Nudie Cohn: “It’s Better to Be Looked Over than Overlooked.”

nudieopenerI love Old Hollywood. In my imagination, I have romanticized the Hollywood of the Golden Age as a glamorous era of larger-than-life, charismatic figures who linger poolside at the best hotels or dance till dawn at the Mocambo. On the fringes of the dream factory are the outrageous characters who thrive in a company town where the extraordinary is ordinary and the extravagant is routine. Among the latter is the famous Nudie Cohn, tailor to the stars. But, Nudie was no studio costumer like Edith Head or Orry-Kelly. Instead, he owned and operated Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors, specializing in western-styled jackets and wildly colored shirts festooned with rhinestones and piping. His primary clients were western movie stars of the Golden Age and country-western singers of the l960s, but his career lasted well into the Age of Aquarius, when he designed a jacket with marijuana leaves for Gram Parsons.

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The Way You Wear Your Hat, Part 2

Last week’s post on memorable movie hats for women was fun and enlightening but time consuming because of the laborious process of researching examples. Women’s hats tend to be unique variations on specific styles or one-of-a-kind haute couture designs. To find examples, I wracked my brain to recall films, stars, or female characters that might lead to colorful, meaningful, or dynamic hats, and then I searched for film stills from those movies. Once I found examples, I discerned what style it was and then interpreted its use in the film. Not the most efficient approach to the topic, and I knew many good examples of hats would fall through the cracks. Fortunately, my readers picked up the slack and mentioned some terrific examples, which prompted me to add bits of hat lore and history in the comments section.

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The Way You Wear Your Hat, Part 1

At the turn of the 20th century, a woman could be reprimanded by her husband for appearing in public without a hat, which was considered an essential article of clothing. According to the website Fashion Era, a woman once embarrassed her family because she left her house without her hat even though she was merely posting a letter in a box a few feet from her garden gate. Men wore hats for both practical and business purposes. Because hats draw attention to the head, the right hat could elevate one’s circumstances, at least according to social standards of the day: An old saying goes, “If you want to get ahead and get noticed, then get a hat.” While traditions and conventions of hat-wearing began to break down after World War I, particularly after women got the right to vote, mainstream Americans continued to wear hats for several decades. Today, however, hats are rarely worn by the general public, and when they are, it is usually for informal, leisure-time activities. Consequently, various traditions, conventions, and lore about hats, caps, and head gear have been lost to us.

Hats are ubiquitous in classic films released prior to 1960. Hat fashions were not only reflected in Hollywood films, they were also influenced and inspired by them. Costuming tends to be taken for granted by audiences, who think of clothing, set design, and props as mere indicators of time and place. Too often authenticity is the only criteria for evaluating these essential parts of a film’s visual design. Yet, costumes can be important vehicles of information. They can serve as keys to unlock the layers of meaning behind a character. With that idea in mind, I went in search of famous movie hats, hoping to find some examples that I could analyze for their symbolism. It was more difficult than I thought, but I did uncover some interesting facts, some striking hat fashions, and a newfound respect for an article of clothing I knew little about.

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