Let's face it - we all want Ginger Rogers' cinematic wardrobe, ja?
Ginger Rogers in her Oscar-winning role as Kitty Foyle, in Kitty Foyle (1940).
The first time we watched this movie, my whatgingerwore partner in crime and I had a classic Pretentious People Movie Moment. We had watched the first couple of scenes at the beginning, and as the camera cut to a snowglobe and dissolved into scenes from Our Heroine’s past, we turned to each other and back to back: “wow that is like Citizen Kane!” “Yeah, and that first scene? Very Magnificent Ambersons.” And we seriously considered for a moment whether Kitty Foyle could have influenced either of the two Greatest Movies Ever Made.*
Update on our sanity: don’t worry! Despite our love of making up crazy theories we realized this is ludicrous. We’re pretty sure Orson Welles was (we mean with the greatest respect) too far up his butt to copy some Ginger Rogers prestige picture made the year before. We will not rewrite the history of cinema. CRISIS AVERTED. We will, however, continue to sing the praises of Kitty Foyle!
Anyway, there is a reason we had our Welles comparisons early in this film: the first few minutes of this movie are truly excellent and deserve mad props. For one thing, it utilizes our favorite thing: comparisons!
Yes, this lady above, is the Victorian Lady who our very own Kitty Foyle (and modern womanhood) is about to be compared to. Not so much HER (though incidentally, this lady seems like a pretty cool chick, fighting for suffrage and all), as the benefits she has. In a few brief, ironic sketches, the (genuinely seductive) benefits of her life as the Angel of the House are enumerated: men offer up their seats and are gently deferential, she gets to wear gorgeous frilly clothes, she is the freakin’ adored Angel in the House.
And this seductive past is compared to the modern (well, okay, 1940’s) present. No seat on the subway! Simpler, plainer clothes. Our main character has to work for a living, she emerges from her job with a bunch of other girls complaining about men. Life seems less fun; less easy, less frilly.
If this was the point of Kitty Foyle – those ladies sure were silly, gettin’ them rights! It would be an awfully frustrating movie. But, instead, our heroine puts on her warm winter coat, steps outside into the city streets, and we see her: alone.
In her simple and unadorned coat, with the snow falling down, she stands alone. But not just any alone. The point isn’t her isolation, or maybe the point IS her isolation. Instead of yards of men giving up her seat, tolerating her suffragetting, protecting her in the warm safe house, she gets something the Victorian lady doesn’t get; she gets the Hero Treatment.
Because yeah, you know who stands alone, reflecting quietly in isolation? Luke Skywalker. Superman, basically all superheroes. John Wayne, in all those movies where he stands defiantly in the vastness of the west. Kitty Foyle may not have the safety offered in the Victorian world, but there is a promise inherent in her isolation, in the sense that she must create her own destiny, find her own happiness. That is how heroes begin. Bravely and alone, wearing kinda crap clothes. John Wayne’s clothing is always dirty, heck, all heroes of westerns are somewhat wrinkled. Clark Kent is dressed in a badly-fitted suit before he reveals his gleaming goofy superhero outfit. Kitty Foyle’s outfit here isn’t an object of desire, a fantasy outfit. It is instead a sign of her longing and a way to connect with her. Her coat is simple – it looks warm, even the fur of the hood looks like a practical touch, or at the least a sign that in a time of fur coats, she can’t afford more than a fur hood. But it makes you root for her, lets you understand what she doesn’t have, and what she might want. It lets you know that you are looking at the hero of this movie. It is kinda a crap coat, but in another way, it is a great one.
*HOW FITTING is it that a lot of the people who argue for Magnificent Ambersons as the BEST EVER admit that whatever cut of the movie they think is the best has been lost to time/shenanigans? “The best movie ever is the one you cannot ever see!” I think sums that up. That said, apparently Vertigo is the best movie ever now, according to some list. Fair enough! Anyway, The Best Ever is one of those pointless games that it is fun to indulge in - I mean, lots of things are great for a whole lot of reason, and clearly at some point gradations of wonderfulness become so small and prone to subjectivity as to become meaningless. But, on the other hand, it is so fun to argue!
Haha, happy Oscars weekend, everyone!
Connie Martin, guys. Connie Martin. I find her depressing, and usually fast-forward through her scenes to make Follow the Fleet the note-perfect 45-minute laughfest it is meant to be. No fault of Harriet Hilliard – she’s perfectly decent, and it must be hard to fill the shoes previously filled by Irene Dunne (so likable!) and Dolores Del Rio (DAT FACE!). Harriet Hilliard does okay. The problem with Connie Martin is hidden behind the Hays Code and ballgowns, and the result is that what is technically going on in the movie isn’t what is ACTUALLY going on in the movie and if that is confusing….well, hear us out.
