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Apr 14, 2010

Is Glamour Dead?

I just borrowed what looks to be an interesting book yesterday entitled, "Glamour, A History" by Stephen Gundle, a British writer.  It's a study of the concept of glamour throughout history: its origins and its varying definitions during different eras (the 1930's and 40's in particular), up to and including the present.

I haven't really started it but it's already got me thinking:  Do women aspire to be "glamorous" anymore?  Glamour seems to me to be a dated concept, at least the way I've always thought about it.  For me, glamour suggests drama, artifice, and exoticism -- all missing in today's 24/7 media landscape and the middle class, (primarily) suburban culture we Americans have been steeped in for better or for worse (even if we're not suburban or middle class).

I think contemporary life has just become too informal, too come-as-you-are, too frank about sexuality and uncomfortable with obvious (social) class difference, for the concept to hold any attraction for most people today. 

Most women I know want to be, first healthy, then probably thin, and then some variation of pretty (as THEY define it) -- and ideally a combination of all three.  Do they want to be glamorous?  The very word evokes stylized images like these from Thirties and Forties Hollywood:

By the Fifties and Sixties -- a time of greater economic equality too -- idealized women were more likely to be girl-next-door types than glamorous and remote (I don't think Dietrich ever posed with a fishing rod.):

Today, well......

How about Beyonce, you ask?  Isn't Beyonce glamorous?  Maybe, but if so, what is it that makes her glamorous rather than "merely" beautiful?  

So readers-of-the-female-persuasion and men who hold an opinion on this topic, I ask you:

Does glamour have meaning in your lives?  Are you or would you like to be glamorous and how would you define it?  Who are your contemporary glamour role models?

Conversely, do you think the concept of glamour is dead?  If so, what killed it?

I'd love to hear what you think!


  1. Hm, I think the concept of glamour has been kidnapped by the soft-porn-industry, sadly. Just google glamour-models...
    As for glamour, as in the old kind of glamour, yes please! But not all the time, that would be too much work, and I'd miss my jeans and wellingtons... ;-).
    But that certain elegance, as shown in your first pictures, it's to dream for...

  2. Dear Peter,
    I work in a very casual enviroment (IT) and I could come in jeans and sneakers daily, which I ocasionally do. But more often than not I come with skirts and nice blouses and pretty dresses, because that style is more "me", a kooky style (a la Zoeey Deschanel). This falls in the category "making an effort" (which I like) and "standing out in the crowd" (which I dont). Coming to the office like Joan Crawford would be not only the talk of the day but simply not appropriate (unfortunately).
    About today role models in glamour, it's difficult to find outside the awards season (except, say, a Cate Blanchett or a Maggie Gyllenhaal who follow the beat of their own drum). I have to say, though, that Queen Rania of Jordan and Princess Letizia of Spain always catch my eye when flipping the Hello mag.

  3. IMHO.... Glamorous is in the eye of the beholder. Some whould argue that glamour IS a combination of healthy, thin and pretty. All I know is when I step out of the door, I make sure everything is right where it should be. Hair, nails, skin, clothing, everything. Normally that gets me called superficial and high maintenance. (Eye of the beholder) But I like to think it's glam. Plus those haters' issues usually stems from some flaw within their own selves...


  4. There are still women who strive for glamour, I know because they shop at the jewelry counter at the TJ Maxx where I live. The problem I find with a general glamour look is that it does not look good up close, merely tacky. Out of place is not such a problem, especially when you are as vintage loving as us bloggers, but it seems even more than that, it is out of touch. I can only associate it with women on shows like "The Real Housewives of Orange County"...women who are spoiled, selfish and stupid.
    Glamour for a party, a wedding, a dinner date is acceptable because we should all get a little glamour at some point. But every day? Yech. And don't worry, I'm not one of those people who champions sweatpants and slippers across campus every day. You should dress nice, but not ridiculous.

  5. Interesting comments...

    I think glamour has become just another a "look" one puts together for a prom, a wedding (as Lisette says), or some other special occasion. It means dressing with some bling and some glitz and nothing more.

