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Mar 24, 2011

Liz Style

Like many people around the world, I was shocked and saddened by the death of Elizabeth Taylor yesterday.  It just seemed like that Dame was going to live forever -- she'd been through so many health emergencies and always pulled through.  Alas, this time it was not to be.

I've always enjoyed Elizabeth Taylor as an actress and admired her very public support of the gay community and people with AIDS at the height of the AIDS crisis.  In fact, I got to hear her speak at an AmfAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research) fundraiser about twelve years ago. It was exciting to see her in person, though even then her health was not great.

Elizabeth Taylor was a symbol of so many things -- perhaps most notably a lust for living life to the fullest. No one would argue that at seventy-nine she hadn't filled her cup to the brim.

It seemed like she'd been around forever and she felt like an old friend we begin to take for granted.

Today I'd like to talk about Liz as style icon, both in her film roles and her private life.  With her dark hair and heavy brows, her full figure and kittenish voice, she was the epitome of a kind of pull-out-the-stops glamour that seems, if not gone, then self-conscious and labored today (think every starlet at the Oscars).

I hope I don't offend, however, when I say that Elizabeth Taylor was extremely poorly served by the styles of her heyday period, the 1960s.  With her ripe hourglass figure, she often looked shoehorned into the mini dresses and wacky psychedelic youth-quake fashions of the period.  Moreover, while sometimes slim, she was never skinny, in a period whose fashion icons were Twiggy and Penelope Tree.

This only made us love her more, I'd argue, because with her high-profile marriages and jet-setting lifestyle, she made it clear that she didn't care particularly what anybody thought.  She gained weight and lost weight and wore as much jewelry as she wanted.  She wouldn't make anybody's Best Dressed list -- she was no Audrey Hepburn or Catherine Deneuve -- and she clearly wasn't trying.  No Paris couturier made her his muse.  Even before camp, Liz was campy.  Refreshing!

In her MGM days, her public image was carefully controlled by the studio, and dressed by Helen Rose or Irene Sharaff, she looked elegant and alluring, both demure and vampy.

Then the Sixties happened and everything got bigger: the career, the scandals, the jewelry, the hair -- and la Liz herself.

If you've ever seen 1965's The Sandpiper you know that tent-like beach cover ups and caftans were not her best look, yet that movie spawned a thousand sewing patterns...nearly always with a facsimile of Liz on the front.

As the headlines and scandals eclipsed her acting career, the outfits got kookier and the films less memorable.

Into the Seventies it all got bigger still, and you just knew Liz was in on the joke -- she didn't care if she raised eyebrows or invited criticism, she was going to do her own thing.

Into the Eighties and beyond, it was more of the same, and she continued until health problems slowed her down, and even then, she was always around, showing up at celebrity weddings and funerals, launching a successful perfume line or a jewelry business.

Liz was the model for taking what life gives you -- in her case, beauty, talent, and drive -- and running with it.

She will be missed.

Any favorite Elizabeth Taylor movies, looks, or other memories you wish to share?  Please leave a comment below.


  1. I believe the first time I saw Elizabeth Taylor was as Rebecca in 'Ivanhoe' when I was very young. As a big fan of Romantic literature I was disappointed in the movie (as it was hardly faithful to the book) but I couldn't take my eyes off her. She was incandescent, even in her medievalloid tunic.

    Then -- older and even more impressionable -- I saw 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.' The effect on me from both she and Paul Newman was indescribable. She will be fondly remembered not only for her film oeuvre but also as a humanitarian, and will be greatly missed.

  2. I best remember Ms Taylor in National Velvet where she busted gender roles and won every little girl's heart by riding the Pie in the Grand National.

    One of my most favourite movies ever.

  3. I love National Velvet AND Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She really was a good actress and a versatile one.

    I'd skip Secret Ceremony however!

  4. I believe she was a good actress but I was more impressed by what kind of friend and mother she was. The story of what she said to Montgomery Clift about his face after the car accident was beautiful. She stood by her gay friends staunchly. And her kids seem to have been raised well and with love and attention.

  5. I think this is a very nice tribute. As a child my family owned a video rental store. I remember looking at the box for "Cleopatra" and thinking she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

    And I totally saw that Simplicity 8354 at the local thrift store the other day!

