Skip to content

Bix’s in-depth look at the fashion in “White Christmas”

Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a complete sucker for the movie White Christmas. It basically has all of my favorite things — classy dames, flamboyant performers, a hotel and when times get tough, they put on a show. This should be the answer to all of life’s connundrums, quite frankly. Need to raise money to pay off your debts? Put on a show! Can’t deal with your aging parents? Encourage them to get active and take tap dancing lessons for your new all senior revue. Want to start impeachment proceedings? Let’s create a humdinger of a performance with a real show stopper ending that will get them out of their seats.

It’s the funniest trope that usually makes me roll my eyes too — just like every tv show writer in LA loves to write about characters who live in LA and are writers, Old Hollywood loved to make movies about entertainers. It’s particularly handtippy because it suggests that these people are breaking into song and dance because that’s how they think. As though plumbers and computer programmers and librarians can’t just break into song and dance to tell us what they’re thinking? That could happen, guys. That does happen.

I love so many things about White Christmas — Rosemary Clooney is absolutely fantastic. Danny Kaye manages to be goofy and also elegant in the same breath. There’s many instances of my favorite old-tymey Mid-Atlantic accent. Plus loving panoramic vistas of Pinetree, Vermont’s Columbia Inn the Hollywood backlot set. Plus, of course, the songs. The dancing.  The fashion!

We’ve all heard of Edith Head, the holy fashion saint who won eight Oscars for costuming and is responsible for every look we are still trying to emulate today (Have you ever tried to recreate the Audrey Hepburn look from Breakfast At Tiffany’s or Roman Holiday? That’s Edith Head you’re channeling. Grace Kelly or Kim Novack in any Hitchcock movie? Edith Head. Bette Davis in All About Eve? Edith Head. Jane Fonda in Barefoot in the Park? Edith Mofo Head. Anyone in the Elvis movie Girls! Girls! Girls! You best thank Edith Head! Edith Head! Edith Head! )

I basically need these looks in my wardrobe stat.

Head was faced with a lot of interesting/fabulous challenges for this movie. She had to create actual dance costumes, but also party gowns, cocktail dresses and general every day looks for our intrepid crew of entertainers.

So of course, the costume-y stuff in White Christmas is amazing.

I actually contest that I’d like to see these two garments on the opposite actor — I think the teal would have been amazing on the redhead. But still, just look at the details here — I’m also entranced by whatever is happening on that gold situation in the left background — 100% would wear that in a dress form (because I’m not a 20 year old dancer with an ass that could crack a walnut).

I’m starting with this because to me this is the most boring of all of the costumes in White Christmas. Sequins on dancers. Feh. The color story is gorgeous and the lines are awesome — Note that even though they are very bare, there’s no actual cleavage — that’s some great tailoring. Thanks Edith. Mutual, I’m sure.

Would I wear it? 5/10 (but the gold thing in the back is amazing and I’d probably find a reason to wear that)

 

 

Next we have the giant feather fan scene. It’s famous of course, but no one ever notices the beautiful dresses! Again, the sisters are completely covered with these tea-length tulle and chantilly lace confections and yet, absolutely gorgeous!

It’s important to keep in mind that this setting is in Hollywood, Florida in an open-air supperclub. Hence, lovely Carribean-colored costuming with a Cuban flair of the bolero belt.

 

 

What’s hard to see here is that there are bits of glimmer and light sparkling from the tulle — maybe tiny crystals or sequins sporadically placed under the top layer of the tulle to catch movement. There’s also sequins or crystals in the feather fans — you can see some of the sparkles in this shot above. Note the sequins on the gloves as well — in a fade of course. Edith loved her some sequins.

Edith, you saucy minx.

How do you think they possibly matched the color of the gloves so well to the color of the lace? I’m willing to bet that Head’s costumers did a color dye match — as Clooney’s original costume has been found (or at least a reasonable facsimile, although the museum owners are fairly certain that it’s the original) and the lace is very faded now while the crinoline retains its beautiful cerulean blue after more than sixty years. Had to have been color-match dyed.

Would I wear it? 9/10 (I already own something very similar, only not in this shade of blue, but I would wear the heck out of this)

After they performed, the Haynes sisters change out of their performance clothing into cocktail dresses to meet with the famous entertainment team of Wallace and Davis (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, respectively) to get feedback on their act. During that discussion, Kaye and Vera-Ellen’s characters abscond to do their own dance number, which is fortunate that Vera-Ellen’s character Judy has had the foresight to change into an outfit that is pretty dance fabulous. Check out the layers of chiffon and all the sequins, because Head loved sequins like sorority girls love making t-shirts. Case in point- sequins really do make the world better.

 

The swishy swoony tea-length skirt is perfect to not only show off Vera-Ellen’s amazing footwork but those blousy sleeves exaggerate every arm movement in a very dreamy and OSHA non-compliant dance number with Danny Kaye (who cuts a fine figure in Head’s trademark sleek suiting himself). Check out the movement.