    I think it was once something more than that, having to do with living a lifestyle out of reach to the masses. I think that fantasy is largely gone.

  6. But look at those glamorous photos above, there is a mystique there, intrigue, an attitude that seems natural to those actresses. Bette Davis and some others (IMO) were not beauty queens, but glamorous. It was the overall package. Even Doris Day still had glamour in the featured photo. Who is the one after her, though. I don't recognize her.

  7. Oh I got sidetracked and forgot to finish. I think glamour has been put aside, we as a society "glamourize" the trashy and tasteless rather than the more sedate, tasteful look. I think that is why vintage is so popular. Inside, many are still seeking a femininity, a look that is not out there or revisit a simpler, safer time. Some may just want to be different. Everyone has their reasons. Me, I think the vintage styles are much prettier, not to mention some of the designs and pattern offerings today are rehashes anyways. Really, how many times can you reinvent the wheel?

  8. Oh glamour is dead for sure. The level of artifice, time, commitment to the whole package....the average American woman doesn't have time to always be "on".

    It implies a certain level of leisure and freedom from labor, as if the only thing she had to do was concentrate on presentation. Even then, ladies of leisure like these women on "real housewives of xyz" are missing the element of CLASS.

    Think of Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies.....smoldering sexuality and the ability to be coy without being obvious, there's a mystery of what's reserved, held back. From Madonna on up to her current crop of clones, Gaga and Beyonce, it's so tired! There's no mystery, the artifice is blatant (Heidi Montag and plastic surgery). A really great drag performer is the closest thing we have. Gigi Monroe in Atlanta is incredible in working the glam!

  9. I don't think I've ever looked glamorous a day in my life. And unless my dreams of being a Hollywood script writer come true (or I win the lotto) I may never be. And I'm mostly OK with that. I have recently begun to make an effort to look nice(r) and I like the way that it makes me feel. I think I aspire to sew things I would never find to buy in the store that are maybe more fancy than my usual, but it's all still me and not particularly glamorous. I don't have the time for, nor would I enjoy the attention that being truly glam would bring. Especially while living in Brooklyn. We're taught not to stick out quite so much ;o)

  10. I try to add a little bit of glamour to my lifestyle everyday. If nothing more than adding bronzer and lipgloss, at least I make an attempt. I think *most* women rather succumb to being COMFORTABLE than looking good. Me however? I'd rather subject myself to minor discomfort for a couple of hours when I'm outside my home for the sake of looking good.

  11. "For me, glamour suggests drama, artifice, and exoticism" ~Peter
    That would be my definition as well. Since I graduated college that has been my goal. Although, trying to make that wardrobe off of a very tiny salary (still haven't found a job that will actually make use of my degree but I'm not giving up)is proving to be very difficult. Even if I'm going out casual I still try very hard to make every outfit special and glamorous. I never wear light wash jeans anymore. All my super wide legs jeans are for wearing around the house. I have jeans that are the perfect length for specific shoes and that all fit me well. I have a few nice silk camisoles that I layer with pretty cardigans and a few nice shirts that make me feel beautiful and exotic. I fix my hair and make up every day even if I'm just going to the post office.
    The worst thing anyone could say to me would be "oh you look comfortable today" which, while I was still in college, quickly led to them asking if I was tired or sick.....
    I'm not glamorous yet but I'm working on it.

  12. Glamour in everyday life? No, I can't see myself or anyone else aspiring to that. But there are occasions when I think all women tend to want to be glamorous - prom, their wedding, etc. Day to day, I think more of us dress to be some blend of functional and fashionable (Lady Gaga does not acknowledge the first).

  13. I love those glamourous images, but if anything, my look goal would be more "everyday bombshell." I can't pretend that I will ever spend that much time doing my hair or putting on makeup most days, and I am way too chatty and outgoing to be capable of pretending to be mysterious...

    P.S. But count me out of the women who want to be thin, even after I'm done with my pregnancy! Hourglass, yes, curvy, yes--thin, no! It's just not me.

