Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design

In her closing acknowledgments to the eye-popping, nostalgic, and historically expansive archive that is Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design, author and accomplished costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis calls her baby “the most comprehensive book available on Hollywood costume design.” Perusing over 600 pages containing over 800 images, plus commentary, the reader is hardly inclined to dispute her. This book shines unprecedented illumination on an underrated yet indispensable part of the cinema?s magic, using a methodology both simple and powerful. Landis pairs shots of actors in iconic or representative costumes (supplemented by revelatory designer sketches) with relevant quotations, aimed at elucidating the arcane parameters and exigencies of each particular design and the mysteries of the craft as a whole. The eye is drawn, again and again, to the subtle effects and craftsmanly decision making that underlie each item of clothing. Many of the images are famous — Theda Bara as Cleopatra; Marilyn Monroe on the sidewalk grating; Brando as the Godfather; Uma Thurman as a tracksuit-clad assassin — but Landis eschews stale iconography in favor of striking imagery from both well- and little-known films. She?s also is a fan of the plain and understated as well as the elaborate: the migrant simplicity of The Grapes of Wrath earns a majestic two-page spread. Considered as a story, Dressed follows a surprisingly natural arc: rude beginnings, followed by a Golden Age, a Silver Age, a shabby decline, and a partial revitalization. Threaded with reverence and regret, pride and anger, astonishment and humor, Landis?s book honors her trade and her unsung peers.