Thursday, June 09, 2011

Imitation of a Skirt

You're going to have to bear with me on this post because it's about as scattered as I have been this week. Anyway, I finally got the chance to read the book Balenciaga and Spain the other night, and I found the photo above of Pauline de Rothschild in her glorious Balenciaga black lace and brown organza coat. Her pants peeping out from beneath the coat reminded me of those skirt and pants combos that women seemed to wear often in 1950s movies. More specifically, it made me think of Lana Turner in Imitation of Life:

I have no earthly idea what you call this outfit, though I'm sure that many of you do. (If so, please shed some light!) I suppose that it's some type of hostess gown or day dress with pants? Whatever it is, I think it's really pretty fabulous. In fact, Chanel had one of these hybrid dresses in their collection about five or six years ago, if I recall correctly.

Are you familiar with Imitation of Life? There was the original 1934 version that starred Claudette Colbert as a successful businesswoman who makes a fortune on her maid Delilah's pancake recipe. Seriously. But the 1959 version with Lana Turner reads more like a soap opera: a driven woman (Lana Turner) stops at nothing to become a successful and wealthy Broadway actress, while her daughter (played as a teenager by Sandra Dee) feels neglected, despite the fact that she has been lovingly raised by Lana's housekeeper (Juanita Moore), who in turn is having problems with her own daughter who rebels by running off and working in a raunchy nightclub. And did I mention that the movie ends with the mother of all funerals, one in which Mahalia Jackson sings the stirring spiritual "Trouble of the World"? That scene with Mahalia always brings a tear to my eye.

So now that you have a synopsis of the film, let's take a look at Lana's suburban house in Imitation of Life. As you can see, it's a little bit of a mish-mash...just like the skirt/pant combo.

Another shot of Lana in her day outfit.

The living room with a stone fireplace and rolling hills beyond the window.

My favorite part of the house is the bar with the padded leather front and those barstools. And how about that niche of glassware?

The dining room table is set for an after-theater party.

And the dining table set for a simple dinner. This is the way that I wished that I dined. But you know, my silver serving pieces just don't see the light of day for those everyday kind of dinners.

Is it wrong to like this chair's trim?

Another shot of the bar, this time with Sandra Dee serving up John Gavin a highball. She informs him that he only gets one highball before lunch. Well, alrighty then. I will say, though, that I'm not so sure about that clown painting to the right.

I suppose that John Gavin's glasses add a note of seriousness to that gargantuan leather ottoman.

Lana's bedroom. Better than the bedroom, though, is that fur trimmed pink velvet robe. I really would wear that if I could find something similar to it.

And because I couldn't resist: Lana in a fabulous mocha-colored turban with an attached scarf that is pinned to her day dress with a diamond brooch. This was worn for her daughter's graduation. If only one of the mothers had dressed like this for my high-school graduation!


  1. I love to watch these classic films and look at all the details, the interiors, the fashion and dream of wearing these amazing nightgowns and fancy robes. Leaving the house with the perfect dress, shoes, gloves and hats and never ever being seen in Tshirt and boxers, with freezy hair, no make up and wrapped up in blankets in the winter. How do these women do it? or is it just a fantasy of the movie directors?

  2. I am not sure if he were painting them by then, but I seem to remember that Frank Sinatra had a fondness for painting clowns, or was that Red Skelton? Could explain the painting. I remember those dresses, they were very popular for a very long time. The ultimate combination of dressy and comfortable. :-) I think even Barbie had one!
    Paula ~ Mise en scène

  3. Anonymous8:15 AM

    And isn't it supposed to be a simple farmhouse in the Connecticut countryside, Lana's supposed rejection of the glitz and glamour of NYC?

  4. The pants - dress/skirt combo was popular in the 50's for entertaining at home. It was probably called something like a "Hostess Outfit" : )
    Thank you for a delightul post! You always brighten up my day.
    It's so wonderful to look at what set designers and art directors for films come up with. Their imaginations have launched many a trend, as they create to set a scene or mood, not to live in every day like interior designers, but for the moment. They're sort of like stylists in fashion world.