  14. To me being glamorous also means being a bit mysterious and no one is mysterious anymore. Madonna came out as the "boy toy"... no mystery there. The red carpet is full of beautiful women but no mystery. Between the revealing way that they dress to the media that records their every movement we don't have to wonder about anything. We've seen them going shopping or coming out of the gym with messy hair and "comfortable" clothes on. Mystery gone!

    I love that the women in the photo's were covered up to their necks. It's like a gift; on Christmas morning do you want your gifts all wrapped up or just stuck out there with bows on top? We want the mystery, but sadly, it is gone.

    As for me, glamorous isn't something I would ever be able to pull off. I do try to appear elegant or at the very least, respectable.

  15. Just saw this after watching Glee and thought it was VERY appropriate to the discussion:

  16. Spanx has killed glamour IMO. And I would prefer to be elegant. Same kind of thing but more "every day" and sustainable...

  17. I definitely get the mystery thing -- that's pretty much gone.

    Spanx...I'm not sure I see the connection. Isn't that basically a girdle?

  18. I think glamour still exists, but it's changed form. Instead of being about withheld secrets and mystery, it's now about confidence and boldness.

    I find Lady Gaga to be glamorous for her theatricality, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton with their outlandish choices and fashionable fearlessness, Rhianna for high experimentation, even Beyonce for her poise and coy beauty. That kind of confidence is intoxicating, as are the stylistic choices that accompany it.

    I'm sure people will disagree with me, but I think glamour lives on in the bold and brave choices that some women make about grooming and clothing.

  19. This makes me think of when I got married. I went to the salon to do a trial of my wedding day make-up (thank goodness I did a trial). I simply asked for "glamourous", not realizing how vague and subjective the word is. I was picturing sultry, smokey eyes and red lips. I ended up with gold eye shadow and mauve lipstick. The next time, I brought in a picture to reference.

    I wouldn't say I strive for glamourous every day. I agree with Mikhaela- "everyday bombshell" works for me. I do try to make the effort to go beyond jeans and a tshirt in my day to day attire.

  20. Glamour still exists only if we want it to. I'm sure there were frumpy housewives in the 40's but obviously those photos are only in family albums and not movie posters or magazine covers widely accessible by today's people. For example, I know what my grandma looked like in the 50's. She did dress a little better than she does today, and wore a wig but her lifestyle was much different then.

    Because we are removed from the decades that are being considered glamourous, of course the images that remain are the good ones. When we look at historical renderings of Elizabethan costumes, we usually see the cream of the crop. There often are no sketches for beggars or peasants.

    I think something that we need to remember is that in the earlier ages of film and TV, REAL designers worked on the projects. REAL designers were employed by the production companies. Style was dictated by people like Edith Head and Adrienne who were passionate about what they did. The film industry was saturated with their work and of course it trickled down to the every day woman.

    Today, I would claim the world has turned into a "quantity over quality" world. Rather than one expertly produced film with designer threads, we crank out films every week. The same with the music industry and all other creative outlets. Information moves much more quickly and styles change faster. This all "waters down" trends and style. In history it was a treat to go see a film, and with the higher level of appreciation went a higher level of appreciation for the garments and styles within the films.

    Also think about women's rights. The wife of the 40's/50's was to be at home and for the most part be a housewife/mother and a pretty piece of arm candy. She had time to sew her own wardrobe and put together beautiful outfits for when leaving the home.
    Today, needless to say women work, women are single parents, women are CEO's, women teach/attend yoga. Without becoming too political, I've come across literature a few times that subscribes to the mentality that women's liberation killed glamour. Nobody was walking down the street in 1940 in their yoga pants on their way to work out.

    Lastly we need to think about the food industry and diet. Because most families have moved away from a 1940's stay at home model, nobody is at home creating nutritious meals for the family. Whether we like it or not, we are all eating garbage compared to what was available in those days. Hormones and antibiotics in food was never heard of, and I'd fathom that HFCS didn't exist either. With all of that (not to mention fast food) our body shapes have become unfavorable to the more glamourous silhouettes. I don't know a single woman who has a 1940's nipped in waist. Of course they're still out there, ok maybe I can think of one person I know but she works hard for it with a vegan diet and lots of cardio.