So here is the plot of this movie, devoid of subtext: Connie Martin meets a sailor, sees him for a single day, the sailor leaves and she buys him a boat (WHAAAAA????) with all her money. Then she is shocked when the sailor returns a year later and isn’t inclined to put a ring on it. Which….seems unreasonable on her part? But she is all tragic and surprised, and WE are feeling tragic and surprised because we don’t understand and want to go back to the dancing and pranking and is Connie supposed to be really dim or a little unstable or something? Sad times all around. Time to skip all Connie Martin scenes (obvs. Bilge too, he is the worst).
But the subtext of Follow the Fleet….well, luckily, we have clothes to help us understand. Connie, outside of that BRIEF part at the beginning where she is all dowdy, is super dressed up! Ballgown after ballgown, in a movie where her showgirl sister dresses like a paralegal. And Connie is a music teacher in a small town! Not exactly ballgowns for days, one would suppose (though if there is some small town in Northern California dedicated to constant ballgown wearing: I wanna go to there). And her dresses are all…dark and sexy and serious. Outfits for the tragic heroine.
On the face of things, it is hard to read Connie as a tragic heroine. The worst things that happened to her is that a sailor was a jerk (WHAT A SURPRISE, you can just imagine Kitty Collins saying), and she spent all her money? And yes, bad financial planning can lead to BAD results. In real life, sure, it is tragedy. But poor financial decisions made by pretty ladies in movies are not generally the thing of high drama. In fact, there was a movie made about this, that Confessions of a Shopaholic movie, in which the heroine has out-of-control credit, and Pat Field dressed her like a tacky clown, and she seemed like a sociopath but it was a romantic comedy? Not at all sad. No, Connie is not the tragic heroine because of reckless financial planning. Connie is the tragic heroine because:
THE BOAT IS ACTUALLY A BABY!
The picture says it all, except the date — 1939!
OK. I’m about to get into this, girls. But before I do, I have a VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION inspired by this vintage film poster: was this Ginger outfit ACTUALLY RED? Because if so, she is channeling some straight-up Carmen Sandiego realness right here, and that alone deserves an award.
Now: Fifth Avenue Girl. It is largely hilarious, whip-smart, and pinpoint-perfect in some of its characterizations. Right? You go in expecting a lot knowing it’s Gregory la Cava, because STAGE DOOR, NEED I SAY MORE, CAN I GET AN ENCORE, DO YOU WANT MORE (yes), but then you end up with a sort of odd framework whose initial premise resembles a gender-swapped version of My Man Godfrey, where Ginger is William Powell, but her job isn’t to buttle, it’s to pretend to be a mistress and ruffle up a rich older man’s (Walter Connolly’s) family. While the actual interaction and relationship between Ginger’s and Walter’s characters is really quite sweet and innocent, the situation basically involves Ginger’s Mary Grey being paid to pretend to be in a sexual relationship involving a MAJOR age difference WITH Mary in the dependent / lower-class position and complicate that with the politics of feminism and you have a lot of room for potential missteps, is my point. Not that there are many! Most of them concern the haphazardly put-together forced romantic plot between Ginger and Tim Holt (TIM HOLT!) which gets murky in terms of consent and somehow turns that into love? So, the resulting dynamic is somewhat uncomfortable at times.*
Now, notably — NOT A MISSTEP — is her “power” suit. By which I mean, this authoritative but simple workmanlike outfit (which, notably, she constantly returns to throughout the movie) is the most demonstrative sign of power she can possess in the Depression. (That, and her deadpan wit (seriously, the girl gets universally awesome dialogue), and pretty strong sense of self, but this would be the most IMMEDIATELY apparent sign before you have the fortune of witnessing a charming conversation with her.) It’s also the outfit that you know signals “her” — Mary Grey, stiffly grounded ordinary gal (who happens to be blessed with extraordinary genes), sardonically moving from one job to the next. (Really, I am not exaggerating. She IS the April Ludgate of 1930’s cinema and the effect is wonderful.) The rest of her scenes involve her donning various elements of frippery as she pretends to go out on the town with Walter Connolly’s character, and while those outfits are gorgeous (and resemble many other cinematic Ginger gowns), they aren’t Mary, and this outfit’s recurrence signifies very clearly when Mary is feeling out of place at the 5th Avenue mansion where she “works” OR is morally confused by her situation and feels the need to revert to the safety of her real identity. This suit is both her armor and her security blanket. It’s a sharp and stylin’ set, but above all, straightforward, declaring itself as bluntly as her character does in conversation.
