Bendigo Art Gallery: Fashion icon Edith Head

While she is best known for her virtuosic career in Hollywood costume design, Edith Head was also a savvy stylist and fashion advisor.

In addition to her studio work, Head appeared on television and radio, wrote magazine and newspaper columns and published two books, building a reputation as a leading fashion authority.

Designing costumes for some of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars on over 1000 films Edith developed an astute skill for disguising apparent physical ‘flaws’ and accentuating the ‘assets’ of those she dressed.

While using this skill to great effect in her costume designs, winning an unprecedented eight Academy Awards, Head also capitalised upon this finely honed sensibility to build a popular and accessible personal brand focused on everyday women.

Concerned not with the whim and fancy of fashion cycles, but on designs that were right for particular body shapes it is little wonder that women from all over America sought her advice.

Despite her conservative personal style and initial shyness, Head soon became a household name.

From the 1940s, her Paramount office was flooded with letters and she began writing for popular Hollywood magazines.

Shortly after, Head began appearing regularly on the radio and then television show Art Linkletter’s House Party offering on-the-spot fashion advice to members of the studio audience which despite Head’s often blunt critiques, quickly became one of the most popular segments of the show.

She also began touring the country with fashion shows highlighting some her most iconic costume designs.

Gaining confidence in her skills and experience, in 1959 Head published the immensely popular book The Dress Doctor followed in 1967 by her no-nonsense style guide How to Dress for Success.

In each publication she shared insights into the glamorous world of the Hollywood film studio, gave advice and shared her philosophy on fashion, design and the female figure. 

Diversifying her brand and making her style advice even more accessible, in the 1960s, Head endorsed the production by Advance of home sewing patterns based on designs for films on which she had worked.

From 1976, Head designed evening dresses exclusively for Vogue Patterns and from 1963-65 hosted her own weekly CBS radio program Fashion Notes.

Hollywood star Mae West once said to Head, ‘If you’ve found a magic that does something for you… stick to it. Never change it’.

Head obviously took this shrewd advice to heart right down to her cropped fringe, bob cut and signature glasses that came to define her ‘brand’.

Experience the breadth and talent of Edith Head in the upcoming Bendigo Art Gallery exhibition The Costume Designer: Edith Head and Hollywood opening September 29.

ICON: Edith Head outside her office door at Paramount Pictures 1940s © Paramount Pictures.

ICON: Edith Head outside her office door at Paramount Pictures 1940s © Paramount Pictures.