The Original Influencers: Hollywood’s Impact on American Fashion

Our style icons today reach us from the small screen—the really small screen: our phones. Instagram, whether through fashion influencers or the brands themselves, is where we find ourselves staying up to date on the latest sartorial trends.

Just under a century that wasn’t so different, only the size of the screen was. In the 1930s and ‘40s, a time bookended by the Great Depression and World War II, Americans turned to Hollywood film for fashion inspiration. Stars like Greta Garboand Joan Crawford were like the Chiara Ferragnis or Leandra Medines of today. Accessibility mixed with glamour appealed to audiences during these decades, over the out-of-reach designs and expensive looks coming out of Paris.

That era is currently the focus of an exhibition at the Chicago History Museum, curated by Virginia Heaven, associate professor of fashion design at Columbia College Chicago. Featuring garments by designers like Vionnet, Paul du Pont, Howard Greer, and Chanel, “SILVER SCREEN TO MAINSTREAM: AMERICAN FASHION IN THE 1930s AND ‘40s” is on view through January 21, 2020.

Orange evening dress with rhinestone belt by Sally K. Greenebaum: Evening dress, circa 1935. Silk satin. Sally K. Greenebaum, Chicago.

Dark blue evening dress with rhinestone belt by Madeleine Vionnet; Evening dress, circa 1934. Silk. Madeleine Vionnet, France.

Gold evening dress by Jacques, Chicago; Evening dress, circa 1935. Silk. Jacques, Chicago.

Marjorie Morton, Alison Chappie, Rosamond Baker

Frances Canfield, Charlotte Hubbart, February 2, 1934.

Installation view of “SILVER SCREEN TO MAINSTREAM: AMERICAN FASHION IN THE 1930s AND ‘40s” at the Chicago History Museum.