Aug 9, 2010
Have you ever noticed how some women, no matter how old they get, always seem to project "girl" more than "woman?" And the same goes for guys: there are some who read as "men" at fourteen and others who still seem like boys at forty.
It isn't just the way the way they look -- though that's part of it certainly -- it's an essence they seem to have.
I was watching an old Forties Warner Bros musical last night -- Thank Your Lucky Stars; you're forgiven if you've never heard of it. And the female lead, Joan Leslie, who you may remember playing opposite James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, was just eighteen, and she had already been playing adult roles for years.
Another nearly forgotten early-starter was Linda Darnell, who was starring opposite actors like Tyrone Power while still a teenager and was pretty much gone by age thirty.
Then you have performers like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney playing teenagers well into their twenties.
What is that "thing" that communicates adulthood in some but not in others: being full of figure (in a female), height (in a male), voice quality? Is it just a question of genetics or is there some other mysterious factor?
What has always fascinated me about old movies is how many of the actresses -- particularly in the Thirties -- were barely out of their teens but were playing sophisticated women, perhaps with a career, a family, or a "past." And completely credibly.
Was it believable because these actresses had already been working for many years, either on the stage or elsewhere and they felt (and lived) like adults? Was it a reflection of a time when there wasn't a true "teenage" period: you went from being a child (and dressing like a child) to being an adult (and dressing like one back when children dressed like children and adults dressed like adults, with next to no overlap)? Was it the impact of the Great Depression and then WWII?
It's ironic, because I think there's a general consensus in American culture that children are growing up faster and faster, and that it's the rare fourteen year old girl, say, who dresses like an "innocent" instead of a stripper.
And yet think how many actresses -- and actors -- in their Twenties seem like adolescents. Could you imagine Lindsay Lohan dancing with Fred Astaire today, when she's the same age Ginger Rogers was in Top Hat -- twenty-four? Is it just because we still remember Lindsay in Freaky Friday?
What was it that made those old performers seem so much more mature, IF you agree with me that they did in fact seem more mature? What is that gravitas they had that is almost entirely missing from most young people, at least the ones in the public eye?
I think it has something to do with American culture and our perception of adulthood and adult responsibilities. We feel younger longer and often put off many of the classic transitions into adulthood -- like getting married and starting a family -- till later. Then there's Botox...
I must admit that this has been a challenge for me personally. For a very long time I felt like no matter what I wore, I looked like a boy -- or at least looked boyish. Of course I'm talking about male attire here.
I'm interested to know what you think, wise readers? Do you recognize what I'm talking about? It it just an American thing or something that has changed in the world at large? Non-American viewpoints are most appreciated!
Are we growing up later despite our attempts to "play" looking like adults from an earlier age (with sexy "tween" clothes, for example)?
How about you? Is your personal style more girl or woman, more boy or man? If so, in what way? When -- if ever -- did it change? What changed it?
Labels: clothing and culture