This is one of my favorite techniques used in classic film. It comes out of nowhere, quite often has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, and features some stunning clothing.
Perhaps the best example of this is 1939’s The Women, featuring gowns by Adrian. This movie is a fashion gem to begin with, but the fashion montage in the middle manages to take it to a whole other level. They managed to make it fit into the plot a little, as many of the characters attend a fashion show. We, of course, get to see the fashion show. But that’s not the best part – the entire rest of the movie is in black and white, but the fashion show is in color! Yes, color. There are elegant ball gowns, beautiful suits with elaborate hats. There’s even a jacket that has its own hand attached, for easy opening I suppose. It’s a masterpiece. What I like, too, is that afterwards we get to see a few of the outfits from the show back in the black and white world, and it’s fascinating to see how they translate from the color scene.
Another great example of the random fashion montage is from the classic Singin’ in the Rain, with costumes designed by Walter Plunkett. When the studio starts to convert to talking pictures, we get lots of “scenes” from the movies they’re making. One of these is a fashion montage set to music. It starts out with a gentleman singing with a bevy of girls in the same flowy dress. We then transition to a fashion show, narrated by the gentleman. Since the movie is set in the late 1920s, all the clothes are fun 1920s styles. We get to see everything from bathing suits to evening wear, and even a wedding dress. And as soon as the last “Beautiful Girl” has come down to join everyone else, the fictional director yells, “cut” and we go back to the main plot of the film.
1944’s Cover Girl features a montage within a theatrical production. (Another of my favorite plot devices – the random, not at all connected musical numbers in a “show-within-a-movie” that make no sense when put together, but are great stand-alones.) In Cover Girl, the lead girl, Rusty (Rita Hayworth), gets the lead in a big Broadway show. There’s a musical number in it in which several women parade through as magazine covers come to life. It’s a great montage, because it features an example of just about every type of 1940s fashion. There are smart suits, elegant evening gowns, bathing suits, dresses with floral accents, even uniforms. And all of that is before Hayworth comes down the ramp in her beautiful gold gown.
All of these movies feature beautiful costumes throughout, but they’re definitely worth checking out for the extra burst of beauty in the random montages. (And they’re all great movies on their own too.)
*The costumes for Cover Girl were designed by Travis Banton, Muriel King, & Gwen Wakeling.