Edith Head

Art and design usually go unnoticed,especially, when they are not primary in a subject matter. In songsand movies, most members of the audience concentrate on the theme andthe major characters. Those who care to dissect the films can realizethe efforts of major support players. A majority of the people whotake art and design as a career cite a past interest of talent indrawing and assembling different garments. Nonetheless, others justdevelop a passion, and they focus on the sector after their basictraining in diverse courses. The film houses expose them to a dynamicenvironment that triggers their creativity. This innovationdistinguishes the craftiness of the artists. is a renownedAmerican designer whose efforts have been acknowledged with anassortment of reward schemes.

In her life, Head became a fashionlegend. Hollywood recognized her as the greatest attire designersince the inception of the industry (Chierichetti 6). She was alsothe first novice female designer to be in charge of a costumedepartment of a motion picture. The artist was born Edith Posener, on28 October 1897, in San Bernardino, California (Chierichetti 3). Sheattended Los Angeles High School and proceeded to the University ofCalifornia to study French. As an avid learner, she earned Honors inLetters and Art in French. Her pursuit of knowledge took her to theStanford University where she successfully mastered French. In 1923,she commenced teaching French at Hollywood School for Girls. Shemarried Charles Head in 1923, but the couple later divorced in 1938.Nonetheless, Edith retained her husband`s name throughout herprofessional career. Her long-life career that would earn her morethan eight Oscar Awards in costume design started when she secured ajob with Paramount Studio (Chierichetti 6).

Head confessed borrowing other students’sketches for her first interview since she did not have anyexperience in costume art. Her first film, TheWanderer, released in 1925,laid the path for her to become an accomplished Hollywood designer(Davis). For the following 43 years, Head worked with otherexperienced professionals, and she curved a niche for her creativityin the sector.

As an ambitious woman, her profession wasnot devoid of tussles and unhealthy competition from otherexperienced art enthusiasts. In Paramount, Howard Greer and TravisBanton overshadowed her (Chierichetti 8). The two werecareer-designers with several decades of expertise. When Bantonexited the stage, Head became the primary advisor to the department.Working under Banton had molded her into a restrained professionalwho was shy of the cameras and public scrutiny. The Sarong dress thatshe invented for Dorothy Lamour in the film, TheHurricane, (1937) gave her apublic mileage and the determination to dress actors in the mostrelevant and thematic way (Davis).

Besides coming up with uniqueembroideries and patterns, Head became a center of attention for herparochial dressings that gave films perfect reflections of thecontexts of their storylines (Chierichetti 12). For example, in Ladyin the Dark, which wasreleased in 1944, she titillated the audience after she made amink-lined gown worn by Ginger Rodgers (Head 12). The costumecomplemented the characters intended wartime appearance. Theblueprint not only boosted her career, but also enabled her to securea place in the Academy of Award for Costume Designer nomination.Rodgers gown indulged the crowd to the point of Head being selectedfor The Emperor Waltz.

Head’s Style

As a garment designer, Head interactedwith many artists and film characters. She also exchanged ideas withother costume enthusiasts. She developed a personal relationship withsome respected players who would request for her services even whenthey were producing with another company other than paramount. Someof the famous movie stars that she dressed include Grace Kelly, JohnWayne, Cary Grant, Lana Turner, and Elizabeth Taylor among others(Chierichetti 16). Although she was the idea behind many types ofapparel patterns worn during screenplays, she liked plain clothes forher wardrobe. She was mostly in thick-framed glasses and bourgeoistwo-piece suits.

Besides her celebrated personal image,Head conceived numerous award-winning costumes. In ‘TheSting (1973),’ she washailed for dressing Robert Redford in sharp suits. The costume wasinfluential in the public domain with some people changing theirwardrobes to look like Johnny Hooker (Davis). In ‘Takea Holiday,’ Head craftilyclothed Audrey Hepburns in cool white shirts to reflect relaxed Romanholiday.