    Anybody and everybody can dress sharp and coifed today as they did in the day. Our bodies have changed, our lifestyles have changed our diet has changed and so has our definition of glamour. That's the very nature of fashion, change. Couture still exists, home sewers still exist who put much effort into their looks. The glamour is definitely still out there whether it's modern or historical. Everybody just has to look and put a little more effort into it than before.

  21. Fashion in the glamourous days of the 30's/40's was filtered down from the wealthier classes/movie stars, and the less wealthy adopted these fashions, as has happened throughout history.

    More recently fashion has filtered up from the street - take punk as the classic example - arising from the lower classes it soon was adopted (in diluted form!) by the mainstream. Remember denim was a fabric for work clothes - now who doesn't have a pair of jeans in their wardrobe?

    So today we have an abundance of down-market dressing, instead of up-market dressing.

    Let's hope the pendulum swings back soon!

  22. In response to an earlier comment, I do believe the womens lib movement contributed to the demise of dressing up with a feminine look, it wasn't cool to be June Cleaver anymore. Now I think many current younger women aspire to have the best qualities of that older generation, the retro looks, craftiness, ingenuity, return to sewing, etc., in a modern world.

  23. There are many young women celebrities who attempt, and often attain what I would call glamour. On Oscar night that is what they are striving for, and mostly they achieve it.

    For me personally, I can't imagine worrying about it. I'm not now nor have ever been glamorous. I have no reason to be glamorous, or to want to be.

    It seems to me that while going about one's simple life, doing the normal mundane things, glamor would just get in the way. Now, beauty, poise, self-confidence--those things help you. Glamour, not so much, unless you live an unusual life.

  24. I think glamor is superb confidence in yourself. How you look, how you act. The closest I ever got is on a plane flying business class overseas or the sleeping car of a train. And, even then, it was the props that did it. The dining, champagne, service. But, it felt good! For a few hours I felt like Garbo in a 1947 movie!

  25. Are you trying to say Lady Gaga isn't glamorous? I'm downright shocked. I suppose it's easy to find one less-than-flattering picture of her and substitute that for actually making a point, but I can't think of another (post)modern celebrity that makes glamour part and parcel of her identity. And I think there might be a tendency to conflate "mystery" with "covering". This seems to reduce the "gift" of the woman to her body. I think Gaga is much more adept at making her identity, her purpose, and her project the mystery. Her body isn't a secret, and it shouldn't have to be.

    I'm worried that appeals to an idealized past are covering up a more insidious desire to a past in which women's sexualities were for men or only on men's terms. Or, even if that territory gets too complicated, an appeal to a gendered past can't escape the material conditions of stark gender inequality that defined that past.

    And I think Gaga's great.

  26. Glamorous. The word is almost as misunderstood as sex, yogurt or politics. Can I define it, hell no. But, true glamour comes from within. We have all met women (and some men) in our lives who give us a tingle being with them because they are so effortlessy glamorous. Maybe it's just because they always have on the right shade of red lipstick whether they are taking out the trash or going out to dinner. Or they have the same hairdo since 1972, but it is the RIGHT hairdo for them. Fashion fades, style remains.

    I find sassy, outspoken and confident women who are comfortable admitting that they dress to please themselves glamorous. Ms. M likes pantsuits and false eyelashes. Hell Yea. Ms. Q likes feather boas and Chucks. Double hell Yea. You get my drift.

  27. This was such an on-point comment (especially coming from a dude!): "Most women I know want to be, first healthy, then probably thin, and then some variation of pretty (as THEY define it) -- and ideally a combination of all three."

    The pic in the yellow dress almost caused me to snort my wine onto the screen - OMG. I especially loved the Olson Mills-style shading.

  28. Glamour isn't really something I understand but I think your definition is pretty spot on. I think it's one of those things where you have to actively try to be it, rather than it being a trait that comes naturally. Maybe it's just not a word I use. Confidence and beauty doesn't say "glamour" to me.

