Iconic green and yellow vintage dresses
May 26, 2021 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Now that Summer is at our doorstep, it’s time to put those cute frocks front and center in the closet. We’ve already done a fun tour of red and pink dresses, so let’s add to our color palette and share some iconic green and yellow vintage dresses. I hope you find them as inspiring as I do! They say the color yellow represents optimism, joy, and friendship. After the crazy year we’ve had, what better place to start our journey?
Here comes the sun
Yellow can be a tricky color to pull off, but in this trio of examples we prove just how versatile this hue can be. First up is the eternally beautiful Elizabeth Taylor in her 1963 film Cleopatra. This production went down in the history books for its extravagant cost and consistent scandals. Everything from cast and crew changes, to set construction and re-constructions, to script issues – it was hard to tell which plot was more shocking. (Especially when you throw in the personal drama between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton!) But lucky for us, because of the global hype of this film, no expense was spared. The ever-expanding budget nearly bankrupt the studio, but as they say with great risk comes great reward. The movie went on to earn a slew of awards and nominations – and even nabbed a world record for the most costume changes.
There were three visionaries involved in the costume design for this film: Irene Sharaff, Renie Conley, and Vittorio Nino Novarese. Their glitzy collaboration earned them an Academy Award (despite the controversial, liberal interpretation of era-appropriate garb). Irene focused specifically on designs for Taylor’s glamourous Cleopatra. Her mission was two-fold: create costumes that complemented – but never outshone – Elizabeth’s potent beauty and lure audiences into a world of intrigue. You have to remember that this was the era of movie theater versus television set. The studio playbook at this time was glitz, glitz, and more glitz. By creating a larger-than-life environment, films transported their audience to a different world. Irene’s budget was healthy, her client was legendary, and her creative boundaries were practically non-existent. When an amazing artist like Irene works in these conditions we all win! This yellow strap gown, worn during Cleopatra’s visit to Rome, is one of my favorites.
A year after Cleopatra hit theaters, Burton & Taylor wed in Montreal. Taylor called on Irene Sharaff to help her create a unique dress for this off-camera event. Irene, choosing a brilliant yellow hue, made a stand-out baby doll dress. Taylor paired the look with fresh flowers woven in her hair and a massive Bulgari brooch on her lapel. Elizabeth Taylor was a bride on eight different occasions, but for my money this dress tops them all in the originality category.
Our final iconic selection is worn by a national treasure: former First Lady, Ladybird Johnson. You might say Johnson’s go-to shade was yellow. In fact, she introduced herself to the nation as First Lady with a sunny inauguration coat designed by John Moore, causing quite the stir in its day. I find it pretty cool that the designer who dressed stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Angela Lansbury would bring this on-stage glamour to the hallowed halls of the White House. To memorialize her time in office, Johnson once again donned a yellow frock. I adore Ladybird’s official portrait because it embodies her warmth. And yet, just as yellow did for Cleopatra, there’s a distinct sense of power on display as well. In this painting we see a lady who’s confidently marching along her path – albeit a very different road than Cleopatra’s. In each of these examples we find that yellow is well-suited for any gal on the go (whether you’re political royalty or not!). Dear reader, will you dare to bring the sunshine this Summer?
The grass is greener
Green is one of my very favorite colors and I’m not the only one! There is no shortage of great green vintage looks to choose from – making this a tough list to create, but here are three stand-outs. First, we travel back to Egypt for another look at Cleopatra’s wardrobe. She wears this form-fitting green gown during a clandestine meeting with Marc Anthony. The statuesque shape of her dress contrasting with Anthony’s loose tunic presents an interesting contrast in their respective power levels. Throughout the film Taylor is seen wearing colorful eye shadows, including green tones, which played off her violet eyes but also were period-appropriate. Fashion tells a story and Cleopatra’s thoughtful ensembles articulated her position and hinted at dreams for increased power. Since the color green symbolizes renewal, it’s a fitting hue for anyone ready to make a change and start a new chapter (including ancient rulers!).
Up next is the stunning Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind. We’ve already gushed over her burgundy ball gown, but now it’s time to bring her famous curtain dress into the spotlight. Designer Walter Plunkett went to great lengths to make the gown’s textiles appear to be sun-faded and he used all sorts of tricks to tell the story of a young lady trying to impress a suitor by extraordinary means. But what’s really neat about this dress is it actually lived up to the recycling hype, being reused in other films. (Read more about it here!) What I also love about this design is that it elegantly sets the foundation for our modern concept of upcycled fashion.
Our final selection was worn by the incomparable Marilyn Monroe in her 1954 classic River of No Return. Monroe donned this frilly frock during her performance of “I’m Gonna File My Claim.” The costume designer for this film was William Travilla, known as simply Travilla in the industry. While Travilla designed for Monroe during many of her films, this movie was special. As a teenager, a young Travilla would frequent burlesque houses to sell his fashion sketches to the dancers. It was as if he was practicing to dress Kay Weston all his life! The movie was not one of Monroe’s great hits, and she would often say it was her least favorite from her body of work. However, in reading through the reviews, it’s apparent that the backdrop and Kay’s fashion saved the day. (Further proof that a stylish green dress can improve any situation!) Additionally, this classic western solidified the collaboration between Travilla and Monroe – the following year he’d work on The Seven Year Itch. (But that white dress is for another time & another article!) Hope you had fun exploring these iconic green and yellow vintage dresses. The next time you’re in need of inspiration for your personal look book, look no further than this collection of amazingly strong gals.