Hollywood is a nebula from which stars are born. We turn to these stars for inspiration; we struggle at their misfortune; we rejoice in their comedy. This captivation has held us enraptured for a century. It all goes back to a handful of graceful, elegant, and trendsetting grand dames of film who led the fashion of a nation. So much so, that the sobriquet of style icon has been bandied about almost too frequently ever since. Let’s put the well-worn expression back into perspective and uncover what makes a true style icon.
What is the secret to the bafflingly effortless, exquisitely chic sense of style that permeated the Golden Age of cinema? We rounded up seven epoch-making leading ladies, each seemingly unique in fashion and perspective, to break down the makeup of a glamor. Through their underlying sartorial sensibility, we define seven simple steps to recreate the elegance of Old Hollywood – the same steps that helped these ladies wrestle the title of style icon.
Think sculptural tailoring: dramatic silhouettes that accentuate the contour of the body without ever lifting higher than – gasp! – the knee. Picture Grace Kelly in your mind’s eye for tea length, wasp waist, and demure décolletage perfection.
Start with neutral and add one signature pop of color. For the enchanting Marilyn Monroe it was all black, platinum blonde, and a hint of fire engine red on the lips. Consider adding a slash of color on the shoe or clutch, but keep the base black, white, or camel.
Hair pushed forward signals sex appeal, but hair swept back bespeaks elegance. A simple style is best. Piled high or bunched low, one cannot picture the signature elfin beauty of Audrey Hepburn without perfectly coiffed, drawn-back hair.
From shoes to cosmetics to bags, remember you are a lady, not a caravan. This is the act of editing. No grand dame of the cinema eschewed frills and refined to the truest expression of form more aptly than Katharine Hepburn. Choose fewer pieces of greater quality, and discard the rest.
Blot perfume with a soft touch just behind the ear or at the wrist – nothing that could overbear a glass of Champagne or the patron to your right in the theatre. Fragrance is at once your calling card and your armor, as Elizabeth Taylor recounts, “I never face the day without perfume.”
Last on and first off, the pearl is the finishing touch. Whether a simple stud or a wreath of strands, pearls blushed softly at each ‘look’ from Lauren Bacall. The organic gem is a quiet luxury fit for princesses of cinema and State.
Leave them wanting more. “Is there anything better than to be longing for something, when you know it is within reach?” Greta Garbo knew the perfect time to tender her adieu. Be the life of the party, but take care not to be there at its end.
So there you have it: how to be an icon in seven simple steps. With the right dress, and shoe, and pearl, and allure, these women commanded the attention of a nation – and have left us clamoring for more ever since. Ready to create your own high-drama look? Shop the Spey collection for perfectly chic, exquisitely timeless pieces of pearl jewelry.