When—in the eponymous 1932 film—murderous socialite Letty Lynton showcased the white organza gown with enormous ruffled shoulders, it was a seminal cinema moment in fashion. Modern sources may report that knock offs of the Adrian design sold 500,000 copies at Macy’s Cinema Shop. Or, they may dispute that number as a lively exaggeration spurred by Hollywood’s shrewd publicity machines.
The importance of the shoulder might be credited to the designer’s desire to compensate for star Joan Crawford’s short, thick waist. Or, it may presage a “he said, she said” discussion of 1930s fashion: both Adrian and Schiaparelli were to claim credit for the enhanced shoulder. Who was first? The American or the Italian? Hollywood or Paris?
Nonetheless, Edith Head considered the Letty Lynton dress the single most important in fashion film history.  I propose an addendum that the imposing Ms. Head would likely embrace: the fashion influence from the big screen is less a “trickle down” than a pour. In this column, named in honor of Adrian’s iconic garment, every two weeks I will explore the film moments and movements that resonate in fashion past and present.
To kick off, a Sept. 2010 Vogue Italia spread, “Like a Movie,” by Miles Aldrich; inspired by Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. As in fashion, the beauty of horror.

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1 Comment

  • Christian Esquevin (Silver Screen Modiste) June 13, 2011 07.54 pm

    Thanks for introducing this subject Lisa. I’m the author of Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label. I layed out in my book how it was Adrian that started wide-shouldered fashion with Schiaparelli subsequently using the look – and taking credit for it. But on a wider basis, Hollywood designers started many trends that were NOT covered in the fashion magazines until they re-appeared as Parisian couture. The fashion press was heavily biased in favor of Parisian couturiers. I can say this with all honesty since I was born in France of French parents and carry no bias. That the Schiaparelli claim is still the “official” version, however, is very troubling. One need only look at the Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford movies from 1929 to see the look for yourselves. These were the same movies that swept Europe while Schiap was still designing sweaters and beach pyjamas. I’m not saying that Hollywood designers were not also influenced by the continental designers, but they are rarely ever given the credit they deserve.


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