We are delighted that objects from the FIDM Museum collection are featured in Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s at the Museum at FIT in New York City. Our contribution to this exhibition consists of eight pairs of shoes worn by Fred Astaire. Open through April 19, 2014, Elegance in an Age of Crisis explores the technical and aesthetic innovations that informed 1930s dress. During this decade, "the structure and rigidity of the Edwardian era and the shapeless styles of the 1920s were replaced by fashions that enhanced the human form without restricting it."1 These changes emerged during a uniquely turbulent decade, sandwiched between two world wars and set against the backdrop of a world-wide financial depression.
Two of the eight pairs of shoes worn by Fred Astaire as seen in Elegance in the Age of Crisis. The white oxfords are inscribed with Astaire's name on the insole. Like all the Astaire shoes in this exhibition, they date from the 1930s and are on long-term loan to the FIDM Museum by the Department of Recreation and Parks, City of Los Angeles. ©The Museum at FIT, Photo by Eileen Costa.
Astaire's footwear is featured in the Hollywood section, which highlights the influence of Hollywood film costumes and film stars on fashionable dress. By the early 1930s, Astaire was already an experienced stage performer. Paired with his sister Adele, Astaire had been dancing since childhood. When Adele retired from the stage in 1932, Fred relocated to Hollywood. His star rose rapidly, beginning with a small role in the 1933 film Dancing Lady. Later that same year, he appeared in a film with Ginger Rogers, who would become his dancing partner throughout the 1930s. They starred in 10 films together, including Top Hat (1935) and Follow the Fleet (1937).
In addition to being an accomplished dancer and film star, Fred Astaire was also a style icon. His suits were always custom tailored, first in London, and later in Los Angeles. Astaire had specific ideas about how men should dress, though he considered himself "someone who wants to be comfortable and satisfy my own taste."2 He was particular about fit, often taking his suits back to the tailor multiple times. His goal was to be unobtrusive in his personal dress, though he did have a fondness for wearing silk scarves or neck-ties instead of leather belts. Most of his shoes were custom-made and his personal wardrobe consisted of about 70 pairs of shoes: 50 for dancing and 20 for other occasions. For more on Astaire's personal style, and his opinions on the male wardrobe, read this extensive 1957 GQ interview.
1"Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s." Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashion of the 1930s. Museum at FIT, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.
2 Hublar, Richard. "The Astute Astaire." GQ (Aug 1957) http://www.gq.com/entertainment/celebrities/195708/fred-astaire-gq-interview-style-fashion.