A Walk through Costume History, Thanks to Debbie Reynolds

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the recent exhibit attached to legendary actress Debbie Reynolds’ costume auction.  Over the years, Reynolds has acquired an impressive collection of costumes and props from several decades of film history.  Unfortunately she recently had to auction many of her items, but not before displaying them to the public one last time.

Claudette Colbert's gown from Cleopatra (Photo by Brianne Gillen)

The collection was enough to send any classic movie buff or costume lover to heaven.  There were iconic pieces such as Dorothy’s dress from The Wizard of Oz and Marilyn Monroe’s white subway-grate dress from The Seven-Year Itch.  But there were also many pieces from more obscure movies.  It was a walk through film history, and so many of the costumes have been beautifully preserved.  The craftsmanship of each piece is impressive, especially when you consider that some of them are over 70 years old.  When you look at the hand-beaded dresses, or the carefully stitched seams, you can see the quality – which is, unfortunately, becoming more of a rarity.

Leslie Caron's dress from the ballet in An American in Paris (Photo by Brianne Gillen)

I also felt like I was reliving some of my own history when I walked through that exhibit.  I grew up watching, and falling in love with, classic films.  My mom made sure I had an appreciation for the classics, and I’ll be forever grateful to her for that.  I have so many memories of watching great films with her.  And, of course, I always took note of the costumes.  The fashions of the 1930s and 1940s are some of my favorite styles, and I have always loved watching movies from that time and noticing all the details of the beautiful clothes and accessories.  Whether they were period pieces (usually with at least a hint of the decade in which they were made) or modern (at the time), I loved the costumes.

Rita Hayworth's button-detailed suit from Cover Girl (Photo by Brianne Gillen)

Walking through Reynolds’ collection, I felt like every corner I turned led me to a familiar costume.  Singin’ in the Rain has always been one of my favorites, and it was such a treat to be able to see Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor’s shoes, Reynolds’ “Good Mornin’” dress, and even Jean Hagen’s over the top gown from her movie-within-a-movie.  It was a revelation to see that one of Leslie Caron’s dresses from the ballet sequence in An American in Paris was not trimmed with flowers, as I had always thought, but rather peacock feathers.  I had always (correctly) assumed that Elizabeth Taylor’s waist was tiny, but never realized just how tiny Claudette Colbert was as well.  I immediately recognized Caron’s schoolgirl outfit from Gigi, and got to see up-close the details on Rita Hayworth’s button-covered dress from Cover Girl.  I even had my picture taken, not with Santa, but with Edmund Gwynn’s Santa suit from Miracle on 34th Street.

While it’s a shame Ms. Reynolds couldn’t have kept her beautiful collection together, I am so glad I had the opportunity to see it.  It was a wonderful trip down memory lane, and a great chance to see some classic film moments come back to life.