  29. Peter, I totally agree with you that 'contemporary life has just become too informal, too come-as-you-are', people just don't seem to care anymore. Dressing these days is very much anything goes. Personally I like to look tidy when I leave the house, be it for a work day, weekend, or even a quick trip to the supermarket. I keep my underwear under my clothes (as the name suggests) and and always, always, always brush my hair. As far as I'm concerned, tracksuit pants are for exercising or slothing around the house.

    I'm in my mid-30s but I feel like an old woman when I look at how younger people dress. No class; no polish; no pizazz what so ever! Glamour appears to have gone by the wayside. No one appears to make an effort anymore, or perhaps that's the 'look' they're going for. Who knows?

    I started sewing from 30s - 50s vintage patterns because I hated the current fashions and they really didn't suit the type of person I am. 30s/40s/50s era clothing seem to have an effortless elegance about them you just don't see anymore. That is unless it's on the red carpet for an awards night.

  30. I was interested to read Erica B's comment. To me, she is the perfect example of modern glamour.

  31. I've just started reading my one "summer" novel: Judith Krantz's "Scruples" (picked up at my local library's 1-dollar-a-bag booksale). On page 12, as we meet the main character, there is a fabulous quote, and one I think sums up the problem of glamour/elegance quite spectacularly. Here it is:
    "Billy knew that any emphasis on ass and tits played bloody hell with elegance."

    Great topic! I'm sad that glamour is dead.

  32. Glamour is not dead, it is just in hiding.
    To me glamour is a combination of unnatainable beauty, a perfectly groomed look and not putting all your merchandise on display at once.

    Lady Gaga certainly makes a statement and puts considerable effort into having a complete 'look' but to my mind she presents a mock glamour.

  33. Michelle Obama=glamour, effortless, classy, graciousness, coiffed, not too much over the top, making bare arms sexy!

  34. I'm writing my comment before reading the others because I don't want to be influenced - I'll read theirs after I hit "Post"!

    I would define "glamour" as having obviously put a lot of effort into your appearance (and succeeded in looking polished - we all know that a lot of thought/effort doesn't necessarily always look glamorous as we can see in Lady Gaga's picture). Glamour is red lips, stunning dresses, well-set hair, full face makeup, etc. It's sophistication and, to a certain extent, an air of un-accessability. And it's unnatural. I think that's why Beyonce would qualify as "glamorous" and not merely "pretty." She is absolutely pretty (and perhaps she does wake up stunning) but it's no secret that it's a lot of work to get to the point where she is in the photograph above. She's had her hair done, put on makeup, picked out a drop-dead frock, and put on some expensive jewelry. That's glamorous. If she woke up, brushed her hair, swiped on some lipgloss and put on a sun dress, she would likely still be pretty but that element of mystery and done-upness would be gone. She would be more approachable and more natural. And less glamorous.

    So I guess what I'm getting at is: glamour has an element of not being natural. It's obvious you worked at it. So I would say that glamour is perhaps not dead but certainly not in good health. Society in general is getting more casual so as soon as you take the time to put on red lips, or set your hair, it's seen as a bit "uppity" (at least in my experience). And I guess that's why I don't hanker for glamour. The attention I would get, in my region and social circle, would be *bad* attention. Like, either you're uppity OR you aren't naturally pretty. Neither of which are good!

  35. This is an issue I think about at least five days a week while I'm walking around my highschool and witnessing the tight jeans with G-strings sticking out and the sweatpants and the ugg boots and yuck. Glamour is actually important to me, in spite of how outdated it may seem for others. For me it means /clean/ clothing, heels most of the time, if not then classic flats, a dress-domited wardrobe with some highwaisted skirts and smart trousers thrown in, and liquid eyeliner. Liquid eyeliner definitely never hurts. Unless you're bad at it, which most highschool girls are. Excellent post!

  36. Not a fan of Lady Gaga myself, but I for sure share Garrison's unease with everyone's equating glamour with mystery and then mystery with modesty. Women's bodies are not packages meant to be unwrapped - ew.

    I think of "glamour" simply as the 30s and 40s movie siren look. I think you can be glamorous one day and not the next, just like you can dress punk one day and conservative the next.

