Marlene Dietrich once said “glamour is what I sell, it’s my stock in trade.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines glamour as an air of compelling charm, romance and excitement, especially when delusively alluring. In order to understand the emergence of glamour we must examine the past, when Hollywood was truly defined by glamour.
Hollywood and glamour have always been synonymous, but it wasn’t until later that Hollywood and fashion became identified with glamour. Since the birth of the moving picture, people were exposed to new worlds, faces and attitudes. Beauty developed into an ideal and the faces of beauty were far from ordinary. First there were the silent pictures, which brought us the allure of Gloria Swanson, the mystery of Greta Garbo and the virility of Marlene Dietrich. Then came the talkies, which proved the staying power of some of Hollywood’s elite. The synergy created between Hollywood and glamour came into full force in the 1930s and ’40s during what is known as the golden age of Hollywood. This was the time of studio bosses, contract players, and significant clothing design, and these studio heads were in the business of creating stars. At this time MGM had the talents of designer Adrian, while Paramount possessed the now famous Edith Head.
Designers Adrian and Edith Head are most famous for their contribution to creating icons. Although they worked at rival studios they both had the chance to dress some of Hollywood’s elite. Adrian put glamour into Hollywood by creating beautiful looks that the viewing public could and wanted to wear. His list of clientele included Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Judy Garland and Joan Crawford. He also helped to establish the signature style of many actresses, like defining Joan Crawford’s shape in padded jackets. Adrian always tailored the look to suit the personality of the star and he was able to highlight and showcase his dramatic flair in the 1939 movie “The Women.” Within this black and white comedy is a fashion show scene in Technicolor where Adrian’s influence is exposed. Everything from casual sport to surreal ultra glam is covered and every outfit is fitted with a properly wild hat. With many A-list stars, Adrian rose to success as one of America’s favorite designers.
A bit later, Edith Head came on the scene at Paramount. Edith Head dressed the best stars Paramount had to offer, including Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor and the famous Hitchcock girls. It was with Grace Kelley’s classic beauty combined with simple design Edith helped to create an icon. Like Adrian, Head also knew many stars personally and dressed them accordingly, always down playing their flaws while accentuating their attributes. One of Head’s most famous influences came with the costume design for the movie “A place in the sun.” Elizabeth Taylor’s party dress in the pool playing scene with Montgomery Clift not only made other young girls to want to look like her, that movie and dress rocketed Taylor into adult stardom. The influence over Hollywood glamour from both Adrian and Head was undeniable. Certainly both were responsible for setting the fashion precedent by combining costume and fashion designs.
They equally contributed to the principles of glamour by creating unique garments as individual as the person wearing them.
It is true that in the past Hollywood had talent. Not just the stars but the directors, writers and designers were constantly on the cutting edge of change. Advanced fabrics and designs were creating new silhouettes to flatter just about any figure. In the ’30s it was bias cut body, hugging dresses with exposed backs and shoulders and, as a result, women often kept their hair short and liked to accessorize with hats. With changes in the ’40s, things became regimented with the war effort. Designers were industrious with modest fabrics and tailored looks. Gloves, hats and scarves were all in vogue and everyday women wanted to copy the looks. As time passed, studios did away with contracts and the old ways of Hollywood changed forever.
It is no secret that Hollywood glamour has been captivating audiences since the birth of movies. Talented actresses wearing beautiful clothing can easily mesmerize an audience into a state of demand. Even today many of us are guilty of wanting to look like Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts or Gweneth Paltrow. We envy their lifestyles, pry into their private lives, and simply admit it is the price of fame. In fact, many stars today are offshoots of the past. While there is still a bit of glamour since beauty and great design are ever present in Hollywood, there are no more icons. The days of creating a star are over. Today’s stars are mostly born into the trade, not made. When looking into the history of some of the present day major players, the realization that many are from Hollywood royalty is apparent. As long as you have the right name, a bit of money, and a reasonable good looking face you can become a part of Hollywood.
It is unfortunate but the embracing of individuality in true glamour is gone. There are no more flaws to define beauty like Bette Davis eyes or Barbara Stanwycks distinctive features. We no longer gaze at the unique beauty of Elizabeth Taylor or the curves of Mae West. Now our perceptions have changed and we look at the skinny wondering if there is any food in Hollywood. It seems that women in Hollywood don’t want to heighten their individuality as much as they want to look like a generic being. All are privy to the extreme result of fashion forecasting, trends and critique. Designers nowadays are free agents and the majority of design is really appreciated on the red carpet.
Today the days of old Hollywood glamour are gone, but not forgotten. Current stars do not seem to be so concerned with glamour as much as simply looking good, but there are a few exceptions that realize the importance of the golden age in Hollywood. In the future we will see some stars reverting back to try and capture that old Hollywood glamour, not just in look but also in spirit.