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Screen Style

Fashion and Femininity in 1930s Hollywood

2002

Sarah Berry

Screen Style

A social history of 1930s film and women’s fashion—now in paperback!

Revealing the fascination of Hollywood movies in the thirties with strong-willed women—from the ambitions of gold-diggers, working girls, and social climbers to the illicit appeal of female androgyny and ethnic exoticism—Sarah Berry presents a lively, accessible, and lavishly illustrated look at 1930s films, fashions, fan magazines, and advertising.

In Sarah Berry’s lavishly illustrated study of the relationship between Hollywood fashion and women’s identity in 1930s America, she laudably seeks a nuanced point of view about the social impact of the heyday of on-screen glamour. Berry’s study is valuable for its knowledgeable, indeed encyclopedic, grasp of the films of the studio system era and for its refusal to speak reductively of Hollywood’s extravagant emphasis on the style of its female stars. Berry conscientiously follows the winding trails that connect screen fashion to voyeurism, racism, and the ambiguities of gender identity. Readable, comprehensive, and clearly argued, Sarah Berry’s study of fashion in 1930s films has the potential not only to expand on the theoretical dialogue about its subject but also to serve the general reader and the film student as an introduction to a substantial number of largely unknown films and stars who nevertheless make up an important part of Hollywood history.

Film Quarterly

Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich—all were icons of beauty and glamour in 1930s Hollywood. Screen Style reveals the impact of celebrities like these on women filmgoers, looking beyond the surface of the films and fashions of the era—often described as forms of escapism from the difficult realities of the Depression—to show how Hollywood presented women with models for self-determination during a time of rapid social change.

Revealing the public and cinematic fascination with the strong-willed women featured in so many movies—ambitious gold diggers, career-minded working girls, social climbers, dangerous androgynous females, and other exotics—Sarah Berry presents a lively look at films, fan magazines, and advertising of that time.

Screen Style

Sarah Berry writes on film, media, and cultural studies and designs interactive multimedia projects. She teaches film studies at Portland State University.

Screen Style

In Sarah Berry’s lavishly illustrated study of the relationship between Hollywood fashion and women’s identity in 1930s America, she laudably seeks a nuanced point of view about the social impact of the heyday of on-screen glamour. Berry’s study is valuable for its knowledgeable, indeed encyclopedic, grasp of the films of the studio system era and for its refusal to speak reductively of Hollywood’s extravagant emphasis on the style of its female stars. Berry conscientiously follows the winding trails that connect screen fashion to voyeurism, racism, and the ambiguities of gender identity. Readable, comprehensive, and clearly argued, Sarah Berry’s study of fashion in 1930s films has the potential not only to expand on the theoretical dialogue about its subject but also to serve the general reader and the film student as an introduction to a substantial number of largely unknown films and stars who nevertheless make up an important part of Hollywood history.

Film Quarterly

Scholarship on the film industry implicitly devolves to an economic base, but Berry deals with commerce explicitly. She argues that the popular fashion system offered women an opportunity to challenge and shape their social roles. Berry takes the subjects of fashion and fan cultures, usually considered trivial, as salient in women’s access to a greater range of social worlds. Finally, Berry looks at the role of Hollywood stars such as Garbo and Hepburn in popularizing menswear and thereby promoting gender androgyny.

Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Screen Style tackles several topics, from Depression-era feminism to the economic impact of women’s buying power. Author Sarah Berry’s behind-the-scenes look at fashion, film and femininity has wide appeal. With a positive and conversational tone, the book discusses the impact of 1930s screen queens on American female culture, fashion and attitudes. Glamorous black-and-white press photos feature Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich among others.

Today’s Librarian

Screen Style is a well-timed book covering 1930s Hollywood, femininity and fashion. Sarah Berry interdisciplinary methodology focuses on themes such as class, race and industrial techniques of mass marketing and their relationship to femininity. Archival research, rather than engaging in deeply feminist debates about gender performance, is the true strength of the book. Berry not only covers an area which has been seriously neglected, but produces the first in-depth and comprehensive academic work on this subject with a historical film studies-oriented perspective. Screen Style is well researched and clearly written. The book is worth reading not only for those interested in 1930s stars, fashion and gender, but for those more broadly interested in Hollywood history, genre and audience research.

Media International Australia

It is a great read. Anyone who loves movies for their visuals as well as their stories will find this book riveting.

Review of Communication

Screen Style

CONTENTS

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

INTRODUCTION

CONSUMER FASHION AND CLASS
STYLE AS SPECTACLE
HOLLYWOOD EXOTICISM
SUITABLY FEMININE

CONCLUSION

NOTES
FILMOGRAPHY
INDEX