  37. Another question: if glamour is dead (or dead in everyday life), is this a bad thing? I'm not convinced it is.

    By and large, as noted in lots of comments above, today's woman has a lot going on in her life and is perhaps more interested in dressing appropriately for her office / so that she can do what she needs to do (walk the dog, run around after her two year old), than in painting her nails and arranging her hair and doing her makeup and wearing heels.

    We've come to a place where it's totally okay to wear functional clothing actually designed for what you're going to be doing, rather than having to be dressed up all the time because what would the neighbours think? I think this is a good thing. Sure, you get some people dressing uber-casually, but I don't think that's too high a price to pay. For everyday, I'd much rather have clothing that's designed for what I'm doing in it than designed to put my body into particular proportions that were popular in the 40s.

    I agree that there may be lots of people who 'don't put effort in', but I don't think that's glamour that's missing. If those people wore a neat jeans-and-sweater outfit, you wouldn't have the same criticism of them, but neither would you call them glamorous.

    I also think of glamour mostly as the 30s/40s movie siren who is completely done up to the nines and artificial, and I think that's a great look to have if you are one of the people who wants to and has the time to put in that effort all the time (e.g. Dita Von Teese), and a great look for special occasions, but I'm glad that it's not expected of me by society.

    Also agreeing that glamour = mystery = modesty doesn't hold. You can be very modest without being glamorous, and I think you can be mysterious without being glamorous and/or particularly modest.

    One last point - I think this is probably a class issue, as well, and I don't think that should be ignored. I'm not quite sure how it plays into it but I'm sure it's significant.

    (Apologies for enormously long comment!)

  38. I tend to doubt even the screen sirens of the 30's or 40's would seem nearly as glamorous to us if they were constantly photographed by paparazzi as they did thier shopping or grabbed a coffee. I think a large part of thier glamour came from the myth that they lived these "glamorous lives" that the movie studios put out. Thier images were meticulously created and maintained.
    I, for one, love the myth. Just because hard core glamour may be unattainable for most of us doesn't mean we can't allow it to inspire us on a daily basis. When my children were small something as simple as putting on a some silver bangles before I went to the playground
    could make me feel like I was the glamor queen of the mommies. Glamour resides in all of us if we want it!
    I heartily suggest Simon Doonan's thoughtful, and hilarious "Eccentric Glamour: Creating an Insanely More Fabulous You "
    It is amusing, inspirational and very thoughtfully examines what glamour was as well as what it has become in a modern context.

  39. May be half-dead. Otherwise, the "stars" themselves would not go for vintage. They want to revive something that is not now

  40. Hear, hear, Lizzie Q! I couldn't agree more, and I also highly recommend Simon Doonan's book. In fact, I just re-read it last night! I'm surprised no one mentioned Catherine Zeta-Jones as a modern day glamorous role model. She's so very Ava Gardner, isn't she?

  41. Oh yes, Catherine Zeta-Jones is gorgeous with her dark, sultry looks and a body to die for! Whenever you see her at award shows, etc. her look is spot on!

    Just wanted to comment on Kathy's look have captured Joan Crawford's lips perfectly!

  42. Glamour is definitely not dead! Just look at all of us wonderful bloggers who show off our vintage style and glamourous looks for all to see. LOL, my husband just told me I look glamourous even while baking bread :)

  43. I just came across this and thought it was an interesting addition to the conversation. The writer was watching WWII footage of England and was struck by how well put together the common folk looked during black outs and bomb raids and digging through rubble.

  44. Dita von Teese is glamorous!
    I like to dress in 40's and 50's fashions and I even (gasp!) set my hair.
    My hubby loves it, but I can't do it every day, with working etc.
    We are even pumping every penny into the mortgage so I can retire in the next 3 years, and keep house and be glamorous and make clothes and meals, and be old fashioned like I want to.
    Hubby is happy either way, but he really loves the idea of coming home to a glamour puss and a hot meal on the table... and why shouldn't he? He works 14hr days (software engineer), and really drags the kill back to the cave.
    My part time job pays nothing in comparison, so I'd rather devote all that time to us and our home... and my glamour!


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