There is a woman who was instrumental in the History of Fashion who many may not know about. She rose to the top of the pack and became a leader in Hollywood costume design for a career spanning nearly 60 years. She was hard working, meticulous, prolific and talented beyond expectation. She was nominated for 35 Academy Awards, and took home 8 golden statues. She knew her own personal style and stuck to it. She gave films of the 1950’s something to be really proud of. She’s an inspiration to me, a muse, someone to aspire to be. She, was Edith Head.
An only child born into an American family living in California in 1897, Edith grew up the daughter of a mining engineer, and spend some of her childhood years moving around between Arizona, Nevada and Mexico. She went to high school in Los Angeles, and after completing her studies here, enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her Bachelor of Arts, earning honors in French. Head then went on to enroll at Stanford University, where she earned a Master of Arts degree in romance languages in 1920. Head had no inclination towards fashion, and after graduation, went on to teach languages, predominantly French, and art to a girl’s school in Hollywood. Head did have an interest in drawing however, and to improve her sketching, took night classes on the subject.
Then in 1923, Head was hired by Paramount Pictures as an assistant in the wardrobe department to then head costume designer Howard Greer. She was to sketch costume ideas, with the first film she worked on being a silent movie of 1925 called The Wanderer. It didn’t take long for Head to show real talent and versatility when working on different films, and by 1930, she had established herself as one of the go-to costume designers for Hollywood. At this point though, Head was still working under her male colleagues, and it’s wasn’t until their resignation, and her appointment as head of wardrobe in 1938, that she started to receive the recognition for her years of hard work. Head was the first female to have ever achieved this role at any Hollywood studio, and so was considered a leader of the time.
Over her 44 year career at Paramount, Head dressed some of the most notable dames of the film industry. Ginger Rogers, Mae West, Grace Kelly and Bette Davis were only a few of the stars to be dressed by Head. One of her most famous creations was the sarong worn by Dorothy Lamour in The Jungle Princess (1936). Unlike many of her male contemporaries, Head chose to engage extensively with the female stars she worked with, and was soon ‘loaned’ out by Paramount to other studios due to the high demand by starlets of the time. She often worked on several films at once and Alfred Hitchcock was said to be one of her biggest supporters. In 1967, Head left Paramount Pictures and joined Universal Studios where she remained for the rest of her career. Studio based film production began to decline around this time, and many of the stars of the 1940’s and 1950’s also went into retirement. As a result, Head started designing more for television series while still dabbling in film.
Throughout her 60 year career in the industry, Head became the only woman to win 8 Academy Awards. No other female has achieved this to date! Some of the films she received credit for caused controversy. Other designers, namely Hubert de Givenchy, who designed the main wardrobe for Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, saw Head receive the Oscar for Best Costume Design for the film. Other films which Head received an Oscar for were All About Eve, Samson and Delilah, Roman Holiday and The Sting. Head received a nomination by The Academy every year from 1948 to 1966.
In 1970, Head was approached by the US Coast Guard to design a new uniform for its ever growing female employees. It was noted as a highlight in Head’s career. During this period, Head also designed for a television mini-series based on Little Women. She also authored the books The Dress Doctor (1959), How to Dress for Success (1967) and the autobiographical Edith Head’s Hollywood (1983).
Having been credited with working on over 1100 films throughout her career, Edith Head remains as possibly the best costume designer we have seen. Her trademark dark sunglasses illustrated the very private woman that she was. She is also instantly recognizable for her hairstyle, flat bangs and a chignon, which remained the same throughout her time in the spotlight. Many may not know that the character in the animated film The Incredibles, Edna Mode, was inspired by Edith Head. With her passing in 1981, Head left behind a legacy none have so far come close to. She is truly one of the greatest, and will forever be known as a woman who gave Hollywood it’s style, elegance and glamour throughout the 1950’s.
Love Always, Anastacia Rose xx