Hey, what happened to “trying hard to look like Gary Cooper”???
Fred Astaire easily wins the poll question “After Cary Grant, who’s the best-dressed man of the Golden Age?” I was tempted to include Cary in the poll, but I believed that he’d have won handily. Thus, the race for second best was on! Of the 77 votes cast, the results looked like this:
Fred Astaire 36 (46%)
William Powell 24 (31%)
Gary Cooper 9 (11%)
Robert Montgomery 8 (10%)
I’ve always marveled over how well Astaire was dressed in all of his films. His wardrobe in, say, The Bandwagon (1953) is simply to die for! However, it’s not just the clothes themselves that are amazing, but the way Astaire wore them. Tailored clothes tend to make everyone look better than they actually do, but Fred had that “cadaverous” physique that lent itself to looking great in clothes. . He wasn’t tall like Powell and Cooper or conventionally handsome as Grant, Cooper, and Montgomery but somehow Astaire’s overall appeal lay in his outstanding “ability” to wear clothes. Maybe it was his dancer’s grace, which manifested itself in his posture, balance, and gestures giving Astaire a fluid grace that no one—including Grant—could emulate. And no one—no one—looked better in top hat, white tie, and tails than Fred Astaire. Astaire’s wondrous appearance in clothes weren’t limited to tuxedoes or suits, as he even looked swellegant in casual or sporty clothes.
To me, the film that personifies Fred Astaire’s fashion acumen is the “Needle in a Haystack” number from The Gay Divorcee (1934), where Guy Holden (Astaire)--I love the names of Fred Astaire characters; they fit him perfectly, just like the names they give Elvis in his movies—is determined to find the girl (Ginger Rogers) he met fleetingly. As he’s singing the song, Astaire is choosing a necktie, putting on a jacket, and donning a bowler hat. The number is a wonderful coupling of song and dance with elegant 1930s fashion.