    I loved the bar stools - how about a post on bar stools ( I seem to remember one you did, maybe ).
    What a great idea to have them with quilted (leather?) seating. They normally look so uncomfortable. Thanks again!!

  5. mary-ellen10:01 AM

    You can stream it now on Netflix!

  6. Anonymous11:14 AM

    Have always loved the fabulous version of this ensemble worn by Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame. Aside from making her look incredibly chic in that dressed-up-but-ridiculously-comfortable way, it also breathed life into her interior decor creating a full lifestyle image. Not sure who was accessorizing what or what was accessorizing who, but definitely worked as a whole.

  7. Completely loving the antiqued mirror fireplace surround in the dining room!

  8. JWC- I totally love that too!

  9. I think "hostess outfit" is pretty much the term.

    Here's a link to a blog entry on the subject:

    I remember Lucy & Judy Holliday wearing them as well, and I too always wanted one!

    And I'd wear that IoL "graduation" outfit in a Noo Yawk minute. People are such slobs today that even when I show up in something I consider "low key", I always get the "why are you all dressed up?" comments. And "dressed up" can mean tailored trousers, sandals and a twin set, which I wore to a backyard graduation party last week. You would have thought I was wearing a ball gown. Sad.

  10. I have been marveling over the fact that my family of 9, sat down for a four course dinner 5 or 6 nights a week at 6:30 on the dot! It was civilized and wonderful and I did my best to produce those Andy Hardy dinners for my family. Back in those days, cooks lived with you. Our cook lived with us for 35 years. I spent years and years hiding in the kitchen with her. She just passed away this week at 101. My life would not have been the same without her. Maybe that's why I literally wailed through imitation of life.

    1. I had the exact same experience growing up! Agnes lived to be 93; and I supplemented her SS to help her stay at the Convalescent home she lived the last few years. She was absolutely part of our family; and she helped raise my daughter with me after my mother "went up".
      In my own family; we had "family dinners" that I cooked, with silver, candles and china 5 nights a week at the dining room table! (our three daughters and my husband did the dishes)!
      There was a very long (50years?) study of "Rhodes Scholars" investigating similarities of the men who won them.
      The only common denominator they all shared? "family dinners seated and the table with conversation and order."


  11. Actually, I would wear any of Lana's clothes from this movie. Her entire wardrobe was perfection!

  12. Liz, I am so sorry about her passing. It sounds like she was a very important part of your life.

  13. The correct term for that outfit wa "Hostess Pajamas" or "Palazzo Pajamas" Very popular at that time.
    I still have a few in moth balls!!!

  14. Replies
    1. There were various forms of these - with a few names for them - Hostess skirt was used for the one that you wore a top and slacks separate and attached the skirt over them - the skirts often were on a band like a head band and they didn't close up all the way like Lana's is here. Hostess gown was what we called the more formal looking ones you would wear for cocktails at home or a small dinner party at your home - hostess gowns had an attached top to the skirt - they were not separates - you NEVER wore either of these out of the house or to another person's home! This was at your home only wear. Hostess pajamas was the term we used for the less formal looking ones. Palazzo Pajamas and Palazzo pants were not a term used when the hostess skirts and gowns were popular in the mid to late 50s -- I was on the West side of Hollywood over just west of Bel Air in Pacific Palisades an it was very trendy to wear hostess gowns and hostess skirts in my neck of the woods. We had short skirted ones too - and part of the 'thing' with these, was getting out of your tight girdle while at home but still having a 'cover up' of the drape of the skirt- that and also many men still wanted to see their women in dresses in the home - these were a way to bridge that whole thing and have the comfort of pants on. These were popular in the 40s as well only they didn't wear them with cigarette pants/capris like we did in the 50s. What were called Palazzo Pajamas came later and were not skirted. They were wide leg slacks usually made of very drappy materials and often were one piece like what was called a jump-suit in mens wear. Galitzine came up with the Palazzo pants in 1960 and Puci took them to the bank throughout the 60s but the wide leg ones were NOT worn in the 50s with these skirts like Lana has on.There were wide leg ones wore in the 40s however but more tailored usually than what came from Puci in the 60s.

