The film Letty Lynton (1932) would probably be more or less forgotten today were it not for the white organdy (or oragandie) gown worn by the star of the film, Joan Crawford. The film itself got decent reviews but it was the gown that is remembered today. Created by MGM‘s head costume designer Adrian, the gown was supposed to “hide” Crawford’s shoulders and balance out her hips. The breathtaking photos of all the Letty Lynton costumes, photographed by George Hurrell, were done on the Art Deco set of Joan Crawford’s previous film, Grand Hotel (1932). Even though all the costumes photographed are really impressive, it’s not hard to see why the white gown was a favorite amongst fans. The dress had more of an impact than just another pretty gown worn by a major star; this dress was one of the earliest examples of Hollywood creating a fashion trend.
A dress like this was never seen before. In the 1920s, the boyish straight cut was popular and by 1932, long, bias cut gowns were all the rage. This dress, with its huge ruffled sleeves, was a breath of fresh air, even anticipating the padded shoulder craze that would take hold on fashion later in the decade. This was copied by department stores and sold tens of thousands of knockoffs to hungry fans, young and old, who wanted a taste of Ms. Crawford’s glamour. The Silver Screen magazine stated in 1932, “Paris may decree this and Paris may decree that, but when that Crawford girl pops up in puffed sleeves, then it’s puffed sleeves for us before tea-time”. Before long, puffed sleeves dresses would appear everywhere.
Variations of this gown even appeared on the silver screen, where the original debuted. Travis Banton, chief costume designer at Paramount, designed a very similar gown for Kay Francis in “Trouble in Paradise”, released just 5 months after “Letty Lynton”. Even Adrian used a similar design while costuming Joan Crawford again in a later film. The vast impact of the gown, or rather its knockoffs, foreshadowed modern fast fashion. Today, it is so easy to get a copy of a garment worn by your favorite star at any one of the many fast fashion retail stores like H&M or Zara. While this sounds like a great thing, giving the average shopper access to fashion trends otherwise only accessible to the 1%, we need to focus on the environmental impact fast fashion has on Earth. Later on I will do a full post on the environmental impact of fashion but if you would like to learn more now, I recommend watching the documentary The True Cost.
Most recently, the “Letty Lynton Dress” was used as inspiration for the last look in Chanel’s Spring 2017 Couture show, proving its staying power.