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Classy Lessons From Classic Movies

- 15 April 2009, 10:04

Glamour Puss. Coined in 1941 at the height of the Silver Screen era, this phrase epitomizes such notables as Joan Crawford, Gene Tierney and Bette Davis.

Unquestionably, their ranks included the drop-dead gorgeous. Yet, most were memorable for a look, a presence, a larger-than-life attitude that transcended beauty. Objective analysis often discloses a surprising lack of perfection of face or form. What made their characters fairly leap off the screen? Why do they linger so hauntingly in our memories?

Glamour, starring such elusive qualities as charm and allure. Illusion played a supporting role, incorporating make-up, hairstyle, costume, accoutrement. Forget letting it all hang out. These babes had it all carefully packed in. And what a package, replete with elegance and mystery. Erle Stanley Gardner of Perry Mason fame opined that a women should dress so as to inspire interest but not to satisfy curiosity.

Alas, you say. You lack a coterie of professionals to turn you out? Not to worry. We can become understudies by reviewing the scripts and reading between the lines.

Opening credits go to our hair.

Coif Up

Has the gilt on our crowning glory become tarnished? From bed head (deliberate tress mess) to dead head (dereliction of ’do), we seem to be running the gamut of lock shock.

Hair is a silent testimony to our self esteem. Unstyled, unruly, unkempt, and the most distressing “un” of all – unwashed, sour, lank locks shout, “I just don’t care.”

A classic example of the power of hair to steal the scene appears in Murder My Sweet. Claire Trevor morphed from doting-wife-with-sophisticated-updo to bad-girl-in-a-pageboy, exuding glamour in the process.

In Laura, Waldo Lydecker, played to perfection by Clifton Webb, became the self-proclaimed mentor of Laura Hunt, gorgeous Gene Tierney. Coupled with initiating her into the world of flattering wearing apparel, he boasted that he “selected a more attractive hair dress for her.” Under his tutelage, her brains and beauty were showcased, catapulting her career into overdrive.

Must we revive the weekly wash-and-set of the ’50s, the hive heads of the ’60s, or the “Gimme a head with hair” extravaganzas characterizing the ’70s? I’ll pass. A good haircut (no self-service here, please), color if vanity dictates or just for fun, cleansing/conditioning when needed (everyday laundering is overkill), and daily arranging will render the tresses a delight.
And no fling-and-swing maneuvers are required to generate publicity. Simply allow the coiffure to sit quietly, and you’ll garner top billing.

Next, a zoom lens on facial focus:  the mouth.

Biff, Bam, Pow, Zowie

Were you expecting the next words to be “Holy hyperbole, Batman?” Nope. These are expletives describing the one-two punch red lipstick delivers to your glamour quotient, in a matter of seconds. A mini-makeover in a tube. Witness the startling caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis of Cher in Moonstruck, due in no small part to painting on a pretty pout.

No need to risk our lives to glamorize, as did the Ancient Egyptian inventors of lipstick, applying mercury-laden poisonous plant dye to their lips. Mattes or glosses, sticks or pencils, creams or stains, options are virtually limitless and hazard-free.

Red arouses feelings of vigor, vitality, strength, passion. Sliding on a silky red lipstick is one of the fastest esteem-boosting, glam-intensive grooming rituals a woman can perform.

So many lip-smacking shades to choose from:  crimson, raspberry, carmine, cerise, scarlet, cherry, ruby, brick, vermillion. Visualize cosmetic brainstorming rooms full of bright corporate-executive types flinging out such fetching epithets as Pepper Pot, Lady Danger, Glam, Rose Gourmand, Berrylicious, or the modest moniker, Rouge. Intriguingly, both discount store bargain bins and high-end boutiques offer red lipstick sporting such cryptic stage names as 312 and M-10.

After the boyish, bare-faced look dictated by fashion in the ’20s, lipstick grew redder during the ’30s. Despite the ebb and flow of Bright vs. Pale Pouts, red lipstick has never really gone out of style.

