When watching a movie made from 1945-1970, watch for women wearing clothing with clean, spare lines, beautifully made and flattering to their exact figures. Chances are, they’re wearing one of Edith Head’s designs. Edith Head was one of the most famous cinema costume designers of the 20th Century. Her trademark large, round, black glasses made her instantly recognizable.
Edith Head was born in 1897 in San Bernadino, California, and although she was a trained teacher, went to work in the costume department for Paramount Studios while movies were still in the silent era. By the early 1930s, Edith Head was established and was known as a leading costume designer.
Under the infamous studio system, Edith Head took credit for the work all her designers did — as did most head designers — but every design had to be approved by her, and had to be satisfy her exacting standards. In fact, Edith Head designed fashions that were far superior to the movies in which they appeared.
She designed for several Elvis Presley movies and for the Hope-Crosby Road movies. She was also the lead designer for such films as Roman Holiday, Funny Face, The Farmer’s Daughter, Marnie and Vertigo. She was nominated for 34 Academy Awards for her work, and won eight — more than any other woman in any category.
Edith Head also wrote books on fashion and appeared on “Art Linkletter’s House Party” in the 1950s. Her designs greatly influenced ready-to-wear designers and even set the trend for couture in that era. Edith Head’s work appealed to the “normal” woman. It was accessible. Any woman could imagine herself wearing the delicious gray tweed suit Kim Novak wears in Vertigo. Who wouldn’t look better in a suit like that?
Edith Head was a private woman, but considered warm and hospitable in her home, where she threw legendary parties. She died 24 October 1981 after completing work on the Steve Martin film, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. Her career had truly come full circle as she designed 1940s-era costumes for the film.