, she was also Grace Kelly’s friend.

Jane Russell, The Revolt of Mamie Stover

In the movie, The Revolt of Mamie Stover, of the year 1956, Jane Russell appears in an emerald-green dress woven with gold thread and a bunch of glittering beads, designed by William Travilla.

It’s quite interesting that the costume designer managed to save funds while creating this piece, simply because the dress was meant for a different role, Jane, in the movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which had been released 3 years earlier. However, at that time, the scene with the dress had been cut from the flick.

Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not

The black silk dress Lauren Bacall’s character wears in To Have and Have Not (1944) consists of 2 parts: an elegant top with wide shoulders and a draped skirt connected by a large belly ring. The image is complemented by black shoes with an open toe.

The cult green dress by Versace, which was famously worn by J.Lo, can be considered a descendant of the dress worn by Lauren Bacall. The singer shocked everyone at the Grammy Award ceremony in 2000 and has donned dresses of a similar cut many times at her concerts and public events. The dress created by Milo Anderson had a big effect on modern design.

Marilyn Monroe, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

The memorable music number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, starring one of the main actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Marilyn Monroe, is still copied by modern celebs. The dress was created by William Travilla who had a short affair with Marilyn. Since the diva thought that a full skirt made her look plumper, the costume designer took her desires into consideration and created a narrower dress just for her.

Initially, the dress was supposed to be different and in a black hue, however, they had to replace it at the very last moment because the studio found the outfit to be too defiant. The talented designer not only managed to replace the dress by making it pink, but they also created the second one so that the actress could alternate them because it would get dirty during filming.

Moreover, Travilla faced another issue — the material was so slippery that the dress would drop off of Marilyn with every move she made. Then the designer came up with the idea of gluing the silk fabric on felt and adding a lining at the back to stiffen it. By the way, the huge bow on the back is part of the design, not a separate detail. The funny thing is, the gems on the actress were fake when she was performing the song, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

What other famous dresses from movies and TV shows can you recall?

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