Silver screen influencers | Film Issue | Chicago Reader

Silver screen influencers 

Hollywood costumers changed Chicago wardrobes.

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click to enlarge ISA GIALLORENZO
  • Isa Giallorenzo

"Today fashionistas turn to Instagram and its influencers to see the latest styles," says Virginia Heaven, guest curator of a new exhibit at the Chicago History Museum. "This exhibition explores the emergence of a distinctively American glamour: fresh, independent, stylish yet easy to wear and comfortable . . . It showcases how the costumers in Hollywood were the original influencers of American Style."

"Silver Screen to Mainstream," which runs through January 2020, features 30 garments that illustrate just how influential Tinseltown was in the 30s and 40s, a time when unemployment in Chicago hit 40 percent. "Regular people who had very little struggled to keep up appearances by making over their old clothes, making dresses from patterns and purchasing from catalogs," says Heaven, who is also an associate professor of fashion studies at Columbia College Chicago. "Everyone wanted a touch of glamour. Hollywood was a 'club' anyone could join in terms of style."

Along with haute couture designs from Paris and high-end custom-made styles from New York and Hollywood, the exhibit features Chicago's Stanley Korshak and Blum's Vogue. Heaven's favorite piece is a 1940 red-and-beige dress from Illinois-born Howard Greer. It's slender in silhouette with an open back from neck to waist and striking color-blocking details. Greer trained in Chicago with the famous British couturier Lucile, who was also a Titanic survivor. A version of the piece is worn by Irene Dunne in the 1940 film My Favorite Wife (which also stars Cary Grant), in which Dunne's character is lost at sea.   v

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