Colleen Moore, 1920
As you can see, it is a photo of Colleen Moore [i.e., Kathleen Morrison] (1899–1988) which has been “Distributed by First National Pictures”.
Morrison appeared in over sixty films, most between 1917 and 1934, nineteen of which were distributed by First National. The First National films date from 1920 to 1929. Press photos were used by studios to promote new starts, so it is likely this photo was released in 1920. And, since Morrison was the top box-office star in 1927, First National were hardly likely to be promoting her in this way by the mid-20s. So, if it isn’t 1920 it could only be a few years later at most.
The date is important because almost all of the sexy witch press photos I have—or that I have seen—date from the 30s, 40s and 50s, mostly the 40s. The few I have see from the 20s (Clara Bow, Dorothy Dix, Leila Hyams) are from late in the decade. So, this is the earliest press photo by a long shot. It would be nice to find the image used in a magazine to confirm the date.
The outfit, and the styling of the photo, are interesting. Morrison wears a traditional pointed hat with a veil, which is tied at the front and drapes behind. The silk dress has a close-buttoned bodice with a deep point and sleeves to the elbow; the skirt is long, with the tunic open at the front, and bunched up on the sides.
Appliquéd to the skirt are a scaredy cat, a devil and a JOL. Morrison wears silk stockings and elegant lace-up, open-work, high-heel shoes; she holds a broom behind her in both hands, with one leg raised, as if riding the broom side-saddle. Strong side-lighting casts a deep profile-shadow. A white spot on the wall suggests a moon, but the props and backdrop are pretty crude compared to the dress.
Many of the details in this outfit—the deep pointed bodice, mid-length sleeves, bunched up skirt, the appliqué—are indebted to the costumes described by Ardern Holt in six editions of his book Fancy Dresses Described; Or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls (1879–1895).
My copy of the 6th edition of Holt has advertisements dated to 1901, suggesting that this hugely popular book was still being sold in 1901 and there is a pretty good chance that it sat on the shelves of the costume department of every theatre and film studio for many decades afterwards.