  6. I adore Liz Taylor and have always looked to her as my style icon, particularly lately in that era of being married to Dick. I knew she was a beauty, but it was her friendship with Montgomery Clift as told in Patricia Bosworth's lovely biography that made me see what a lovely person she was, and my best friend Molly had a lovely hand written response to the fan letter she had sent her encouraging Molly to investigate the abundant theater opportunities Minneapolis had to offer if she wanted to pursue acting. A Place in the Sun has always been my favorite of her movies, but seeing her in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? really opened me up to how much she was willing to give to her craft.

    Today I'm wearing Trifari earrings, big, shiny and unafraid, with my hair in a scarf and my eyebrows darkened in homage.

  7. I like Taming of the Shrew. I saw it in high school for school. It was the 1st time I ever paid attention to her.

  8. Strangely the movie that I always think of first with Liz is 1954's "Elephant Walk". Not one of her best! Still there was something so compelling the first time I saw it, that it stays with me.

    My mother must have seen "The Sandpiper" when it came out, because she caftans out the yin-yang! Usually she made them herself out of -- wait for it -- bed sheets! Generally, floral.

    Liz will be missed.

  9. And the eyes. The violet eyes were like no others.

  10. And don't forget "Elizabeth Taylor's Passion"!

  11. Uh-oh...edited to add: not Rebecca, but Rachel in 'Ivanhoe.' Duh.

  12. Ah, lovely Elizabeth! The child who had a woman's face and the teenager with the body of a ripe plum...Her movies were never my favorites, though I must say I do adore 'Cat' and 'Virginia Woolf'. On the fashion front, she was the poster girl for the 'lift and separate' cantilevered bosom, and somehow the big hair and overdone make-up always worked. I do wish, however that she had let herself go gray after the brain surgery...I do not care for old ladies who dye their hair a solid color (Think Ginger in old age!)
    RIP Ms. Taylor.

  13. Yes amidst all of the excitement of yesterday I was so saddened to hear of Elizabeth Taylor's passing.

    For the past 5 years, before moving to our new home, I lived on the property and worked for a women named Elizabeth Taylor who is older than this Liz, but not any less feisty at 88. At work last night people kept saying, "did you hear that Elizabeth Taylor died?" and I kept going in my head that MY Elizabeth Taylor and not THE Elizabeth Taylor had died. It was kind of wacky.

    I adored THE Elizabeth Taylor and just last week watched 'Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolfe' for the first time. Believe it or not "A Place in the Sun' was/is the next queue on my Netflix account.

    Glamour, curves, allure, and sex oozed out of icon for sure. Never to be forgotten.

    And watching some tributes to her yesterday while finishing up a certain shirt..they all spoke of her humor, most often pointed at herself. She did not take herself seriously and Whoopi Goldberg said that Elizabeth could make her blush with the trash that came out of her mouth. Love it. Love her.

  14. What a beauty.

    And I hadn't known of the Sandpiper-caftan connection. I recognize that Simplicity 8354 pattern, however - when I was a girl I used it to make a caftan for my aunt, another brunette beauty!
    -- stashdragon

  15. Wonderful tribute - I love the 1950's Liz Taylor - curvy, glamorous,and larger than life. Being a girl with more of a Liz body than a Kate Moss (insert other flat-chested wonder here), I would much rather emulate the style of someone with Liz's body confidence and grace.

  16. A lovely tribute and equally lovely comments by all here. Years ago, I saw her on Broadway in The Little Foxes. I was quite surprised by how little she was. Rock Hudson was in the audience that night and at curtain call, she introduced him. I was equally surprised at how tall he was. Who would have imagined that the one time most beautiful woman on the planet was even more beautiful on the inside. RIP Elizabeth.

  17. I loved her white dress on "Cat on a hot tin roof"! Beautiful woman....

  18. I always thought Elizabeth was a beautiful person-- on the inside. She had a loyal and loving heart. Sure she was a beauty but as we all know, beauty fades and the person you are inside becomes more prominent. I'll never forget her support of Rock Hudson and work for the rights and research on AIDS. I don't think many remember how AIDS was perceived in the early 1980's and how it was plain ignored by TPTB in regards to funding and research and people had all kinds of crazy ideas about HIV and AIDS while it seemed like a pandemic was just allowed to happen. By pledging her support to survivors and bringing the plight of those afflicted, she revealed her compassion and courage.

    Bess had a style that while it was not a trendsetting and may have been conceived as questionable taste-wise (really what wasn't during the 70's) was bigger than life and revealed an individual who fully embodied stardom. Diva with a heart of gold.

  19. R.I.P Liz Taylor, she was so beautiful - will always remember the first time i saw her in national velvet - come check out my liz taylor inspired shoe design on my blog? x

    Think you'll likey....

    Take care


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