Get the London look: Anna Neagle as the emblem of British fashion and femininity in Maytime in Mayfair
Authors: Crossley, L.
Journal: Film, Fashion & Consumption
In the years following the Second World War, Britain experienced a prolonged period of austerity and an increase in rationing – a measure that had a direct effect on fashion. This was not always reflected on screen: during the war years, Margaret Lockwood, Patricia Roc et al. showed off sumptuous gowns in a succession of popular Gainsborough Studio period films. In 1946, Lockwood and her co-star James Mason were two of the biggest box-office stars in Britain. By 1947, however, Mason had left for America, and while Lockwood was still popular, her more subversive on-screen female sexuality was being displaced by a return to more traditional modes of femininity, as embodied by Anna Neagle. 1947 also saw the birth of the New Look and the golden age of couture, both in Paris and London. These aspects of British fashion and British femininity come together in Herbert Wilcox’s romantic comedy Maytime in Mayfair (1949). Set around the fashion boutiques of Mayfair, the film showcases designs by the leading houses of the day: Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell, Worth and others. The luxury displayed on-screen would have been beyond the reach of most of the audience: however, the film works to promote the image of British fashion design for both a domestic and international market, while simultaneously presenting an image of resilient but glamorous British womanhood through Neagle’s star persona and on-screen presentation. This article examines the construction of ideas of British femininity on the post-war years through the mediation of stardom and fashion-on-film.