The 1934 version of Cleopatra stars Claudette Colbert (last week we looked at Theda Bara in Cleopatra of 1917). Claudette was one of the major stars of the 30s, and is perhaps known best for the sparkling comedy she did with Clark Gable ‘It Happened One Night’ (well worth watching if you haven’t seen it).
The costumes for the film show a definite art deco influence; appropriate, since Egyptian style was an influence on the art deco movement in the first place. The dress with bird motifs over the bust and fishscale design down the front are also typical of the era, and possibly owe something to Schiaparelli’s experiments with surrealism in fashion. Claudette’s short blunt fringe is a little more unusual for the period and gives an almost 60s twist to her typically 30s make-up (note the pencil-thin eyebrows and cupids-bow mouth).
In particular, the use of draped and ruched metallic lamé falling into slinky skirts with long trains and floating panels is not terribly different from the goddess gowns that were being worn in other movies of the time – only they were more often seen in fantasy nightclubs than Egyptian palaces. You can see one of the gold dresses that Claudette wore for the film in a post I did a few years ago on the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood costume auction.
Trivia: The infamous Hays Code was about to be implemented shortly after Cleopatra was filmed, so the director Cecil B. DeMille decided to show as much flesh as he could while it was still legal. The movie opens with an apparently naked (but strategically lit) slave girl holding an incense burner in each hand.