 

 

Here’s a better closeup to admire some of the sequin detailing on the illusion top of Vera-Ellen’s dress.

 

Would I wear it? 7/10 (I need a different pink, and I’m not Barbie-doll proportions but would wear)

Meanwhile, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) has a lovely sexy off the shoulder periwinkle dress. Fun fact: I painted my office this specific color, based on this dress. It made everyone think I was secretly pregnant and making a nursery for a boy. I just really love the color.

 

Wait a second, is that some cleavage, Betty? Yes, I do suspect this is the first moment that our virginal Betty Haynes is using her assets, which might be why Phil (Kaye) and Judy (Vera-Ellen) think that Bing Crosby’s character is head over heels in love. Because seriously, that rack.

Lawd, why wouldn’t you show it off more, Betty?

 

Would I wear it? 10/10 I love everything about this, including the bracelet and the giant “here is my vagina of doom” emblazing on the skirt.

Next we have to give it up to the male daywear costumes. God, there are are so many great male looks. Head was really in her element with the strong silhouette.

 

 

 

Would I wear it? 10/10 but this all is totally wearable today, although I’m concerned that Bing Crosby’s hat is too small for his head and also, pipe smoking is no good, man, no good.

Of course, there’s the titular song — which is played twice, once in the opening on in wartime France and once again at the end, which “CUE THE SNOW” solves the problem suffered by Pinetree, Vermont, which is that there’s no snow for the ski season because by singing about it, the applause of all the servicemen brings forth the snow.

Here’s the thing — everyone remembers the fur. No one remembers all the silk charmeuse and the sequins.

Also known as “Edith Head was here” in costume language. There is a whole lot going on in this supposed Santa costume. I wish my Santa wore sequins, is all I’m saying.

I just want to point out that this must be one incredible movie if I almost forgot to talk about the finale outfits — like in which world does dressing head to toe in scarlet and white fur, swathed with sequins and not one, not two, but THREE giant berry and gold leaf brooches, and that outfit barely registers on my collective conscious about the fashion in this movie? Like, this is seriously the least exciting costume scene for me.

Would I wear it? 5/10 (Who am I kidding, I would totally wear this, I look GREAT in that color. Also, I covet the shit out of Betty’s fur muff. I’d definitely want a pocket in there to hid my snacks and lipstick.)

 

There’s a tremendous debate among the White Christmas fandom about Vera-Ellen’s neck. Vera-Ellen had a famously thin figure and a ridiculously tiny waist — she really was the tiniest wisp of a woman. Head chose to costume Vera-Ellen primarily in things that covered her neck.

The theory is that Vera-Ellen was suffering from anorexia, which made her neck look unreasonably old or unsightly, so it was hidden.

I think, however, that this was an Edith Head thing — I think she made the decision to cinch in her incredibly small waist and give Clooney’s fabulous decolletage the starring role. If she’s going to have Rosemary bare at the neck and have a ton of outfits featuring Vera-Ellen’s legs, Head clearly wanted to give emphasis to Vera-Ellen’s balanced features.

Also, there’s footage from award shows showing Vera-Ellen wearing a strapless dress and her neck on display and it’s a perfectly normal human woman neck.

Can we talk about how much you want this sweater? And Danny Kaye’s jacket? I want all of this please.

 

Sadly, the cream sweater has aged poorly and is very yellow/tan now, although this might be a white-balance problem for this photo, because in other shots, it looks more cream.

Would I wear it? 10/10 She pulls it off, baby.

These people are traveling on a train. These are their travel clothes. Vera-Ellen’s character is wearing a bullet bra and there is nothing wrong in the world. She also has a brooch on her belt because hey, you’re Vera-Ellen, you’re a human Barbie doll, you should sure as shit show off your impossible waist. Again, I’m confident that this was a decision by head, much like the decision to always give Rosemary Clooney dark bottoms whenever possible (lady had righteous child-birthing hips. If I’m not mistaken, she was pregnant with her first child Miguel Ferrer right after the movie was filmed)

 

Would I wear it? 4/10 for Vera-Ellen’s mustard outfit (would look terrible in mustard) but 10/10 Rosemary’s entire situation.

Since we were just talking about Rosemary Clooney’s hips, let’s look at what we can learn from this styling. See how everything is nipped in at the waist, but all a single color so your eye is just drawn to that great styling at the decolletage?

While watching the movie, it read as black to me, but it’s actually a very dark emerald. Great for Clooney’s coloring. And mine, actually.

The back is amazing too. Basically the entire thing is perfection. It’s saying “look but don’t touch” and I love it.

 

Would I wear it? 10/10 I covet this dress. I want it with half sleeves and you would never get me out of it.

