In 1938, Vivien Leigh starred in St. Martin’s Lane, along with Charles Laughton, Rex Harrison and Tyrone Guthrie. The movie centered around a group of street entertainers known as buskers, who took Vivien’s character, Libby, into their group. The U.S. premiere didn’t happen until 1940, retitled as Sidewalks of London, taking full advantage of Vivien’s newfound stardom as Scarlett O’Hara, in Gone With the Wind.
Vivien Leigh in a publicity portrait for Sidewalks of London
The film received outstanding reviews:
Vivien Leigh has such a quality in her work that I feel she has only just begun. She has allure, charm, sex appeal and acting ability. –John Paddy Carstairs
Charles Laughton will easily clinch his hold on American theater-goers through his shining performance. Vivien Leigh’s artistry easily matches that of Laughton as well as measuring up to the standard she set for herself as Scarlett O’Hara! –Daily Variety
A hit picture…literally spiked with good audience stuff. Splendid performances by Charles Laughton and Vivien Leigh. Audiences should take to this picture as ducks to to water! –Hollywood Reporter
For today’s Fashion Friday post, I’ll be showcasing two of the costumes Vivien Leigh wore in the movie. John Armstrong is the credited costume designer for the film; however, the costumes we’ll be looking at today were designed by Victor Stiebel. Vivien had already been acquainted with Stiebel, for a few years, when she attended his showing, in 1938. From this show, she chose the following outfits for a few scenes, which appear in the latter half of the movie.
A sketch of Victor Stiebel’s striped jacket for Vivien Leigh
Vivien wears this delightful jacket and skirt ensemble, when she returns to the boardinghouse, looking for Charles. The linen jacket featured black and white stripes, while the skirt stayed the course in pure black. Stiebel decided to embrace the idea of a longer jacket and made it less tight on the body, than in previous seasons. The jacket featured a wide belt, emphasizing Vivien’s small waist. The skirt also came out a little fuller than what was considered normal in 1938.
The ensemble’s accessories included a black purse, gloves and a matching, straw hat that tied beneath the chin.
Unfortunately, I don’t have photographs of Vivien from the movie wearing this outfit. I did do some screenshots from youtube. Warning– they are really poor quality, however, you can still see how great Vivien looked in this outfit.
Victor Stiebel’s advice on dressing well: My attitude towards dress designing has always been one, which, while fully appreciating the psychological confidence good clothes give to a woman, it really concentrates more on personalities.
One fashion critic called Vivien’s jacket a throwback to menswear from the turn of the century. I can kind of see the resemblance with the suit jacket on the left.
Vivien kept this particular outfit from the film and was photographed wearing it on a couple of different occasions. It even looks like the same blouse and brooch, too.
Victor Stiebel, the famous dress designer, gives his recipe for chic. Here it is. Black — except for dramatic occasions. Simplicity always. Money spent, on the woman herself, rather than the actual garment. He says clothes should be a frame for well-groomed hair, hands and face. He gives full marks to the dress which makes you remember the woman and not what she had on. (unk newspaper cutting)
A sketch of Victor Stiebel’s dress featured in Sidewalks of London
As you can see from the stylish models pictured below, wearing a large bouquet of flowers across your bodice was quite fashionable. The models, pictured at the fashion show, wear eerily similar gowns. The first gown was designed by Motley, who, coincidentally, designed several of Vivien’s costumes for plays. The second gown was designed by Victor Stiebel and it’s the one Vivien chose for her character.
When you show up at a party thinking you’ll be the only girl with a tree on her chest…
Stiebel’s gown originally came with a tulle veil, made from three different pastel colors, that clung to the head via an apple blossom crown. Alas, the veil didn’t make the cut and wasn’t in the movie.
Photo by Angus McBean
This is actually one of my favorite dresses that Vivien wears in the film. The dress was made from slipper satin, which is defined on wikipedia as a stiff and medium-to heavy-weight fabric. The material is tightly woven and slightly lighter than duchess satin.
Here’s a close-up look at the detail on the bodice. There was actually a lot of talk about how Stiebel’s low bodices, such as the one pictured here, managed to stay up without straps. The bodice with no visible means of support is waspish.
The gown was a lovely silver in color, though one fashion critic called it a dreary oyster grey. The bodice featured the gown’s only decoration: apple tree leaves in full blossom.
I’m including this next screenshot to show the length and movement of the gown’s full skirt. Also, to simply show how lush and gorgeous the satin material looked.
Thanks for joining me for today’s Fashion Friday post!