designers, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Bringing the Extra to Extra

I’ve had this sheet music for a while and have always said that it would look great framed. It’s from the 1944 movie “Lady in the Dark,” and features Ginger Rogers in all her glory. That costume is fantastic.

I saw this post on the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Instagram the other day and it explained why this dress is simply iconic. This costume was designed by Edith Head. She, of course, went on to win eight Academy Awards for costume design. At the time the beauty was designed, it cost $35,000 to make ($15,000 of that was the mink). That equates to about $571,000 today. For ONE dress. It is said to be the most expensive costume in movie history. Ms. Head was right when she said that it simply couldn’t be made today unless a studio gave the costume designer an open wallet. Funny thing is that Ms. Head wasn’t even supposed to be the costume designer for this movie. Valentina was, but Ginger Rogers didn’t like her designs, so they brought in Ms. Head. Serendipitous.

Photo: V & A Museum, Instagram.

What makes it even more amazing is that this was done in 1944 — smack in the middle of wartime. So much for fabric rationing, though the actual amount of fabric is pretty small, but those sequins. WOW. And mink trim and train? Yep. Couldn’t be done today.

Original movie dress and jacket, embellished with faux stones and mink. Photo: Edith Head, by Jay Jorgensen.

Pretty fantastic, huh? It appears that this dress is the sequined version. Two versions were made, according to the book Edith Head: The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer, by Jay Jorgensen. The original dress and matching mink jacket had faux jewels applied to create the shimmering effect, but when Ms. Rogers tried it on, it was too heavy to wear during the dance scenes. They created a second, sequined dress. That dress was worn during the dance scenes, and Ms Head later took it to the fashion shows she would host. The original dress with the stones was shown in two scenes of the movie, then was donated to the Smithsonian, though I haven’t been able to verify that it is still there.

Sequined version of the dress. Photo: Edith Head, by Jay Jorgensen.