What the Bad Girls Wear
Every year, I attend the Film Noir Festival in San Francisco. It’s a privilege to sit in an old theatre where these movies were originally shown, and see them on the right size screen, with a few hundred (sometimes over a thousand) fellow movie lovers. Most of the films are in black and white, and date from the nineteen forties and fifties. And, for me, the essential film noir plot requires a femme fatale.
Out of the Past (1947), starring Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum, is, for many, the quintessential film noir. Mitchum’s character is a private eye pursuing the girlfriend of a gambler (Kirk Douglas) who says she shot him and disappeared with $40,000 of his cash. When he finds her, the detective falls in love with her. Favorite moment: Jane Greer tries to convince Mitchum that she didn’t take the money. Mitchum replies, in a voice thick with lust, “Baby, I don’t care.” (For a full plot summary, click here. To see and hear a clip of that scene, Click Here.
A Dress That Screams “Gloria Grahame” – Butterick #5530
Gloria Grahame, Audrey Totter, Ida Lupino, Lana Turner, Barbara Stanwyck … they all played calculating women who use their beauty to lure men into doing very bad things. And I can’t find a photo of any of them wearing this halter dress, but – trust me, as they always said – Butterick 5530 is a classic film noir look. The model isn’t actually smoking a cigarette, but her pose and sidelong glance are otherwise perfect. That black lace would probably have a few glittering beads adding sparkle to the texture. The jacket is interesting because it is collarless and does not have a peplum; it exposes the stand-up collar and the peplum of the dress. This pattern was available in sizes 12 to 18.
A Dress with That “Out of the Past” Look – Butterick #5563
On the same page of Butterick Fashion News, January 1951, is a mauve dress and jacket combination that has almost the same neckline and sleeves as the light colored dress Jane Greer is wearing in the film, as she came walking out of the light into the darkness of a Mexican cantina, although the film was released four years earlier (hence the shoulder pads.) Don’t you love how innocent that big hat makes her look?
Pattern # 5563: “With the criss-cross button-on jacket you have a wonderful wear-everywhere-after-five dress. Off with the jacket and you have the newest chemise dress.” (Not what was meant by a “chemise dress” a few years later!)
The dress in the film has gathers at the skirt’s center front, like this sweetheart neckline dress (below right) from 1944. (In the film, the scene where Greer and Mitchum meet is part of a long flashback.)
Butterick #2988 has a drawstring from the armscye of the cap sleeve to the sides of the neckline, a flattering V shaped panel at the waist, and soft gathers at the center front of the skirt. The V is not a part of the bodice, so you could add this skirt style to a different pattern if you wanted.
O.K. – all you have to do is make one of these dresses and you’re ready to ruin some guy’s life!