literature

FETISHES: The Erotic Spell of Men's Evening Dress

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4john Wilson  Conductor

The screen world of the 1930s was a golden time for men’s full formal wear — and the erotic sphere gained by it

Full dress, aka white-tie: an ensemble that includes tails, wing-collared shirt, hand-tied white bow tie usually in a cotton pique or fine grosgrain, and corresponding white waistcoat, traditionally three buttoned and cut low to expose maximum shirt front. Trousers, striped. For the feet, nothing but glacé, glossy pumps will suffice, silk bows optional. This look was established as a sartorial must-do by the early 1920s. Whether formal or extremely formal, the basic sonorous quality of the ensemble is the color black. Since the eighteenth century all attempts to introduce color to male formal attire have failed or have been derided. A shiny, colorful, patterned male evening ensemble is unthinkable; such is the continuing power and influence of tradition.


From The Concise History of Costume and Fashion by James Laver (Abrams, 1960). You can download the entire 292-page ebook here.

It looked great in black and white. Cary Grant wore it. Marlene Dietrich wore it. Drop-dead handsome leading men in full formal wear appeared in four of my old boss Mamoulian’s very sensual pre-Code films: City Streets (1931); Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931); on my own YT channel my favorite Mamoulian musical, Love Me Tonight (1932); and The Song of Songs (1933)…

Full Dress

…as well as in other movies. Left to right: Herbert Marshall, Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich all in white tie and tails. Screenshots from Blonde Venus (1932), Design for Living (1933), Angel (1937).

But the leading man who beat them all was Melvyn Douglas. No one moved as fluidly and effortlessly in evening dress as this suave male. Whether he was making love to Merle Oberon, Greta Garbo, or Gloria Swanson…it didn’t matter. It wasn’t just Melvyn Douglas making love to them. It was Melvyn Douglas In Full Dress — and all that full dress connotes. Power. Attainment. Mastery. Seduction. Enchantment. Caddishness.

Melvyn and Gloria

“You beast…you monster…take your filthy hands off me…I despise you…no…no…ohhhh…” One of my lines as a gotho-porn actress in SF, 1979. (Swanson and Douglas in Tonight or Never, 1931)

Same goes for stage prestidigitators—

The Hypnotic Eye (1960) 6

—and costumed revelers —

Costumed Revelers

— and don’t forget Bela—

Bela As Dracula 1931 By Simonawing Dflfyz6-400t

—and symphonic conductors...

John at Proms

“If Ever I Would Leave You” from the musical Camelot. Catch my beloved John Wilson here on YouTube at the 2019 BBC Proms giving this romantic Lerner+Loewe tune all he’s got.


Oh, the ardor! Mi amor, mi vida!


For more maestros, musicians, and music go to my site https://cantarachristopher.blog

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SimonaWing's avatar

By the way, this is Melvyn Douglas's granddaughter Illeana in a movie she made with her boyfriend director:

Cape Fear, 1991