The dance gowns of the classic movie musicals appeared on screen like explosions of a supernova, with little left to preserve as Hollywood artifacts. The gowns had a short but hard life, with few surviving to come up for auctions like that of Debbie Reynolds, where only a handful were present. But ever since the first Hollywood movie musicals of 1929 and the 1930s, they have influenced fashion and the gowns of today's television dance contests. The costumes themselves may be mostly history, but we still have those wonderful movies and these beautiful stills to inspire us.
|Rita Hayworth (nee Rita Cansino) and Fred Astaire light up the screen in You Were Never Lovelier|
Cyd Charisse was one of the very best dancers, and had the looks to attract all eyes. She was one of the few dancers that danced with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly on screen. Here she's shown in a hot number with Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain. Walter Plunkett designed her fetching dance costume for the pictured Broadway Melody Ballet. At a time when several great dancers had starred in Hollywood musicals, Cyd's overt sensuality set a new standard.
Here's Cyd dancing with Fred Astaire in the Girl Hunt Ballet scene from The Band Wagon, 1953. Helen Rose had been designing most of the women's costumes at MGM when Band Wagon was produced. A tiff with the studio producers however put her on the sidelines and so Mary Ann Nyberg designed the costumes. While Cyd's red sequined gown in the number above was beautiful, its mismatching with black gloves is perennially distracting.
Marge and Gower Champion were a great dancing team that starred in several movies at MGM. They danced in Show Boat, Everything I have is Yours, Lovely to Look At, and Give a Girl a Break, among others. Marge Champion was one of the movie stars that appeared as a guest and speaker at the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood.
One of the most beautiful dance gowns ever worn on film was this Ginger Rogers silver bugle-beaded costume designed by Bernard Newman. She wears it while dancing with Fred Astaire in the "Let's Face the Music and Dance" number in Follow the Fleet, 1936. Being made entirely of glass beads sewn on fabric, it would have weighed about 30 pounds. With the numerous takes in this filming, Ginger got more than a workout.
Fred dances here with the Mexican beauty Dolores Del Rio in Flying Down to Rio, 1934. Irene designed Miss Del Rio's gown. This was the first movie in which Fred and Ginger danced together. Although they were not the top stars, they stole the show.
With all the great young dancers today, you would think musicals and dance films would make a comeback. A Top Hat sequel anyone?