My Favorite Wife, 1940

“Oh, by the way, how was my funeral? … I wish I had been there.”

My sister-in-law selected this movie for me, and requested that I put together a how-to post for the costumes. Now that I’m back to more regular posting, I’ll return to my normal format: one post for a review of the movie and the clothes in it; and then a second post exploring how to recreate the looks- either authentically, or as a modern interpretation. If you click on the pictures, a new window will pop open with an enlarged version.

Best Accessory EverThe basic plotline of the movie is this: Nick (Cary Grant) has his first wife, Ellen (Irene Dunn) declared legally dead seven years after she disappears at sea, so he can marry Bianca (Gail Patrick). That very same day Ellen finds her way home and follows the newlyweds on their honeymoon. Hilarity ensues as Nick tries to figure out what to do about his inadvertent bigamy.  The movie opens in a courtroom, where we learn that Bianca is stylish, if a bit vain. She has what I believe to be the mother of all accessories- a fur muff that is also a purse. It is big, furry, and has a giant bow; you could probably even fit the Biggest Flask Ever in it. I want it, desperately.

Big Floppy BowAfter the vows in the courtroom, we travel to a small resort for the honeymoon. Ellen follows the newlyweds wearing a dress that was hers before her shipwreck- so she’s wearing something from the early ’30s in this 1940 movie. We never really see her dress, other than to know that it is dark with white polka dots. Over it, she has a gorgeous black coat with an enormous floppy double bow set askew on her right collarbone, matching the dress beneath the coat. She also is wearing a gigantic corsage on her left collar- to balance out the bow I suppose. The corsage comes off, eventually.

BIFF!! BAM!! BOOM!!The newlyweds abort the honeymoon and return home to find that Ellen is already there, posing as an old friend with a terrible Southern accent. Ellen’s dress for this scene is amazing, and I am currently wracking my brain trying to come up with an easy way to recreate it.  The dress is loosely shaped with a sash that wraps the waist and ties in the back. The left and right sides are contrasting light and dark, meeting in the center front and back seams. In the front, the colors overlap in a shape that makes me want to shout “KA-POW” old school Batman-style.

Nighty nightEllen and Bianca spend quite a bit of time in their nightgowns in this movie. Have I mentioned how much I love vintage lingerie? Their nightgowns are made of layers upon layers of chiffon draped, gathered and tucked to emphasize their assets and otherwise give the appearance of angelic floating. At one point in the movie, Bianca also dons this ridiculous dressing gown- a heavy brocade with sleeves dripping 12″ long feathers. I can  only imagine how that thing sheds over time.

Other outfits worth noting: Bianca wears this black dress with a gorgeously tailored sweetheart neckline and a poufy black chiffon overlay while engaging the services of a psychiatrist.

LBD for the Shrink

Ellen wears this amazing scarf, jacket and skirt combo to go shopping and perform her general management of mischief.

And Ellen wears this plaid number for a brief getaway with her children. The outfit is ho-hum, but look at how well-matched the plaid is front-to-back and across the sleeves. That is truly expert construction, and something I hope to be able to accomplish some day.

Lining up plaids

Perfect Secretary

We briefly meet Nick’s secretary, wearing a nicely tailored black suit with a prim white shirt beneath. The best part- look at that pocket high on her left side, with the little hanky!

The details worth noting include:

  1. 1 . the shoulder structures seen in most of the dresses: structured and squared off with pads
  2. 2. overall fit: well-tailored including emphasizing the true waist
  3. 3. length that generally hits right at the knee

The dresses themselves are, for the most part, simple and not overly embellished.

2 responses to “My Favorite Wife, 1940

    • I’ve browsed around ModCloth as well- they have some really great merchandise. If you see a hemline that is too long, but love everything else- go for it! Dresses are easy enough to shorten. If you don’t sew yourself, most dry cleaners offer simple tailoring services. If a dress is too short, depending on the style, you may be able to add length using a contrasting fabric or a well-coordinated lace or ribbon trim.

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