Adrian – The American Woman’s Designer

Advice from a Hollywood Costume genius –

Technicolor Fashion show in The Women 1939 – Gowns by Adrian

As the first thrilling bars of music herald the latest Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford or Norma Shearer picture, you will notice, as the presentation unreels the simple credit – “Gowns by Adrian.” That is your cue to sit taut in your seat and strain all faculties for what you and you and you will next be wearing is about to be revealed!

Technicolor fashion show from The Women 1939 – Gowns by Adrian

Perhaps, as you gasp “Oh My!”, you’ve turned a little green with good, old fashioned envy? You needn’t. I’ve talked to Adrian and I’ve learned that wearing distinctive clothes is not a privilege confined necessarily to actresses and people of wealth. If we will but use common sense, applied to the yardstick of Adrian’s theories, clothes will become eloquent expressions of the personalities and charms of even you and I!

There are two simple rules, which according to Adrian, will serve as a basis for everyone.
Rule 1
“A woman must look as she feels and not try to feel as she looks”
Take stock, not of your body, but of your mind. That is what Adrian does to each star with who he works. Even before attempting sketches he talks to her, gets her slant on life. Not, if you please, the life she totes out for the benefit of Photoplay readers, but the private one which is the key to her personality. Adrian tries to feel what is really going on inside that beautiful head of hers. Then, if he designs her clothes for private life, they are the expression of that, and that alone. For picture purposes, of course Adrian must also determine how the character she is portraying thinks, and then, blend the two – for that is how she will appear on screen. But remember, it is the star’s own inner personality that serves as a basis. This alone you must bear in mind.


So, don’t choose things for yourself because they look well ona friend, a figure in a department store window or even on your favourite film star. Make sure your clothes express your personality – and yours alone. The stars do !

“If a woman looks like Garbo,” Adrian tells me, “and she thinks in terms of Lupe Velez, she must dress like the latter, for no matter how strong the resemblance is, Garbo clothes would look ridiculous on her!”


Think of the tremendous popularity of the Letty Lynton clothes. Yet Adrian created them solely to express the action of Joan Crawford and her personality. Not even for a fitting can she be in repose. The numerous ruffled sleeves spell action at the least movement. And those brilliant and beautiful gowns for Sadie McKee stress this dominant characteristic.

Norma Shearer ( second right) in the Technicolor fashion show from The Women 1939 – Gowns by Adrian

Norma Shearer is, to Adrian, the typical American woman – conservative at heart with a secret desire to be daring. Norma can satisfy this secret desire by wearing daring evening gowns. In real life, she knows better, and all her gowns are conservative. Perhaps you too have a hidden desire to be someone different ? Well, don’t take it out on your clothes – unless you’re an actress.


Jean Harlow exemplifies the woman who has a perfectly honest mind and dares to think directly. Yet she is a much more polished person than she portrays on screen. This natural directness blends admirably, in her clothes, with her daring roles, which permits Adrian full leeway for startling and breathtaking innovations which should be carefully modified when transposing them to your own wardrobe.

Consider one more type – that vast army of American girls Adrian covers by the one word “charming.” Marion Davies, Maureen O Sullivan Madge Evans and many others head such a group. They wear for the most part, young girl fashions, fluffy evening gowns, simple afternoon frocks, sports clothes that emphasize this one point, charm.

What then should we wear?
“Simple things,”says Adrian “but I don’t mean dull things. A simple dress becomes exciting by reason of playing up one note – color, cut, sleeves, an arrangement of buttons or that most important factor of all – accessories.”


Which brings us to Adrians second rule.
“Accentuate bad body lines until they become unnoticeable!”
Now don’t gasp. That’s what he does. And it will work for you too.
You know how little women with narrow shoulders usually wear broadening effects? Well, Garbo is a fairly tall woman with particularly broad shoulders. Instead of creating lines to narrow them, Adrian puts ultra-broad shoulders on her. Strange paradox! Her shoulders are now so broad that they seem narrow, or are at least unnoticeable and attention is called to other points of her dress. This idea changes the ratio or balance between a woman’s body parts.

Technicolor fashion show from The Women 1939 – Gowns by Adrian

If on the other hand, you have a body “almost divine,” it does not matter where the emphasis lies, excepting, of course, for the fundamental rule of not emphasizing one’s breasts. This is all right for clothes worn in the privacy of one’s boudoir, but there good taste says it must end. Clinging dresses, to Adrian, means those which cling around the hips and show the leg line when walking.


If your arms are too long, you put on longer sleeves of wide interesting cuts with perhaps decorative slits in the upper arm, near the shoulder. If they are too short, you puff up your sleeve in a way that calls attention to the sleeve rather than the to the arm. Accentuating bad points becomes just another form of camouflage that is very simple.

As to material, Adrian’s ideas may be carried out as well in gingham as in velvet. Flat crepe, satin and velvet serve equally as well as woolens to emphasize body lines.

Color not only expresses the personality, but harmonizes with the eyes and skin. Red and white tell of the blending personality of Jean Harlow. Most of Joan Crawford’s frocks are done in blue, for that is the action color; solid colors, like black, brown and grey express the repose of Garbo; pastels the charm of Davies or Evans.

To finish, Adrian says ” If you American women want to look smart – keep your minds smart. You must be vitally interested in something or everything so that your personality will develop and you will become so definite a type that you cannot help but choose clothes to match it – as do those glamorous, gorgeous creatures ‘who dress for fame!”

That’s all !
©Glamourdaze 2018

See more Adrian fashions in Technicolor 

Heads up ! Glamourdaze will be releasing our much anticipated Wartime Womens Packs very soon !
1940s Wartime Womens Guide Pack

Sharing is caring!