Let's face it - we all want Ginger Rogers' cinematic wardrobe, ja?
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Ginger Rogers as Ellen Saunders in The Sap from Syracuse (1930).
Does anything shout that you are an heiress ingénue more than, 1) a cloche hat, 2) fancy fur ruff, and 3) imperious facial expression? I would argue that the answer is no. Meaning, that this here scene in the Sap from Syracuse is an example of some very effective costuming. You can just TELL that G here owns some random property near to the Mediterranean. And that she is going to compel men she doesn’t know to figure out her complicated property issues. How can they resist? She is AN HEIRESS.
Tim Holt (Tim Borden) and Ginger Rogers (Mary Grey) in 5th Avenue Girl (1939).
This outfit may seem simple at first, but you will super love it when you see it on screen, if you have not already. This is the equivalent of Ginger’s token sexy librarian / sexy secretary outfit. Normally, I hate that label, most often because it refers to gross fetishes, but the way Ginger’s Mary Grey does it is pretty great. Following in the fab footsteps of Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope (or perhaps, laying the foundation for her, seeing as this movie was made 75 years ago), she is a walking example of “sophisticated, with a hint of slutty.” At first glance, you see a full-coverage, office-appropriate (even though her job as an undercover fake escort is nothing like an office job) sweater-top. But - SCANDAL! - this top also happens to be 100% SHEER. You can somewhat see her bra in this studio photo, but when she’s nonchalantly descending the staircase in this outfit, pretending to be the vixen-secretary-lover of Walter Connolly in the presence of his whole family, the girls are clearly OUT. She does not hold back.* It’s so proper and inappropriate at the same time, and a brilliant costuming decision that presents her as clearly on the job, but in a “work” uniform that both overtly and carefully alludes to the sex since her current task is to pretend to be an alluring mistress in someone’s estate.
*This sartorial tactic certainly appears to work on Tim Holt (TIM HOLT!) in this photo (who plays Walter Connolly’s rich playboy son), but it’s sort of a waste, because he was honestly such a non-factor in this scene and this movie, and his romance plot with Ginger is so odd and random and also comes across pretty offensive? Such a pity.
Pat O’Brien as Rush, Ginger Rogers as Peggy, and Dick Powell as Clayton in Twenty Million Sweethearts (1934).
Twenty Million Sweethearts, is, of course, mostly about watching the Mills Brothers do their magical thing (awkwardly separated from the rest of the movie, courtesy of racism) and listening to Dick Powell singing “You May Not BEEEEEEE an Angelllllll” eleventy million times until the song is lodged in your brain forever. And these are good reasons for this, or any movie to exist! But, of course, there is something of a plot here too, and that plot is Ginger Rogers’s Peggy and Pat O’Brien’s Rush fighting over the career (and love) of Dick Powell.
Granted, Peggy is WAY too reasonable a gal to really get into something– her basic point is her boyfriend is responsible for being her boyfriend which again: REALLY REASONABLE.
But yes, that is the plot, and it is pleasing that the whole conflict is so nicely elucidated in the costuming. See here - Peggy in grey with white trimming and an angelic halo hat, is perfectly set up as the reluctant white knight, to Rush’s black-clad tempter. And her outfit, with its neat trimming, the little belt, is so businesslike! You think the girl might go more glam, considering her showbiz job, or more casual, considering said showbiz job is the radio. But of course, she has to be crazy business-like, because Rush is a manager, and they have to stand toe-to-toe on the question of their mutual love’s career. Anyway, she look really put together, and they really do look like formidable opponents standing next to each other. But Dick Powell is in gray* and so is she, and this is a romantic comedy, so we know who wins. Way to go, Peggy!
*Kinda fades into the background, right? But yeah, he’s not in charge
Ginger Rogers as Irene Malvern, with Walter Pidgeon in Week-End At The Waldorf (1945).
You guys know me by now. I simply cannot pass up an opportunity to talk about Ginger’s nightgowns, dressing robes, negligees, general sleepwear, etc.* Especially when said sleepwear features QUILTED SATIN CUFFS (I feel like I’m Anne Shirley talking about puffed sleeves) and luxurious, elegant lining befitting a true actriz. I feel it is appropriate to bust out the Spanglish here, because there is definitely a whole segment of this movie devoted to Awkward Latin Stereotypes with one random (…Hispanic? it’s anyone’s guess) lady doing an entire musical bit on Guadalajara in the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria. Thankfully, at no point in this film does Ginger attempt to insert herself into the Latin Stereotype storyline (perhaps realizing that nothing in this line of work would ever top The Carioca). That’s because 1940s Ginger is wise, and a pro. She’s a dame. She’s-a she’s-a-a diva. And a certified Oscar winner!
And bonus points to her for waking up with hair like this (although this is nowhere near as awesome as the rest of her hairdos in this movie), and for her dressing robe looking as comfy as it does grand. Ginger’s 1930s self basically had to deal with a whole kerflufflalot of lacy silks for robes, and while I’m not saying that is a bad thing (IT IS IN FACT AMAZING), this robe does seem a wee bit more practical, without having to compromise on sharpness. (In fact, she wears it at least twice in the movie! Showing what a staple it is. Ginger repeating clothes in the same film? They BARELY let her do this.) In it, she looks both sensible, and regal as ever! Which is a good image to project when you are attempting to eject an unwanted Walter Pidgeon (BUT NOT FOR LONG) (ACCIDENTALLY IN LOOOOOOVE) from your hotel room after he overstays his welcome.
*I think I’ve implicitly ended up with an unofficial claim on any of Ginger’s outfits that remotely pertain to sleepwear. I’m really not sure how this happened. For some reason, any time Ginger pops up on screen, I’m all “Step aside, WHERE ARE THE PAJAMAS.” I usually need to write about them first. Pajamas are essential to storytelling.