“Birds of Paradise: Feathers, fetishism and costume in classical Hollywood”

by Emmanuelle Dirix


This article aims to investigate the reasons for the prolific use of feathers in 1930s Hollywood costume. Instead of positioning them merely as a spectacular tool of glamour in the Golden Age, it will focus on feathers as a form of material culture and specifically on their fetishistic nature in order to pose an alternative explanation for their sartorial popularity in a decade marked by the introduction of the Production/Hays Code. I wish to demonstrate that by shifting the methodological emphasis on feathers from object to subject, we open up an autonomous narrative for the material that would be missed when focusing only on its contextual reading. This in turn potentially offers a new dimension as to their use, in particular as a metaphor for female sexuality and therefore as a vehicle for reading 1930s cinematic sexuality.

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