*Ok, it appears that Heartbeat : henriettabrown :: Fifth Avenue Girl : callmeabsurd, in terms of AMOUNT OF FEELINGS SURPRISINGLY ELICITED BY AN OTHERWISE PLEASANT AND ENJOYABLE MOVIE.
Ginger Rogers as Arlette in Heartbeat (1946).
Oh wow oh boy oh guys this is so nuts. It is so nuts that I wasn’t sure what to think – on one hand it is a FUR BRA SUNNING SUIT which is hilarious, on the other hand there is the whole cheesecake thing, which is maybe a little weird on an Oscar winning actress, like sure you may be a great actress BUT YOU BETTER WORK IT. And that gets into the whole question of how much is the studio (and in the 1940’s it was pretty much studio or bust!) and how much is Ginger (she doesn’t complain in her autobiography) and agency in general, and should I just be happy that Ginger can go all, “I woke up like this” and accept the Beyonce-driven theory that women’s empowerment and their bodies are tied together in our society, at least for a while (forever?). Point is, this fur bra sunning suit made me think DEEP THOUGHTS which I suppose is a point in its favor? It contains multitudes.
And speaking of multitudes – I mean this outfit, just as an object is kind of a conundrum in itself. Like, if it is warm enough to go sunning…it is too hot to wear fur, nyet? And if it is so cold out that fur is necessary, is there even enough sun to tan? It makes no sense. Neither do her bellboy short shorts, for that matter. I do not understand the combo – sexy bellboy on the bottom, sexy polar bear on top. It is very Project Runway, isn’t it? So many ideas! Seasonally inappropriate, no matter what the season! And why are her shoes (usually the least interesting part of the Ginger Rogers wardrobe) so fantastic?
Anyway, while there is certainly a frankensuit quality to this, I will admit it makes a certain amount of sense for the scene it is in, which is all about Arlette’s persnickety love interest looking at her and realizing she is a WOMAN not a girl. Which, I suppose a fur bra sunning suit could suggest? The cheesecake does allow him to see that she is fully developed which would make her….ummmmm well seeing as women develop boobs and stuff in early adolescence, at the worst 14, 15. So woman-adjacent at least! And it is funny to see this in a movie in which G – now a grown woman, is in fact playing a girl. Irony! Which I think might be unintentional.
Guys, I don’t know what to think (Everything! Nothing!), but one thing is clear. This is the deepest fur bra sunning suit there is.
Ginger Rogers as Sherry Martin in Follow the Fleet (1936).
This is a gorgeous sexy dress, one that could be worn today (it is!). Most of Ginger’s fancy dress wardrobe consist of dreamy delights that are nearly impossible to wear in real life. But this…it could happen! So much cleavage on the top and wafting fabric at the bottom! Random jewels on the straps and around her midsection (highlighting aforementioned cleavage) - so festive! It is a ROCKING party dress, and perfect for any fancy event that encourages cleavage.
So it delights me to no end that practical Sherry is wearing this dress for the event of REVENGE (to quote: “Bake Baker, I’ll get even with you if it’s the last thing I do!”).
Yes, fine, she didn’t know Bake put bicarbonate of soda in her drink when she put it on… but come on, this dress is tailor-made for shenanigans. It cannot be a coincidence. This is the ONLY fancy dress Sherry wears in this movie that is not for the express purpose of Putting on a Show. Even as sad Connie and Kitty Collins (LUCYYYYYYYY) wear ornate dresses at the least provocation, our girl Sherry is tripping around in the most sensible of outfits. A girl who lives for sensible pants and suits does not say, “well, I’ve been hiccupping madly all day, guess it’s time to break out the décolletage!”
And, so poor Bake, caught in Sherry’s web of fake tears and boobs and betrayal, doesn’t have a chance. Maybe he didn’t have a chance before, though. The real target of Sherry’s strategic sexiness is, I believe, the commanding officer Sherry dances with. One dance, and he’s all “sure, take my precious officer ring, beautiful unknown stranger! Your excellent dress sense gives me faith in your integrity!” The power of a great outfit – rational people are lulled into complacency through good fashion sense. Sherry made the right choice here, people.