So pucker up, glide one on, and prepare for rave reviews.

Haute Couture

Apparel in classic movies was an art form. Note the skirt and dress length, the operative word being length, not shorth. Enter a beguiling hat, sometimes playfully angled over one eye (Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca). Pumps or peep toes and hose (not garden equipment, hosiery) completed the ensemble.

Noticeably lacking were sweat suits, baseball caps, sneakers and countless “I just threw something on” items of clothing. Adorning oneself in appealing apparel requires no greater outlay of time than donning rag-bag garb, and pays handsome royalties.

At home, sans man, leading ladies ensconced themselves in finery:  slithery penoirs, silky pajamas, velvety dressing gowns, lacy bed jackets, satiny slippers. They dressed to impress themselves. In Sorry, Wrong Number, Barbara Stanwyck’s alluring sickbed trousseau belied her unfortunate state of health. Ratty robes, scraggly sweats and tattered tees were grist for cleaning rags, not one’s closet. Have budget cuts hit the Wardrobe Department? Consignment shops and thrift stores house a surprising array of loungewear, often ignored, at bit part prices.

In Roberta, a fashion show featured revamped designs. An employee protested to designer Fred Astaire, “But those clothes are from two seasons ago.” His profound retort? “I don’t care. They’re pretty.” Amen.

Role Play

Note the body language, walk and speech of leading ladies. With hands on hips, thumbs were forward, pushing the bosom out, improving carriage while striking a pose. Movements were fluid rather than lumpen. Walks were glides, not clomps. Speech was genteel, avoiding boisterous shrieks and raucous laughter. Now that men have been admonished to explore their softer side, must we relinquish ours?

Loveliness in no way diminished substance, but was a preview of coming attractions. Leading men took them seriously — they’d better. In fact, curb appeal enhances value, beckoning beholders beyond the exterior. Need a script have a grotty cover to validate its worth?

Less than imitable characters still managed to exude femininity. Recall Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon? Charming, disarming, even while being dragged off to the hoosegow. Mais oui, unabashedly glamorous.

Hose Down

You’re not being sent out to wash the car or water the lawn, but to purchase leg lingerie. After investing hard-earned cash in foundation garments to underpin our clothing, why neglect the expanse of square footage between toe and derrière?

Jet black, misty grey, taupe, sand, mocha, nude. Provocative makeup colors for glam gams. Despite the naked leg-look of recent years, hosiery is making a well-deserved comeback, and is hot. Pantyhose, stockings with garter belts, thigh-highs — avoiding those pubescents known as knee-highs. Can you imagine Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, slinking down her curved stairway to flirt with Fred MacMurray in peep toes, ankle chain, and knee-highs?

Ginger Rogers’ hosiery was “borrowed” by fellow boardinghouse resident, Gail Patrick in Stage Door. An argument ensued. Snapped Ginger to Gail, “Get your own stockings or go bare-legged,” a threat of impending doom if forced to appear in public with “unhosed” legs.

A mere handful of steps are required to adorn your legs beautifully. Sit down, gather up the hosiery, slipping them slowly, gently, over varnished toenails and moisture-creamed legs. Don a pretty pair of pumps or peep toes. Your public awaits.

The time has arrived to slip into something smooth and slinky. Confiscate the remote. The “Ah, Men” (Bette Davis, All About Eve) will have to get over it. Pop a cork and fill a flute (from the Stemware Department, mon cher, not the orchestra pit). Insert a when-movies-were-really-movies DVD. Class is in session.

Deborah J. Rebolloso (aka Deb Reb) is a native Chicagoan, currently residing in Southern California with Luv, Snuggle Lee Butts, and Kali Ko (husband, cat, and cat, respectively).  Ever resourceful, she shrewdly decided to cash in on her “sassitude” and write humor and satire.  She can be reached at debreb@cox.net.  Her website is www.DebRebollosoHumorMe.com.   Check out her new children’s book, “Fou Fou’s New ‘Do (And A Tutu, Too)” at
www.lsspublishing.com/ChildrensBooks.html.


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