Furthermore, in the popular film, ‘APlace in the Sun,’ LizTaylor appeared elegant in her impressive gown, courtesy of Head’snovelty (Davis). She also designed the blue chiffon worn by GraceKelly in ‘To Catch a Thief.’The dress reflected Kelly’s daring and bizarre behavior. Designersconsider the Chiffon conceived by Head as the idea behind ChristianDior’s current look (Davis). The elegance that it exuded in thelate 40s to reflect the prevailing clothing patterns remainedrelevant for several decades. Head’s legacy extended to otherhundreds of outfits, which, although they did not win awards, theyremained enshrined in the minds of the film stars and the audience.

Head’s Achievements

Head became the first woman to bag eightAcademy Awards for the Best Costume Design. She was also nominated 35times into the platform. The appreciations included the 1949 ColorAward for ‘The Emperor Waltz’and ‘Samson and Delilah’in 1951 (Chierichetti 21). She also scooped the Black and WhiteCostume award for A Place inthe Sun (1952), Carrie (1953),All about Eve(1951), Roman Holiday(1954), and The Heiress(1950) (Chierichetti 21). The transformation in the film industry inthe late 60s scrapped the category of color awards. The consequentnominations, therefore, were not particular to the previous groups.Head was nominated to the academy in 1970 and 1971 for SweetCharity and Airportrespectively (Chierichetti 6).She also scooped the 1974 costume award in the film TheSting. At the climax of hercareer, Head appeared in the film Colombo:Requiem for a Falling Star in1973. In the movie, all her awards were displayed on her desk. Shealso made a special advent in LucyGallant (1955) and TheOscar (1966). Later in 2001,They Might Be Giantscomposed a song in honor of and in appreciation of all theprincipal parties who play vital roles behind the scenes (Davis).

Contribution of Head to Costume Design

For five decades, Head was aninstrumental party to Hollywood’s storytelling and the capacity ofstars to communicate their ideas using relevant costumes (Davis).Furthermore, she became a role model for many female designersthrough her success in a field that was dominated by men (Davis). Herinfluence on clothing and parochial designs triggered her to authortwo works, The Dress Doctor andHow to Dress for Success.She also designed clothes for use in various contexts, including, theuniforms for Pan American World Airways and the UN tour guides. Inaddition, some of the costumes that she designed became popular inthe contemporary world. Many fashion enthusiasts adopted the Sarongand toreador pants that Head designed for Dorothy Lamour (Head 14).

More interestingly, the cloth shops inNew York introduced attires that reflected the casual elegance ofSouthern Carolina. These garbs were first seen in AllAbout Eve in 1950 (Davis).

Head’s blueprints are timeless. Unlikemany professionals who become victims of the “date trap”, shedeveloped garbs that made immutable. The themes of the movies as wellas the costumes contribute to their continued presence in the marketdespite competition from modern era films.

In conclusion, remains one ofthe most celebrated personalities in costume design. She became thefirst woman to lead an attire department at Paramount films despitethe stiff competition from the already established maleprofessionals. Although she did not have initial training on garmentdesign, she strived and developed thematic dresses for renownedcharacters. In addition, she learned a lot from her association withthe stars who procured her services when they took part in differentmovies. Her consistency and craftiness earned her 35 nominations forthe Academy Award for Costumes. Moreover, her influential dresspatterns in the movies extended to the contemporary designs, whereby,people imitated the elegance of the film stars she clothed. The nicheshe carved in the industry continues to influence young aspiringcostume designers up to date.


Chierichetti, David.EdithHead: the life and times of Hollywood`s celebrated costume designer.New York: Harper Collins, 2003. Print.

Davis, Allison. 30Fantastic Movie Costumes by the Legendary . The New YorkTimes, October 28, 2013. Web. June 16, 2016.

Head, Edith. TheDress Doctor: Prescriptions for Style, from A to Z.New York: Collins Design, 2008. Print.