  15. LOVE this movie - anything with Lana really -the schmaltz and style combination is a winner!

  16. Love this post because that would be my ideal outfit if I could get away with it. Fabulous. And Yes, I adore the bar, the alcove, the bar stools. I didn't ever see this film but it definitely chimes. And thank you for those gloriously big images.

  17. Great movie for design, ridiculous plot. Lana makes a bloody fortune by selling her maid's pancake recipe. The maid doesn't care about the money (!); she just wants to keep being a maid and taking care of Miss Lana. Her daughter who can pass for white and is disgusted with her mother and the racial situation in America in general, is of course a "tragic mulatto slut". I have to keep myself from doing an Elvis to the TV set...

  18. This is such a fab outfit!! I could have a heart attack over the rug...and the firescreen! Now this was a STAR!!!

    This is my total favorite ! I was at a dinner party with "Jack Gavin" (lucky me!!) at my friend's wedding in Santa Barbara......and many years ago he was my dinner partner( 35 years ago?) For my friend's 40th birthday!

    Here is the good news! He is just as attractive as in these pictures.....less than one year ago! He is still married and happy with his wife Connie......and they are a wonderful team.....and guess what? No visible plastic surgery!

    Both look like themselves.....they have their smiles..they have their faces.....and they look just wonderful. They are both; I think in their seventies. And they look absolutely wonderful. Handsome and beautiful!!! and smart and interesting! what a treat!

    they should be on a billboard.......NO!! No Plastic surgery....NO! Don 't ruin your face!

    It is tragic to many beautiful faces are now ruined. forever. no one can fix them . their smile is forever gone...they look like someone else. Gosh. it is so sad.


  19. Anonymous7:46 AM

    And when is someone going to write the biography of Pauline Potter Rothschild? Are you interested, Ms. Boles?

  20. Anon- A book on PPR would be most interesting. Hmmm, I'm thinking...

  21. No one mentioned the fab brass screen in the bar and several other of the shots. Circles and Diamonds.

  22. Mark- You're right. A fabulous screen. I guess that there is so much fabulousness there that things get lost!

  23. I think blogger has been behaving badly today-the monster ate my comment. summarizing-I love your movie posts, the pants and coat skirts love that too. Love PDR. Love this picture by Horst at Petit Mouton-so different from her others stylewise at Mouton & lastly- a book from Mithcell Owens-the one that has researched all her secrets will be well worth the wait! (and if blogger presents my 1st comments- we will see if I hit all the markers a second time. thanks for your movie posts-one of my favorite things you do. pgt

  24. Yep! You are the one to write it!

    'and it needs to be written!

  25. Great post! And loved the ones prior! Especially the one on Bijan!
    Faboukous blog!
    Jamie Herzlinger

  26. Okay Jennifer....
    In regards to your requests for hostess gowns and robes du soir, a couturier like myself would be more than happy to work with a woman of your boundless appreciation for true style! Just call me...
    For my first collection I actually did a bateau-neck jacquard hostess coat with a complementary faille palazzo pant in the style of Givenchy that would have appealed to a Pauline de Rothschild I think.
    Lastly I feel my favorite instance of this particular style of ensemble in a film HAS to be on Jean Simmons in The Grass is Greener (with Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, and Robert Mitchum). Yves St Laurent for Dior did the costumes, along with Hardy Amies, but you know St. Laurent for Dior is responsible for this particular number. This is the best picture I could find of it online:


    1. Charles, I would love to see photos of the hostess coat from your first collection. It sounds heavenly. Once my book tour ends, I hope to have more time to entertain...a hostess gown to celebrate my return to hostessing just might be in order!

      I have never seen The Grass is Greener, but based on the Jean Simmons photo, I MUST see it right away. So chic!

  27. Hey Jennifer,
    Did you get to see Grass is Greener yet?? And are you coming to Nashville on your book tour?!
    Here's the link to pictures from my first collection: