Textiles & Costume

Historical costuming monkey business

I’ve been watching White Zombie, the original ‘living dead’ film. Made in 1932 on a shoestring budget, it starred the newly famous Bela Lugosi as the zombie master and Madge Bellamy as the titular ‘white zombie’ who “filled his every desire” according to the movie tagline.

Yes, this was definitely a pre-code film!

Madge wears a series of fabulous ensembles: a tropical appropriate traveling outfit, a to-die-for wedding dress (pun intended), a quaintly old-fashioned frock, and a trailing 1930s does medieval shroud.

The quaintly old-fashioned frock caught my attention. It looked so 17th century. I loved the idea of a 17th century inspired early 1930s dress. So I went looking for images of it. I found these:

Madge as Madeleine is fawned over by Bela as Murder and Cawthorn as Beaumont

Isn’t that very 1920s does mid 17th century?  The sleeves, the bows, the metal lace trim?  I wonder what the full view looks like?

It's so 17th century!

How charming!  How quaint!  I had no idea that the 17th century was such a big influence in the 1920s!

But wait…what’s this?

Huh. Same dress. Same actress. But why is she wearing a wig?

That’s Madge Bellamy all right.  And that’s definitely the same dress, just with a few tweaks.  But that is the wrong year.  And the wrong film.

Yep.  That is a publicity picture for an earlier Bellamy film: 1922’s Lorna Doone, which is set in the 17th century.

Man, I knew that White Zombie was filmed on the slimmest of budgets, and that movie studios re-use costumes all the time, but re-using a dress that the actress wore in a costume drama a decade earlier for a film set in modern times is pretty desperate!

I wonder how it happened?  Did Madge get to keep the dress, and did she bring it out when they needed something a bit out-of-time and romantic for the heroine to wear?  Or did the costumers go rummaging through the films costume shop looking for things that fit Madge and decide this was the only possibility?


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