Happy New Year: Shall We Dance (1937)
Happy New Year Everyone! Let’s start the year off on a fun dancing note with Shall We Dance. This film is the seventh of Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers’ collaborations and has become one of their most loved. With sixteen songs by George and Ira Gershwin, choreography by Hermes Pan, gowns by Irene, and the return of our favorite supporting players Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore – what’s not to love?
The films title is apt considering the last dance number from their film Swing Time released the year before was the dramatic “Never Gonna Dance”. This shows a deliberate continuum on the part of RKO to keep the progression of Astaire and Rogers characters going regardless of plot. For the first time, the Rogers character is allowed to be a successful musical comedy star independent of Astaire. They start the film on the same footing, albeit with very different dance styles. It’s nice to see Linda Keene, played by Rogers, bring Astaire’s Petrov down from his artistic ballet pedestal. He goes quite willingly and melds fantastically with her honest, fun, American style. Yes, there are misunderstandings, quarrels, and the beauty of making up while dancing. Any song and dance that can stop divorce proceeding has got to be damn good.
Shall We Dance was fashion designer Irene’s first big film. Irene had studied at Wolf School of Design in 1927, followed by opening her our dress shops. By 1933 she had become the head of the Woman’s Custom Salon at the renowned department store Bullocks Wilshire. Her success with this film led Irene to design costumes for Columbia, United Artists, and Paramount before become head of MGM’s costume department in 1942. She stayed at MGM until 1949 when she left to open her own fashion house. Irene returned to film design again in 1960 and was nominated for an Academy Award in that year for her work on Midnight Lace.
The wide range of costumes that Irene designed for Rogers take inspiration from the current fashion modes at the time and quite possibly from what she herself was designing at Bullocks. We have everything from daywear, complete with monogrammed blouses, to travel clothes, to lounge wear in the form of silk pajamas and negligees. There is just the perfect amount of fur capes, trim and coats, not in excess, but in line with what was acceptable at the time for a respectable woman. All of Rogers’ costumes are the equivalent of what women were wearing at the time, there are no showstopper ostrich feathered gowns here! The most iconic gown from the film is the white and red flower outfit Rogers wears during the “They All Laughed” number. Another eye-catching costume worn by Rogers is the fringed gold lame gown she wears when meeting Astaire’s Petrov character for the first time. The fringe pops when he tells her to “TwEE-st!” So let’s start the New Year with renewed optimism. To quote a line from the song “Shall We Dance”, “If you want this old world on a string, put on your dancing shoes, stop wasting time, put on your dancing shoes, watch your spirits climb”. Happy New Year!