Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Is Glamour Dead?....

I sometimes wonder if the reason the past appeals so much is that we have lost the knack of glamour. My friend Fleur bought me a book on the subject for my birthday. It suggested that ‘glamour’ was a curiously 20th century phenomenon linked to a heady combination of greater emancipation of women, spending power, Hollywood movies and the growth of other media such as photography and magazine publishing. It is most distilled in the flashier more distinctive movie stars; the Theda Baras, the Marlene Dietrichs and the Mae Wests, With their macquillage, their nails, their artificial hair and their otherworldly air of danger they inspired stenographers and shop clerks across the globe to experiment with their looks and their image. Some might argue that glamour existed before the 20th century, but did it? I feel that elegance, style, quality and fashion are sometimes natural consequences of having money and of being able to buy the finest materials and pay the most talented craftsmen. This is why upper class uniforms such as hunting pink are both stylish and practical. Glamour is more egalitarian although it may well be an addendum to elegance. But it is a rare thing these days. In fact if I think really hard we haven’t really seen much of it in recent decades.  Couture doesn’t count, couture is the equivalent of grand dresses made for grand dames and it doesn’t have the same impact (sorry to the Fashionistas out there!).

It seems to me that Glamour is dead in the contemporary western world of fashion. I cannot remember glamour being present since the early 80’s. I’m not saying there are not glamorous individuals out there just that there doesn’t seem to be any urge to pursue glamour in its original sense more widely. Look at how the word itself has become devalued, it is now applied to topless models and the irony that might have once been implied has gone.

A woman in her twenties may feel irritated by my assertion. Surely the 21st woman is as obsessed with grooming as those of any previous generation? However the hair blonding, limb browning, short hems and hair straightening is not about glamour. It is about looking as young as possible and as obviously sexually alluring as possible. Glamour, if anything would place women in an particular area of womanhood and femininity as much as one of looking youthful. The makeup and grooming of a glamorous past is actually, by our modern standards ‘ageing’.  The actresses who dominate the red carpet do not emanate romance, mystery or allure. They aspire to youthfulness, approachability and a look of fitness. Modern young women reflect this with an overwhelming tendency towards relaxed or sports clothing for leisure and obvious sexual signalling on a night out.

The early sixties was still glamorous, we hadn’t entirely succumbed to relaxed leisure wear, the seventies despite being a jeans hell also had that darkly shaded velvety decadent lost girl in a souk thing. The early 80’s had the magnificently mad New Romantics being eyed up suspiciously by bejewelled Goths. Since then it seems that outside work we have regressed to the middle ages. Basic clothes in practical fabrics, layered for comfort and emblazoned with emblems. Les generously it could be suggested, especially when it comes to male fashion that things have simply become infantilised. That sounds snobby, but although comfort is good, it doesn’t have to be basic. When societies develop their trappings become more complex and, I stress this word, interesting. Things seem to be going backwards. The Cheryl Coles, Cameron Diaz’s and thin US television poppets are not glamorous but strangely two dimensional despite good looks. They are obvious symbols of health and youth, no thought is required and the look is beyond those not genetically blesses or who are simply old.

I’d like to sound a clarion call to ‘Glamour’, not all the time but at least on occasion. There is no template; it requires a little effort but not necessarily much money. It may make us look our age rather than display a conditioned urge to seem younger. It has character, it is interesting and also, just a bit dangerous. Glamour seemed to have been for our grandmother’s a bit of a mask and quite a treat. To be an ordinary women in the 20th century, slowly but steadily escaping for the need to simply dress to match your income and class must have been thrilling. Think of all those Bernices bobbing their hair, blitz babes in red lipstick and beehived ancestresses of ours. There may be a backlash, what if in the future we have granddaughters who rediscover glamour, what are they going to think of their bland natural nans? Will they look just like those frumpy figures in dun coloured long frocks who pose warily in so many turn of the century photographs. I have seen photos of 1930’s relatives dressed as Pierrots, glamorous women in uniform, a drop dead gorgeous auntie in the late fifties and my mother working the full Dusty Springfield look. Just imagine, in 50 years it will be a faded image of someone with un-brushed hair, plastic flip flops and a beige baggy t-shirt.   


Katie Chutzpah said...

I'd still kill for Dior couture.

garofit said...

that's because they've got Galliano whose (nearly) every collection is heavily vintage inspired :) - i too love him!

wonderful post Red Legs, articulate like always, and a bit saddening to me, but the reality is grim.

Mim said...

I think the reason glamour is missing nowadays is because it requires completeness - every area must receive attention - and also a coherence. The 'matchy matchy' look is derided nowadays, but it's part of what makes a look polished. Pre-1960s, shoes and bag matched, for example. Not now.

(I do think Victoria Beckham is glamorous, precisely because she combines complete looks and a degree of aritifiality, although it is not a glamour that appeals to me personally.)

quietandsmalladventures said...

what a fabulous post! now if we could get the walmart-wearing masses to read it...

LandGirl1980 said...


I have read this after a depressing commute to work wherein I counted no less than 17"younguns" wearing PJ bottoms and UGG(ly) boots. In the street. As in - those are their "day" clothes. Teamed with a tight vest top, bangers out, hair ironed to perfection and bland makeup. What the hell is going on?? What are these girls going to grow into? Katie Price - thats who. (shudder)

I fear that Glamour IS dying - but its not terminal. Not yet. But I fear it is heading for the hospice if your call is not heard, listened to and acted upon.

More APPLAUSE for a brilliant post :)

Giselle said...

Great post! I'm going to go out and hit London this weekend and buy some scarlet lipstick and new high heels. Which will be worn in (eek!) Nottingham on my commute.

Retro Chick said...

Ah, I lvoe how you often articulate what's been creeping around in my head.

I've written about the lost art of dressing up before. People seem to be scared of it, as if looking like you made an effort to look good is somehow wrong.

It's such a shame that every time I go out in a skirt people think I must be "going somewhere nice"

Parson Woodforde said...

"Since then it seems that outside work we have regressed to the middle ages."

If only, m'dear, if only.

Dull, practical dress such as this:

Or this:
(I love the shoes!)

This could be by one of the great couturiers:

Or if you want a little more drama in your wardrobe:

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