After having struck the crowds with A Tram called Désir (1951) or East of Eden (1955), the director Elia Kazan invites himself for his twelfth feature film in the bedroom of a 19-year-old American girl, married for two years to a poor guy. In accordance with the bargain with his father-in-law, the husband undertook not to consummate the marriage before the 20e his wife’s birthday, which is fast approaching …
Based on a screenplay by Tennessee Williams, Baby Doll in 1956 triggered the ire of the leagues of virtue. Award-winning, but quickly withdrawn from theaters, it will not experience the success to which Elia Kazan is accustomed. But as often in his cinema, his main character strikes the spirits. Faced with the wave of scandal, the nightie that Carroll Baker wears on the screen will be renamed the title of the film.
Appeared a few years earlier, this cropped nightgown is an answer to the fabric shortage that hit the United States as it entered the Second World War. Low-cut, short and loose at the waist, it is the exact opposite of the wardrobe imposed on the city. Cristóbal Balenciaga, then Mary Quant, in opposing styles, put her in the spotlight: in a conceptual evening dress or pop ready-to-wear. The nightie thus bursts out of the bedroom.
The advent of a new femininity
Carefree and light, seductive for old gentlemen, she likes to play beautiful. He had to wait for the grunge movement in the early 1990s to express all his anger. Saturated guitars, tights with holes, crumpled nighties, pale faces, repainted mouths and greasy hair, the message of revolt is strong enough to signal a rupture. Criticized, insulted for its provocative side, Courtney Love will be credited with this style, called “kinderwhore”, which will mark the starting point of a new elegance.
During the following decade, with the renewal of the generations at the head of artistic directions, the nightie and its reservoir of references and icons from the counter-culture nourished a new rock classicism, with a tendency to destroy. Used to refresh designer fashion, the nightie is part of a line of models which, each in their own way, under the whistles, have worked for the advent of a new femininity. From a garment originally designed to accompany dreams, it is welcome.