Between 1919 and 1921, Gloria Swanson starred in a series of wildly popular films for director Cecile B. De Mille in which the iconography of Hollywood glamour was formally codified. The titles of these films carry the whiff of scandal and decadence: Don’t Change Your Husband (1919), For Better, For Worse (1919), Male and Female (1919), Why Change Your Wife? (1920). In truth, each of the DeMille-Swanson films were neat little morality tales where virtue and tradition triumphed.
The visual language of glamour was characterized by stunning women sheathed in one gorgeous outfit after another, placed within elegant sets that defy practicality in favor of a dream-like universe. In De Mille’s Swanson movies, the decadent bathrooms were prominently featured. The massive sunken tubs, marble walls and floors, made audiences gasp with disbelief and pleasure. The symbol of the roaring twenties, according to Hollywood, was a bathroom fit for a queen.
Swanson’s elaborate costumes often weighed close to her petite 90lb. frame. But Swanson soldiered on bearing her burden with nary a complaint. For the sake of authenticity, De Mille accessorized his leading lady in wildly expensive jewels that only added to the fearsome weight Swanson carried with such regal posture.
There was a time when wearing a hat was de rigueur. Fine millinery was considered a sign of good taste, good breeding, and good fashion.
Hollywood actresses were rarely seen in public without hat, gloves and a designer outfit. Those were the days when Hollywood insisted on projecting style and glamour. Of course, with the destruction of the studio system by the federal government and the advent of television, stars abandoned style and rapidly devolved into vulgar celebrity.
Here’s a reminder of classic Hollywood glamour featuring stars in their hats.
Hollywood is the greatest propaganda machine the world has ever known.
Audiences used to sit in a velvety dark theater, drinking in the silver images projected on the screen. Actors were larger than life, and the manner in which they were styled — wardrobe, makeup, and hair — influenced mass audiences the world over.
In the roaring 20s, women broke free of corsets and countless layers of petticoats to dance the Charleston and experience a new social freedom. The long, corkscrew tresses made popular by Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish were ritually chopped off and replaced by the bob, a hairstyle that was easy to manage and projected a sleek, Deco image.
Take a look at a few of the many bob styles popular in the Flapper Age. I think you’ll agree that most of them are timeless and appealing.