The first time I saw Mommie Dearest, I was too young to understand very much of what I was seeing. I didn’t know who Joan Crawford was. I didn’t understand camp. All I knew was that here was a very scary woman torturing her children, and it terrified me.
I’ve seen the movie many times since, and I’ve developed a bit of a complicated relationship with it. It transcends so-bad-it’s-good and, as John Waters said, enters into so-bad-it’s-perfect territory. Saying that Faye Dunaway’s performance is over-the-top is the most colossal understatement in history. It’s scenery-chewing defined. It’s so huge and so iconic that it’s now the lens through which I see both her AND Joan Crawford--and I’m STILL pretty scared of the latter.
But on the other hand, Mommie Dearest (both the book and the movie) are portrayals of horrible, unrelenting child abuse. It’s not just fun or schlocky entertainment, because if even half of the claims made by Christina are true, then Joan Crawford was a straight-up, real-life MONSTER. I love campy entertainment, but I wonder sometimes if this isn't really close to laughing at someone else’s suffering and calling it fun.
Reconciling these two things--loving something as entertainment on one level while being profoundly disturbed by the truth behind it on another--is hard. Possible, but hard. You just have to be able to hold two things in your head at the same time.
I can have sympathy for real-life Christina Crawford (and a weird combination of anger and pity for the alcoholic mother that abused her), AND ALSO live for Mommie Dearest, in much the same way that I’m not exactly a fan of serial murderers and love Silence of the Lambs.
When I was thinking about what other Halloween looks I wanted to recreate for you guys, naturally I thought about the things that frightened me as a child. Don Music from Sesame Street was a bit too obscure, and the wibbly-wobbly scarecrow with the flippy-floppy hat from Play School (all Australians are probably screaming right now, because don’t lie, that thing’s voice was terrifying) wasn’t something that would play well in Chicago.
But Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford? THAT is scary. It’s also really recognisable, and it’s quite easy to do, which makes it the perfect costume.
I’ll be recreating the most traumatic scene, which is, of course, NO MORE WIRE HANGERS! NO MORE WIRE HANGERS EVER!
Joan is wearing a high-necked, long-sleeved black dress with a thin bow around the neck and huge shoulderpads in this scene. I don’t have anything even remotely like that in my wardrobe, so I made do with a long-sleeved black tshirt and a dramatic full black skirt. I would hit a thrift store or eBay if I were really aiming for authenticity--I am sure you can find hundreds of dresses that would fit this bill.
This was surprisingly easy. Even though my hair isn’t dark brown (or a bob), I parted it to one side and curled it all with a 1” curling iron, spraying my curls with my favourite hairspray afterwards.
Then I loosely brushed out the curls with a wide paddle brush and teased them lightly for volume. This helped make my hair shorter, as well as giving me some serious volume.
Now I made my long hair shorter by coiling and pinning some of the longer curls underneath. That’s all I did--take a very long curl, twist it up like I was rolling a pincurl, then put a bobby pin on to keep it in place.
There really wasn’t much style to how I pinned this, because all the coiled-up bits were hidden by the free curls on top. If you need more detailed instructions, check out my Call The Midwife tutorial--it’s the same general principle, there’s just more volume here and I was WAY less precise.
Here’s how it looks when it’s done.
About now I realised I didn’t have a thick white fabric headband. Curses! I cut the bottom off a white t-shirt, sewed it together and tied it around my head instead. This successfully hid my bangs.
If your hair is too short for this, or you just don't feel like messing with it, you could also buy a brown curly wig. The headband means that the front hairline will be hidden, so feel free to hit up the Halloween store and buy the cheapest one you can find.
We need to talk about the eyebrows.
I do not have majestic brows a la Joan Crawford. Mine do not even come close. I had planned to cover mine up with a glue stick and some concealer, only to realise that I’d left the cap slightly off my glue and it had gone dry.
With no time to make a CVS run, I improvised. And it still turned out OK!
- An eyebrow brush/clean mascara wand
- An angled brush
- Dark brown matte eyeshadow. This colour is Brown Down.
First, spray an eyebrow brush or a clean mascara wand with some hairspray and brush your brows up as high as they’ll go.
Let the hairspray totally dry and brush on a really, really thin layer of concealer. This is mostly to lighten the individual hairs and provide a good “base” for the colour.
Next, I took my angled brush and dampened it oh-so-slightly before getting it all up in my dark brown shadow.
Then, while staring at a picture of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, I drew in an approximation of her brow shape--big, bold, dramatic.
Once I had the shape right, I filled it in with my damp brush. It turned out VERY extreme, but this is a costume, and I was happy.
You could totally use a brown eyeliner or brow pencil here. I thought that I had several of both, but apparently I don’t, so I made do with what I had. If you use a pencil, make sure it doesn’t melt off your face by setting it with a thin coat of powder afterwards.
Even totally unhinged, the look here is Old Hollywood starlet. Joan has cold cream on her eyelids in this scene, so skip the shadow and focus on the lashes.
First I lined my top lash line with liquid liner, keeping the line thin and not winging it out too far at the edges.
Then I curled my lashes, applied some relatively natural-looking fake lashes, then added more mascara to make the entire concoction look more natural.
I left mascara off my bottom lashes, but you can add it if you like.
Next to the brows, this is what I most wanted to get right. Joan Crawford was famous for the shape of her lips. They were REALLY exaggerated, especially on top.
Even though I’m not sure she’s meant to be wearing lipstick in this scene, I’m still going to put vamp red on her. That’s just how I think it should be.
First, I outlined my lips, making sure NOT to follow my natural shape. My lips are quite full rather than long, so I’m making sure to really get exaggerated here--a smaller cupid’s bow and rounder upper shape especially.
Then I coloured it in with my trusty NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Dragon Girl.
Joan is covered in cold cream in this scene, which makes the skin really easy.
Because actual cold cream would rub off/absorb/slide off/generally be a messy nightmare, I’m instead using white foundation. White facepaint would also be totally perfect for this.
There are no fancy tricks here. Using a couple fingers, rub your fingers in the makeup, then apply it all over your face like you would moisturiser.
Don’t make it too even (she said, for the first time in her entire life). You want it to look a little messy, like it’s lotion rather than makeup. Get it all over your eyes--avoid the brows--and close to your lips. If you need to retrace the lip line (or the line of your giant brows) to neaten it up, so be it.
And you’re done! Grab a wire hanger, and you’ve got a truly monstrous costume.
Bonus points if there’s a pink and white dress hanging on it.
What is your favourite scary movie that isn’t really meant to be scary? Are you as frightened of Joan Crawford as I am? What celebrity kids do you think will be writing tell-all books in 30 years?