Let us look at cleavage first. The word itself is a worry – it can mean rending things into separate parts, and also exactly the opposite when referring to things which cling together. In terms of low-cut necklines it somehow covers both possibilities: garments cut to show objects that are actually separate but also clinging together.
The dreaded Motion Picture Production Code was set up by Will Hays in 1930 to maintain decency in movies, and was known as ‘the Hays code’ Nudity was of course out of the question in films, but decolletage must have remained modest enough to escape
attention until the summer of1945.
In that year, a British film called The Wicked Lady starring two very glamorous actresses – Margaret Lockwood and Patricia Roc – as Restoration-period beauties. The two women were costumed in a style based on easily accessible contemporary depictions of
Restoration fashion, including low-cut necklines. Sadly too low for the Hollywood censors.
Joseph I. Breen, the administrator of the Hays code, considered the necklines
contravened standards of decency, and invoked the previously unknown word ‘cleavage’, defined as ‘the shadowed depression dividing an actress’s bosom into two distinct sections.’
The film makers were informed that the film could not be screened to American audiences because the stars were showing more cleavage than Mr Breen would allow. So the leading ladies were brought back to re-film several critical scenes, no doubt at great expense.
In 1946 Time magazine published a detailed account of the situation, bringing the word cleavage into public scrutiny for the first time. (‘Cleavage and the Code’, August 1946). Almost overnight, the world decolletage vanished and cleavage became the