“One realizes that without his clothes a man would be nothing at all; that the clothes do not merely make the man, the clothes are the man; that without them he is a cipher, a vacancy, a nobody, a nothing…There is no power without clothes.”
Or so Mark Twain wrote in 1905.
Shakespeare put it more succinctly in Hamlet:
“The apparel oft proclaims the man.”
If clothes make the man, then they most certainly make the movie star.
Think about it:
Most of the world probably hasn’t seen or even heard of 1955’s The Seven Year Itch. But the image of Marilyn Monroe’s white halter-top dress billowing up around her over the subway grate is familiar to all.
So is Audrey Hepburn’s little black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961); or Vivien Leigh’s magnificent Scarlett O’Hara wardrobe in Gone with the Wind (1939); and James Dean’s red windbreaker in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).
It’s not the films themselves that most of us know. It’s the images of the stars in the films.
And it’s because of the clothes.
Film Costumes: The Undervalued Star-Makers
The clothes make the star. But for decades, the magic that costumes brought to the movies went largely unrecognized.
And no one, it seemed, undervalued film costumes more than the star-makers themselves, the major studios.
Indeed, during the early years of the film industry, once a costume served its purpose, it was frequently cut to scraps, and repurposed as floor or cleaning rags.
When a fire broke out at one major studio in the 1930s, employees were instructed to grab old movie costumes, and throw them into the flames: what better, or more efficient way, to get rid of some old, useless clutter?
In the eyes of the studios, film costumes were just that.
The Early Stewards
But there were some who recognized early the magic and historical significance of these costumes.
One such steward was actress Debbie Reynolds, whose famous collection of Classic Hollywood costumes at one point included a pair of Judy Garland’s ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz (1939), Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hat, and yes, Marilyn Monroe’s billowy, white halter-top subway dress.
Another forward-thinking collector was Greg Schreiner.
From Classic Hollywood Costumes to Marilyn Monroe's Gowns
It was my great privilege to speak with Greg about his impressive Classic Hollywood collection last week.
Greg Schreiner owns one of the largest private collections of Classic Hollywood Film Costumes, including Marilyn Monroe’s screen worn and publicity gowns, as well as furniture from Marilyn’s final home, personal film scripts, and original costume sketches.
Greg is a Marilyn Monroe and Classic Hollywood expert. He’s been featured on AMC’s Hollywood Fashion Machine, A&E’s The Incurable Collector, Entertainment Tonight, Hard Copy, and The Montel Williams Show. Greg and his Classic Hollywood collection have literally travelled the world, from Hollywood to Australia to Japan, where Greg has generously shared his pieces at prestigious museums, and through his cabaret style show, Hollywood Revisited, of which Greg is the pianist, narrator and producer.
The Stories Behind Marilyn Monroe's Gowns
Greg kindly discussed with me the stories behind individual pieces in his collection, and the secrets behind these iconic costumes and gowns that aren’t visible in photographs.
Greg shared with me his tips and tricks for validating the authenticity of Classic Hollywood items in an increasingly competitive market.
You’ll be beyond impressed with how he came to own Marilyn Monroe’s refrigerator.
As the owner of the costumes that made these stars great, Greg’s insights on Hollywood’s Golden Age are absolutely fascinating, those of a true insider with a connection to Classic Hollywood most of us can only dream about.
Listen to Vanguard of Hollywood!
You don’t want to miss this special episode of Vanguard of Hollywood, available Wednesday, August 18.
Be sure to tune in Wednesday!
And in the meantime, head on over to Greg’s website for photos of his inspiring Marilyn Monroe Collection.