FILM COSTUME - WOMEN IN FILM NOIR
series in 5 parts
4 - DRESSED TO KILL: BARBARA STANWYCK in DOUBLE INDEMNITY
Two- and three-part day ensembles dominate during most parts of the film:
a voluminous blouse with skirt, a tight pullover or a blouse with long trousers, a jacket with revers, blouse and knee-long skirt or a day dress, also with prominent accentuation of the shoulders do represent the current style of the 40ies fashion.
The structural analysis found out the following special features in the BAD GIRL’s dress code:
a) There is a concentration of insertions of masculine clothing elements - Matrix 1 (see part 1 of the series): The classical jacket with revers, narrow and loose trousers or the overall are references to masculinity and can be seen as a break with motherly femininity.
b) In the context of the film action, the use of the masculine clothing element always corresponds with a burning conflict of the female and male protagonist. It illustrates vestmentally female self-determination i.e. the autonomous and uncontrollable behavior of a femme fatale.
c) The fabrics (Matrix 2) are by no means luxurious. Mostly there are usual dark or bright uni-materials like viscose, light and heavy woolen cloths or jerseys. The fabrics are only twice accentuated with floral motifs - an elucidation of femininity - at the beginning of the film.
The characterization of the BAD GIRL by means of colors is surprising because no concrete emphasis emerges. Definitely the main color is not black - the combination: day dress and black occurs only once in the film. This hardly seems to fit to a through and through dark and negative femme fatale image. Phyllis’ destructive power isn’t expressed in a typical way (Matrix 2). Often there is innocent white, which nevertheless can be lethal in Film Noir, besides mysterious black or combinations of colors like white upper part and black skirt or trousers. Phyllis’ mourning, a skirted suit in simple light grey, can certainly not be seen as an expression of deep grief.
Focusing onto the legs of the BAD GIRL is regarded as an emphasis of female eroticism. This is accentuated by high-heeled court shoes, the typical fetter sandals of the 40ies and skin colored stockings, which let the legs of the femme fatale appear to be naked. BARBARA STANWYCKs personal hairstyle, the blonde shoulder-long hair with the typical forehead bob of the 40ies hair-do, is in the film identical and remains constantly unchanged and worn openly. Hats on the other hand are rare, only once a small black hat with veil and a handbag complete the elegant outfit for a visit at the insurance company. The BAD GIRL often hides behind fashionable shaped sunglasses.
The stereotype of the BAD GIRL is mysterious in two different ways: The typical vestmental peculiarities of the femme fatale do not dominate the dress code. Neither extensive evening robes and precious furs nor luxurious materials (cf. GOOD BAD GIRL, part 2 of the series) are applied, on the contrary. Nevertheless Phyllis’ clothes are simply seductive as well as sophisticated, but the striking BAD of her charisma is located somewhere else - in her mind.
Photographs: DOUBLE INDEMNITY, Billy Wilder, Paramount 1944, 106 min
A kiss is just a kiss: LAUREN BACALL in DARK PASSAGE
The good One: ANNE BAXTER in THE BLUE GARDENIA
- last part
© Rosa Burger, MA 1997
Tel. +43 1 535 94 09
FILM COSTUME - WOMEN IN FILM NOIR
Master’s thesis, University of Vienna, 1993.
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