Head’s creativity led to her first influence on a fashion trend in 1936. Wrapping Dorothy Lamour in boldly patterned sarong for Jungle Princess (1936) started a trend immediately adapted by bathing suit manufactures and adopted by women on beaches from ‘Coney Island to Cannes’ (La Vine 1981:75). Head describes her design as ‘a garment that was to become a national institution’ (Head, Armore 1959:69). However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that her costume designs began to penetrate every layer of American society.
The new market of the teenager was deemed a 1950s revolution and Edith Head had her first success with the sweetheart dress designed for Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951). The real significance in terms of the costuming for the film is the dress Taylor wore in the pool room scene - a strapless boned bodice top with an enormous white tulle skirt over pale green satin and white violets covering the bust. Edith Head won the Oscar for best costume in the black and white film category and the dress captured the public imagination so much so that every prom had many an Elizabeth Taylor. In fact one could argue that this dress has defined the look for proms and brides ever since 1951.
Head began to build a direct relationship with the women of America with her advice to the nation firstly on Art Linkletter’s House Party on radio and then when it transferred to television. She also contributed articles to Photoplay magazine from 1940 onwards and her emphasis was on ‘telling the average girl how to dress like a star on a small budget.’ (Cherichetti 2004:97). Her book The Dress Doctor in 1959 co-written with Jane Kesner Ardmore was a great insight into tricks of the trade and dress advice; which she followed up with How to Dress for Success in 1967. The age range of stars she costumed for meant she understood the desires and dress market of the teenage to those past their prime.
If you would enjoy a style book that is less 'selling me' and more a costume history then both the adapted Dress Doctor - sadly the original is no longer published with its marvellous titbit about Marlene Dietrich, who loved to bake cakes (and eat them) but had to keep this fact hidden as it suggested more hausfrau than sex siren - or Dress for Success will imbue some old fashioned classical Hollywood glamour.