Visually, it’s a transition for the character — she’s about to have her world view challenged. Her sister doesn’t need her anymore — and she feels broken-hearted over a kiss with Bob Wallace that has now fizzled significantly as she misunderstands some gossip about him. She’s in a dark mood already when she enters the party — we know this immediately from this dark cocktail dress, but as soon as Judy announces her engagement to Phil, there’s no reason for Betty to stay in Pinetree anymore. Judy has just told her that she’s “freeing” Betty from her sisterly duty in the act — essentially Betty interprets this as the act being dead now because Judy is going to clearly become part of the Wallace and Davis show and Betty’s choice is to either stick with her sister and this guy that she finds deplorable or go off on her own. So she’s outtie.

So Betty flounces to New York (as one does) and oh holy shit, it is ON.

 

If only we all could look this good when we go into our emo funks. Please, Betty, don’t hurt ’em.

 

Bitches gonna burn. Bob Wallace never had a chance, Betty.

Sexy sexy Betty. Not only does she sing about how love has done her wrong, she is so sultry and scorching that you could ignite half of the eastern seaboard with those curves. And just when you think Edith Head has out Edith Head-ed herself with those proto-Michael Jackson evening gloves? Wait until you see the back view.

ASS RHINESTONES!?!  I’ll be over here, recovering.

Would I wear it? 25/10 All of this. All of it. I would also like the four dancers to flank me at all times.

Back in Pinetree Vermont, we still have a show to put on.

You can tell Edith Head was like “Look, I don’t care that my sequin budget is in the tens of thousands of dollars, we need each and every one of those sequins. Do you hire Edith Head because you want understated? No. Now go away, I have 459 people sewing costumes for the Mandy sequence and those butt bows aren’t going to tie themselves.”

Just a little subtle dance number, nothing to see here. You know, a slow day in the Edith Head fashion studios.


Betty is head to toe swathed in sequins, again, with bare decolletage but a long gown that covers her legs. She almost never reveals legs — it’s all curves for Clooney. The backside gets a red train of tulle and sequins as well, although Betty really doesn’t dance, so it’s more for a streak of color and interest than anything.

Meanwhile, Vera-Ellen is ALL legs and no decolletage. Thus is the word from Edith Head.

 

We get the repetition of the sequin gloves but otherwise Betty and Judy are completely opposites. Clooney’s character is sleek and controlled, Vera-Ellen’s Judy is all about the swish and swirl. Her train is about as close as Head ever got to a cape (“No capes!” — yes, The Incredible’s Edna Mode was absolutely inspired by Edith Head), but this is a genius way to show off the amazing tapping and footwork from Vera-Ellen while also giving her the visual swish to turn her into a mesmerizing frantic motion machine.

Would I wear it? 3/10 Vera-Ellen’s Mandy outfit, because I am not Vera-Ellen. 9/10 Clooney’s outfit, because hot damn it’s basically perfect, but I like sleeves.

Another practice dance/Vera-Ellen showcase number contains this amazing mustard number where again, the glory is drawn to her legs and her impossibly tiny waist (which if you didn’t notice it, is highlighted with THREE belts).

You should watch the video of this scene. It’s awesome and really shows how happy and amazing she was as a performer.

Would I wear it? 10/10 in a different color because I look terrible in yellow.

All of this. I will take it all. Wrap it up. Including both of Rosemary Clooney’s coats, which I don’t understand in the course of plotting but okay sure. The white coat does show up in a later scene, so maybe she’s just carrying it in from the train.

Would I wear it? 10/10 like you even had to ask.

There are so many amazing looks in White Christmas but now we get to the one that I remark upon in EVERY viewing, and basically covet so hard that it was the inspiration for this post.

This Vera-Ellen moment.

Basically if you had to wrap up every bit of Wendy Bix into a single outfit, it would look like this. A study in contrast, graphical punch of black paired with white plus houndstooth and a little flash of unexpected color.

I love this outfit so much.

See the red shoes? Because it is perfect. IT ME.

Wait a second… the skirt is enormous and she doesn’t even flipping dance in it? OMG I am dead now.

Would I wear it? 100,000/10 WRAP IT UP AND GIVE IT EXACTLY AS IT IS.

What about you? Which outfits are your favorites? I didn’t have the space to feature all of the amazing Head designs here — like that fantastic pink outfit on Vera-Ellen in the “Choreography” number. What old school fashion are you coveting this party season? Tell the comments!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

4 Comments

  1. KarenD wrote:

    That periwinkle is gorgeous!

    Sunday, December 10, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink
  2. Mary wrote:

    I love the deep emerald velvet and that last outfit so so much.

    Sunday, December 10, 2017 at 6:33 pm | Permalink
  3. Rowan wrote:

    Betty’s black dress with ass sequins. All about it, always have been.

    Monday, December 11, 2017 at 8:20 pm | Permalink
  4. Kim wrote:

    I’m still trying to figure out if the black portion of that last outfit is a cardigan halfway buttoned up, or a pullover sweater with an interesting neckline.

    Friday, December 29, 2017 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *
*
*