By: Megan McGurk
What are your favourite bridal looks on film?
The organdie gown with floral spray buttons that Joan Crawford wears in Love on the Run (1936) captures the mood of a garden wedding. It moves like a spring breeze.
Ginger Rogers looks like a Madonna in a starry halo, one of many bridal ensembles she wears to play a serial runaway bride in It Had to Be You (1947).
Gene Tierney’s husband Oleg Cassini created a classic romantic confection for her wedding scene in The Razor’s Edge (1946).
But try and find another duchess satin turtleneck gown onscreen, with a wimple, that carries a forty-foot plastic veil, like the one Dolly Tree designed for Rosalind Russell in Man-Proof (1938). There’s nothing else like it in the history of cinema.
Forget sweetheart necklines, or lace, or beading, or any other detail that’s so last century by comparison.
There’s no traditional promise in Roz’s wedding look.
Rather than opt for demure or dainty, Roz looks remote and inaccessible, bolstered by satin and luxe plastic.
Dolly Tree created something more complicated than expected, something myth-bound, like a labyrinth with a Minotaur at the centre. It announces ‘unwrap me at your peril’.
She’s not trying to look sexy. Nuns have more flesh on parade than Roz at the altar.
The veil obscures her hair hidden behind a wimple that makes her a contemporary Julian of Norwich, a chic anchoress for our times.
Somehow extended sheets of plastic appear ultra-modern rather than sheeting for a crime scene (considering what a rotten husband Walter Pidgeon turns out to be, that should have been her first option instead of exchanging vows).
Two wire loops on either side of her head spring out as a frame to support the sheer glittering cellophane.
One of the primary graces of cellophane is the ability to transfer and magnify light.
Rosalind Russell takes her vows with so much light reflected on her face from the satin and cellophane that she appears illuminated by one thousand bulbs. She’s the pinnacle of confident style. You can’t take your eyes from her when she’s onscreen.
Judith Brown reports in her book Glamour in Six Dimensions: Modernism and the Radiance of Form that cellophane was first used to market Coty perfume in Paris in 1924. The parfumerie dressed bottles in sheets of plastic for a fashionable display.
Brown explains that in the United States, it was first used as a moisture-proof wrapper for Camel cigarettes in 1930. Cellophane became a sensation in modern design—from both commerce, engineering, and the arts.
Cellophane was billed as new age alchemy, the result of modern chemistry, imposing human ingenuity on the larger world. Engineers, architects, fashion designers, and ad men agreed upon the utility of cellophane.
It’s difficult to recognise how novel sheets of cellulose were in the 1930s when today we are so inundated with plastics which have created an environmental disaster. But in the Depression era, cellophane was a hallmark of the streamlined, transparent, mutable design features of an Art Deco aesthetic.
Judith Brown identifies how quickly it was embraced by Hollywood, particularly in musical extravaganzas such as Dancing Lady (1933) with Joan Crawford and Fred Astaire, Swing Time (1937) with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, and in Broadway Melody (1940), with Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire.
Brown argues cellophane delivered a glamorous result onscreen. The cultural effect was significant. She cites Cole Porter’s reference to it in a line from his song ‘You’re the Tops’, a big hit in 1934.
‘You’re the National Gallery/ You’re Garbo’s salary/ You’re cellophane.’
Brown includes a sketch from Vogue Magazine published in 1930 which features a woman wearing a cellophane toque and a simple scarf that covers the hair and ears. Vogue declared cellophane the height of fashion.
On YouTube, British Movietone hosts a newsreel from 1933 called See Through Dresses. Three women model cellophane frocks that are completely transparent, allowing full display of undergarments. In tandem with the racy Pre-Code affection for lingerie, cellophane made women look like they purchased their frocks in a sweet shop. Plastic sheeting showcased women’s figures.
Let’s add Dolly Tree’s bridal look for Roz to the illustrious appearances of cellophane onscreen.