Movies and pop culture offered an escape. As the Great Depression dragged on and movie attendance decreased, movie studios invested more money in advertising. Movie stars were everywhere—on posters and billboards, in magazines, and on the radio.
One of the clearest examples of Hollywood’s influence on daily life was seen in fashion. Department stores sold clothing and dress patterns modeled on designs seen on the silver screen. Female actresses and their on-screen personas were strong, exciting, and sometimes dangerous. Everyday women aspired to look like their favorite film heroines, even if they could not afford a Hollywood lifestyle.
In 1932, movie star Joan Crawford starred in the movie Letty Lynton. The movie is about a woman who murders her abuser and gets away with it by pretending to be innocent. Many women related to Letty Lynton, a character who wanted to escape a hard life for a new one. These three dresses demonstrate how movies could influence taste and fashion.
The first image shows Joan Crawford in character. The dress was designed by Gilbert Adrian to make her appear both innocent and flirtatious. It quickly became known as the Letty Lynton dress.
The second image shows a department store version of the Letty Lynton dress. Department stores quickly designed cheaper versions of the dress, and Macy’s claimed to sell over 50,000 Letty Lynton lookalikes. The layers and layers of fabric used in the original dress was difficult and costly to replicate, so only the big sleeves and elegant shape were copied. This dress is made of rayon and cotton, inexpensive materials that made it affordable for middle-class shoppers.
The final image shows a housedress from 1933. During the Great Depression, many women refashioned old clothes into something new. This dress is a repurposed summer dress. Although the maker wore it to do housework and run errands, the large sleeves echo the Letty Lynton style. Even housewives at home wanted to look and feel like glamorous heroines.