With the Oscars upon us for another year it is timely to look back at the fashion and beauty advice offered up by Hollywood in the Art Deco era, aimed at Queensland women who aspired to the Greta Garbo look without the Greta Garbo budget.
As cinema was the most popular form of mass entertainment, local newspapers were packed with hair and make-up hints, fashion photos and predictions supplied by Hollywood studios. The films set the fashions and a whole generation of Queensland women sought to style themselves in the vogue of their favourite stars.
Here are eight style tips direct from Hollywood that circulated through the Queensland press in the 1930s, the golden age of Art Deco movie glamour. Effort was made to connect with “everyday women” whose lives were infinitely different from those of the Hollywood stars they idolised on screen. Some tips, for example, were formulated for style on a budget, as Queensland emerged from the Depression and catapulted towards another world war.
1. Keep a scrap book of beauty hints
Max Factor, Make-up artist to Hollywood, 1938
A Scrap Book of Beauty Hints should be a prized volume in every woman’s household library. In it should be preserved a clipping or memorandum of every authoritative bit of advice on how the feminine appearance may be enhanced and beautified which is applicable to her own grooming problems.
2. Follow the five cardinal rules of being smart
Adrian, Chief costume designer for Metro Goldwyn Mayer, 1937
It is much simpler to give the don’ts of being smart than it is to give the dos. When a lady has mastered and accustomed herself to observe these rules, the other suggestions toward chic present themselves.
- Don’t wear a style simply because it is the latest thing. If it is unbecoming, don’t think of including it in your wardrobe.
- Don’t overload your person with meaningless bits of jewellery or trimming. Everything, even baubles, should have a definite reason for being.
- Don’t ignore the importance of accessories. They have a power of making or breaking an entire costume.
- Don’t wear more than three distinct colours at any one time, and be sure that those three are harmonious.
- Don’t try either to copy or outdo a friend or rival. This is always fatal to good style and good taste.
3. Be neat and modest
Ginger Rogers, Hollywood film star, 1936
A girl can be svelte in a cheap dress if she is neat. She can keep the heels straight on an inexpensive pair of shoes. She can sew fasteners on the most inexpensive coat, suit, dress, or pair of pyjamas …. [But] a hint of pink satin and lace below a skirt is unpardonable.
4. Never skimp on fabric
Economise on the clothes budget where you will, but for your own good never let that economy fail on fabric. No economy is more costly than this. Too many women find themselves in possession of gowns, lovely when new, that after one wearing develop bumps and bulges that no amount of alteration could remedy.
5. Plan your seasonal colour scheme
Ginger Rogers, 1936
The wrong accessories can be as incongruous as the wrong costumes. Patent leather purses don’t harmonise with suede slippers, nor blue gloves with a brown coat, nor a black bag with brown shoes. If you plan your complete wardrobe and accessories at the beginning of a season, you can avoid this. You may not buy them all then but you should plan the colour scheme, and stick to it.
6. Match your hairstyle with your character
Max Factor, 1938
Coiffures should always remain “in character”. By this I mean that ingenue features and personalities should not be framed with sophisticated hair styles. Nor should mature and stately types of beauty be surmounted with light and frivolous hairdresses. Such mis-matchings more often than not result in an incongruous and unattractive general appearance which offers more than a hint of freakishness.
7. Pay attention to the back of your head
Helen Hunt, Hair stylist for Columbia Studio, 1939
Take a hand mirror and look at the hairline at the back of the head. Does your hair grow very far away from the back of the ears? Then you cannot wear the hair pulled up in a style now popular. You must allow for this bare space in putting in little curls… The upswing hair dress makes your neck look longer, so it is good for a girl with a short neck, although a short, very thick neck can’t stand the exposure. For this, they are now wearing very wide necklaces to hide the bad line.
8. Be fashion-bold as war looms
You cannot be smart this year unless you are courageous. For the first time in fashion history we have no pattern to follow. During the past six months we have snapped ourselves free of the conventional … What difference do the traditions of the past mean today when we cannot gear our lives to any of these points of view? The only tradition that remains is good taste, which will always guide fashion’s boat. If perching a bit of madness on your head, or draping your face with a scarf, makes you more decorative, or interesting, or happier, do it.
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Hollywood Beauty Secrets, The Queenslander, 11 April 1935. Via Trove.
From Metro Goldwyn Mayer Films: Fashion Hints, Maryborough Chronicle, 30 December 1938. Via Trove.
Illustration of two women, The Queenslander, 21 September 1938. Via Trove.
Illustration of woman’s hair, The Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 24 May 1939. Via Trove.
About the Back of your Head, The Queenslander, 9 April 1936. Via Trove.
Adrian. “A Designer’s Advice on Clothes Fabrics.” The Telegraph (Brisbane). 30 January 1937, p.19.
“Fashion Notes.” Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser. 30 June 1939, p.12.
“Ginger Rogers’ Tips on Chic.” The Charleville Times. 26 June 1936, p.2.
Hunt, Helen. “Coiffures for 1930: No. 14.” The Courier-Mail (Brisbane). 5 June 1939, p.2.
Max Factor. “Coiffure Correctness: A Hairdressing Style for Every Head.” The Queenslander. 3 August 1938, p.34.
Max Factor. “Make-Up Memoranda.” The Queenslander. 21 September 1938, p. 34.
Williams, Penelope. “If You Want to be Chic.” The Telegraph (Brisbane). 19 June 1937, p.26.