Movie Costumes – Ginger Rogers

Ginger Rogers (July 16,1911–April 25,1995) was perhaps best known as Fred Astaire’s dance partner, there is a famous saying “Ginger did everything that Fred did except backward and in high heels”.  In this post I will discuss a few of the spectacular dresses that Ginger wore in the ten films that she made with Fred between 1933 – 1949, any one of these dresses could be a wonderful inspiration for a bridal gown with a vintage touch!

It is important to note that during the Great Depression in the United States, movies were considered a luxury expense but also a welcome relief and escape from the daily financial problems of the general public.  The movies often depicted better times with plotlines that featured elaborate nightclub scenes with the actors all dressed in beautiful costumes.  So, expectations were always high for Ginger’s movie dresses and the costume department at RKO studios did not disappoint with wonderful designs featuring silk and satin fabrics with fur trim, feathers or beaded embellishments.  Women moviegoers, who could not afford new clothing, loved seeing the elegant evening dresses that Ginger wore in the movies.

Also during the 1930s, when many of the Fred & Ginger movies were made, the film industry had strict regulations (known as the Hays Code) which set the morality standards for movie production and as a result the guidelines directly influenced costume designs.  Ginger’s dresses usually required her to be demurely covered in the front but there were no limitations on the back of the dresses.  Sometimes her movie costumes would be rather low-cut in the back but still managed to give her a classic and elegant style.  It has been said that “Fred gave Ginger class and she gave him sex appeal”.  (Special Note: The idea of a dress design with a more modest front and a low back would be wonderful combination for a mother of the bride/groom, the front of the dress would be appropriate for ceremony photographs in a church while the back would look great for dancing at the reception)

Speaking of dancing, being a perfectionist when it came to choreography, Fred felt the most important thing was that the fabulous movie dresses worn by Ginger needed to allow a full range of motion required for the complex dance routines.  This was wonderfully achieved by the studio’s dress designers and when watching the films Ginger’s dresses seem to enhance the dance beautifully with a graceful movement.  (Photo shown below is from the 1936 movie “Swing Time”)

So, let’s take a look at some of the iconic movie dresses of Ginger Rogers –

“Flying Down to Rio” – 1933

Flying Down to Rio was the first movie that Fred and Ginger were in together; they were the supporting actors while Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond were considered the stars of the film.  For the “Carioca’ dance scene, that involves Fred and Ginger almost continuously touching their foreheads while performing the intricate dance steps, Ginger wore a satin dress with a ruffled hem and sleeves with a gored skirt.

“The Gay Divorcee” – 1934

After the success of the pairing Fred and Ginger in Flying Down to Rio, the film studio was quick to make another movie with the dancing duo.  In The Gay Divorcee gave Fred and Ginger top billing and “The Continental”, which was featured in the film, was the first song to win in the new Academy Award category for Best Original Song.

“The Continental” dance scene is rather long with elaborate movie sets and numerous extras.  Ginger wears an evening dress which is a lovely contrast of dark and light fabric.  The dress features a v-neckline with crisscross straps, dark fringe at the shoulders and trailing down to the low scoop back, and a light colored skirt blending into a darker colored hemline.

Meanwhile, on a personal note aside from filming movies, Ginger married her second husband actor Lew Ayres on June 23, 1934.  She wore a two piece dress with a long-sleeve button front jacket with a soft draped collar that perfectly matched a long skirt, both pieces were made with a lace overlay, Ginger also wore a wide brimmed hat.   (Because the only pictures I found were black and white I was unable to determine the color of her bridal ensemble).  Special note:  The three-tiered wedding cake was made by Hollywood caterers, the Samson Sisters, and was beautifully decorated with hearts and the intertwined initials of the bridal couple and featured a whimsical cake topper of a small doll figurine which was meant to look like Ginger.

“Roberta” – 1935

For the “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” dance scene in Roberta, Ginger enters the nightclub wearing a long black satin coat with a slight train and a luxurious fur collar and cuffs. (Remember, this is the 1930s when wearing fur was the height of sophistication!)  Before starting the dance she removes the coat to reveal a sexy long black satin dress with thin straps that twist in the back, Ginger wear a large rhinestone broach pinned to the bodice of the dress.

