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Gilbert Adrian

Gilbert Adrian (1903-1959) was Hollywood's foremost costume designer during the 1930s and '40s, probably responsible for more fashion trends than any other designer in the United States during this time. From 1941 to 1952, he turned his attention to mass production and custom-made clothes. He produced high-quality, ready-to-wear for his own store in Beverly Hills and for other specialty stores throughout the U.S.

Born Gilbert Adrian Greenburg, in Naugatauk, CT, he studied art at the Parsons School of Applied Arts and Design in Paris. In 1921, American composer Irving Berlin spotted 18-year-old Adrian's costume on a model while attending the Beaux Arts. Berlin was looking for fresh designs for his "Music Box Review," and asked Adrian to come to New York and work on some costume designs for the show. After creating costumes for some Broadway shows, he again was discovered by Natasha Rambova, who wanted him to design for her husband, movie star Rudolph Valentino. Adrian worked with Cecil B. DeMille when he began working in Hollywood at Pathe Studios and in 1925, when DeMille transferred to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Adrian went with him. He continued working for MGM until 1941.

Adrian created the look and style that dominated American fashion in the 1930s and '40s. What movie stars wore was of interest to a large segment of Americans. Broad-shouldered suits and coats for Joan Crawford became very popular and widely copied. The huge puffed sleeves for the dress Joan Crawford wore in the 1933 movie "Letty Lyndon" caused American women from coast to coast to buy puffed-sleeve dresses. Adrian contributed greatly to establishing Hollywood as the glamour capital of the world.

In 1939, Adrian married Academy Award-winning actress Janet Gaynor. Their son, Robin, was born in 1940. In 1945, Adrian won the Coty Award for his contribution to world fashion. When he retired from MGM, he opened Adrian Ltd. in Beverly Hills, CA, in 1942. Adrian sparked new attitudes toward American style in the use of ordinary, everyday fabrics, such as checked gingham for tailored suits and cotton organdy for ball gowns. A beaded dress from Adrian Ltd. was designed to sparkle at a dinner table even when the conversation lagged. In addition to custom work, Adrian did a ready-to-wear line. To make the ready-to-wear line more exclusive, he allowed only one store in each city to sell his clothes.( In Washington, DC, it was Garfinckel's).

Adrian's design successes in California were often mirrored on New York's Seventh Avenue, which "translated" many of Adrian's movie clothes into American ready-to-wear outfits. Adrian "knock-offs" were seen everywhere. Some manufacturers would produce similarly fashioned garments with huge shoulders, which they called the "Adrian silhouette." Others never bothered using his name, but took his ideas and sold them as their "originals." Adrian was concerned about design knock-offs. He guarded his designs, rarely allowing photos or sketches of his clothes to be released too far in advance of his collections being shown. He scrutinized his employees and his customers' orders to make sure that their orders matched their social engagements as reported in the news.

After suffering a heart attack in 1952, Adrian closed his business, and he and his family retired to a ranch near Brasilia, Brazil, devoting time to painting landscapes. He returned to California in 1958 to design costumes for the film musicals "Grand Hotel" and "Camelot." Before competing "Camelot," Adrian suffered a second heart attack and died on September 14, 1959.


Men's Fashion, 1940-1950

Powerful ideals for masculine and feminine roles and appearance flourished during World War II and the postwar decade. Key features of men's looks-the short-haired, clean-cut look associated with the military-remained the ideal throughout the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1950s, conformity prevailed in men's appearance, political opinions, and style of life. The gray flannel suit became a symbol for the conformity and facelessness required of men seeking success in the modern corporation. Short hair carried the military look of World War II through the 1950s, when society called on men to be responsible breadwinners and patriotic cold Warriors. After the deprivations of the war years and in the face of often unsatisfying jobs, middle-class men looked to leisure for fulfillment. Brightly colored and patterned leisure wear, which had seemed unmanly, became acceptable.


Women's Fashion, 1940-1950

Powerful ideals for masculine and feminine roles and appearance flourished during World War II and the postwar decade. More than six million women went out to work for the first time during World War II, donning overalls for factory work and practical clothes for offices. Still, advertisers, government spokesmen, and others cautioned women to "stay feminine." Many women workers wore make-up and fancy hairstyles on the job. In fact, lipstick became femininity's most important symbol during World War II. In 1943, the U.S. government put wartime restrictions on the manufacture of luxuries, then exempted lipstick from the restricted list. Lipstick was considered too important to maintaining gender lines and sustaining the morale of both men and women. Although time-consuming and awkward to apply, leg make-up allowed women to look like they were wearing stockings in the face of wartime shortages of silk and nylon. After the war, government officials, advertisers, and social theorists pressed women to leave the world. They promised them fulfillment in marriage and motherhood. Domesticity and fashion-awareness seemed "feminine" once again; beauty was still a woman's duty. Moreover, many people found women's wartime work roles acceptable only for the duration of the war. Women's appearances changed markedly in the 1950s.


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