Project Runway - Silent Movie Style

Theda Bara in Cleopatra (dig the crazy snake tattoo)
Costume Designer: Unknown

I am not at all ashamed to admit that I am completely addicted to Project Runway. I've been a fan since Season 1. I've stuck with Project Runway from season to season and from the change of network from Bravo to Lifetime (for better or worse). I absolutely adore Tim Gunn and I ask, who doesn't love him? The move to Lifetime was tough. Getting through Season 6 was not a picnic, believe-you-me. In fact, the only thing that got me through Season 6 and is helping me endure Season 7 are the hilarious recaps written by Una LaMarche (aka The Sassy Curmudgeon).

Project Runway is one of the very few television shows I watch with any regularity. In fact, it is the only commercial television show I watch regularly. The rest of my time in front of the box is random PBS, a cooking show or two and movies. Lots and lots of movies. Thank God for TCM and Netflix.

With the finale of Project Runway upon us this very evening, let me state I'm in Seth Aaron's or Mila's camp and I fear Emilio will win. Emilio probably deserves it, I dunno, I just like Seth Aaron and Mila better. Wow, Seth Aaron won!

As I've been watching Project Runway this season and seeing some of the crazy, ridiculous and plain awful fashion, it made me think of the fashion of the silent film era. No, this is not a swipe at 1920's fashion, I adore the gowns and hats. Were there some really awful looking gowns? I suppose so. Were some of the hats just monstrous? Absolutely. That said, my goodness, there were some wicked designers in the era.

Anita Page models a tea dress (note the amazing shoes) Designer: Unknown
Many or most of the designers from the 1920s are names that have been forgotten for decades. Designers did not typically garner an on screen credit. Unless you pay attention to the fashion spreads in the fan magazines, you may never know who did do the costumes for a particular film. This is a real shame as some of the gowns, as ornate and over the top as they may be, they're totally wonderful. A name such as Clare West is probably unfamiliar. If you've seen any early Cecll B. DeMille films starring Gloria Swanson, or Blood and Sand with Nita Naldi, you will know and recognize her work for Paramount.

Nita Naldi in a publicity shot for Blood and Sand
Designer: Clare West

In honor of the designers whose designs and names have been lost to history, it seemed a good idea to have a silent movie era runway show. What follows is a collection that features daytime, formal, sport, outerwear and even a bridal gown for your consideration and enjoyment.

Project Runway Silent Movie Style

Mary Pickford in a charming daytime ensemble
Designer: Unknown

Greta Garbo in a stunning evening coat from The Torrent
Designer: Gilbert Adrian

Bessie Love in a stylish evening gown
Designer: Unknown

Norma Talmadge in a magnificent beaded gown and plumed fan
Designer: Clare West

Nancy Carroll in a skin tight bridal gown and veil
Designer: Unknown

Clara Bow models a sporty work ensemble
Designer: Unknown

Louise Brooks showing off some spiffy silk pajamas
Designer: Unknown

Mrs. Rudolph Valentino models an evening gown and fur cape
Designer: Paul Poiret

Joan Crawford in an amazing lounging set
Designer: Gilbert Adrian

If you want to learn more about costume design in films, a good place to start is Elizabeth Leese's book Costume Design in the Movies. Loaded with photos it has a capsule bio of many designers from the 1920's through the 1960's. You can also consult the incredible Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

If you want some guidance for vintage fashion looks, I recommend
Zelda Magazine and also visit their links page. How can you resist Hey Sailor Hats? In addition to the terrific Zelda Magazine there are some excellent books to help you sew and style your own vintage look.

If you are in Hollywood and want to hang with a really cool person who is made for and dresses beautifully in vintage fashion, seek out Karie Bible of Film Radar. Karie does some rocking historical tours at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.


Tennis Girl said…
I loved these pictures. I loved the way Adrian dressed Garbo. The clothes were unbelievable!
Tinky said…
Alas, I will never sew and style my own vintage look--or be on Project Runway. But I did love this post. Can't decide which outfit I MUST have--maybe the evening coat? Thanks, Donna, for perking up my day.
rudyfan1926 said…
Well Tinky, as one whose entire wardrobe is modern California, very relaxed business casual, I will never rate the runway. I do love looking at the fashion of the era. As a woman of some size, the 20's did produce some interesting fashion, and fashion that did look wonderful on plus size ladies, too. That evening coat envelops Garbo completely. Me, I'd probably go for Clara Bow's or Anita Page's outfits.
Rebeccake said…
Is it just me, or does Garbo's wrap look like a giant, fuzzy, beautiful taco shell? Must be lunch time. Fab photos, Donna -- thanks for sharing.
Another PR Fan.
Greta said…
Chris Snowdon posted that Garbo picture recently with a caption saying it looked like a pastry. I immediately thought "cannoli" and now i can't look at that coat the same way!

I've seen other pictures of Natacha in that Poiret dress, one i think with her and Rudy arriving somewhere. To my mind there's nobody in '20's Hollywood as stylish as Natacha.
Catmommie said…
Let's not forget Adrian-clad La Craw and her lounging technique! That wedding dress that Nancy Carroll is wearing is very modern looking. Love the Poiret on Natacha.
Anonymous said…
I am the Blog Administrator at Movies Unlimited, a mail order retailer of classic movies. We've recently started a blog ( and I thought some of your posts would be of interest to our readers. Would it be possible to reprint one of your posts on our blog? We would naturally provide a link back to your blog and provide a short bio if you supply it. The only changes we would make to your content would be adding any links we deem relevant to provide information to our readers (ex - links to our retail website or Wikipedia). Please let me know what you think of all of this, and keep up the amazing work!
Snikdar said…
The fur from "The Torrent" is not by Adrian. He was not with M.G.M. for another two years. The "lounging" outfit on Crawford from "Our Modern Maidens" is a dance ensemble, but this time it really is by Adrian.
Richard Adkins said…

Sadly, the great cocoon coat from "The Torrent" is not an Adrian. He didn't go to M.G.M., nor design for Garbo until after June, 1928, when he was sent from the Pathe-DeMille Studio several months before DeMille himself departed his own studio for M.G.M. The designers at M.G.M. were Kathleen Kay, Anre-Ani, Gilbert Clark and David Cox. One of them is the designer for this piece.
Anonymous said…
One of the most beautiful Norma Talmadge pics I've ever seen!
Donald Sosin said…
Thanks for the lovely words about the films and my scores. See you at the next fest! Whoever you are!

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