 “Top Hat – 1935

Perhaps one of the most iconic dresses worn by Ginger was the feather dress that she wore in Top Hat for the “Cheek to Cheek” dance scene.  This famous dress, another Bernard Newman design, featured an abundance of ostrich feathers at the neckline and also on the lower portion of the satin dress. Since the film was originally shot in black & white, at first I could not determine the color but it has been reported that the dress was made in a wonderful shade of blue.  Special Note: For this dance scene Ginger wore her hair in an elaborate braided that beautifully framed her face, it would make a lovely bridal hairstyle that could be further enhanced with pearl or rhinestone hair pins.

Another beautiful movie dress worn by Ginger in the film Top Hat was also designed by Bernard Newman.  The “Piccolino” dress was a dazzling long white satin and chiffon evening dress accented with beaded sequin and featuring a gorged hemline, short upturned ruffled sleeves and a peplum waist.  Special Note: In 1984 Ginger was present when the “Piccolino” dress was donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, unfortunately it is currently not of display at the museum.  

“Follow the Fleet” – 1936

For the “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” musical scene Ginger wore a pale blue beaded  sequin dress with a fur collar and two beaded tassels trim at the neckline, wide sleeves and a flared skirt.  It has been noted that the weight of the dress (reported to be about 25 pounds) caused some difficulties for both Ginger and Fred.  When performing the steps and turns required for dance choreography the heavy dress would cause Ginger to become a little off balance and the sleeves would literally slap Fred in the face!  Also, the back lighting used for the scene inadvertently shows the silhouette of Ginger’s trim legs! “Swing Time” – 1936

The dress Ginger wore for the musical number “Waltz in Swing Time” was a lovely pink organza dress with a button front bodice and sheer collar, multi-ruffled sleeves and flared skirt with a ruffled hemline.  Once again Ginger closely collaborated with Bernard Newman, the RKO costume designer.

The second dress worn by Ginger in the film was for the final dance scene which featured the song “Never Gonna Dance”.  Ginger wore a very sexy design featuring a bias cut dress with crisscross rhinestone trim across the bodice and the low back which perfectly showed off her trim figure.  The first photo shows the dress worn with the matching multi-paneled cape.

“Shall We Dance” – 1937

As Fred starts the final musical number of “Shall We Dance” he is desperately trying to find the real Ginger among the numerous women wearing Ginger masks and identical dresses.  The dress is very similar to the one Ginger wore in the film “Roberta” several years earlier, this version of a long satin dress has double straps and a rhinestone brooch pinned to the bodice, Ginger (and of course all the look-a-likes) is wearing a dark veil and long black gloves.

“Carefree” – 1938

For the whimsical musical number, “The Yam”, Ginger wears a dress featuring pleated sleeves and skirt with a contrasting color bodice accented with sparkling gems.  The dress moves beautifully as Ginger and Fred performed the fun dance scene that takes them from the dance floor and through several additional rooms in which they are followed by numerous couples along the way!

“The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle” – 1939

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle movie told the story of real life couple who became famous for their wonderful ballroom dancing.  The dress that Ginger wore for the “The Last Waltz” musical number in the film was a romantic silk dress trimmed with metallic fabric on the bodice and fur on sleeves.

This would be the last film that Fred and Ginger would star in together for RKO studios.  Fred would go on to pursue a solo dancing career and Ginger would limit her acting to dramatic roles, in fact, Ginger won the Academy Award for best actress in the 1940 movie “Kitty Foyle”.

 “The Barkleys of Broadway” – 1949

Ten years later, Fred and Ginger would reunite for the 1949 MGM movie The Barleys of Broadway which was the story about a fictional dancing duo.  This movie would be the first and only film that Fred and Ginger would make in Technicolor; all their previous movies were made in black and white.  As a result, Ginger’s costumes would specifically reflect the addition of color in the choices of fabrics.

For “Swing Trot”, the musical number which is shown in the film’s opening credits, Ginger wears a slinky dress of gold lame with thin straps.

Any of these spectacular dresses worn by Ginger Rogers in the ten films that she made with Fred Astaire could be a wonderful inspiration for a bridal gown or a dress for a bridesmaid or mother of the bride/groom.