The spring issue of Herstoria includes an article by Carol Dyhouse on glamour, and the iconic cover photo, depicting Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946), cigarette holder in hand, mink stole dragging at her feet, captures the essence of glamour. Dyhouse writes that the word ‘glamour’ first became popular in the 1890s. Originally associated with sorcery and the exotic, the rise of Hollywood cinema made glamour a global phenomenon. As more women went out to work, the cosmetics, fashion and magazine industries also boomed.
However, after World War II, Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ marked a return to a more old-fashioned feminine ideal. ‘Glamour girls’ began to be seen as tacky, and by the 1960s – the age of mini-skirts and the Pill – pure glamour fell from favour. But it has never entirely disappeared – classic Hollywood style influences many of today’s designers and celebrities (most recently Lady Gaga), and the ‘vintage’ scene (not forgetting its naughtier sister, burlesque) are now more popular than ever.
For me, the most interesting section covered Mass Observation studies of women in post-war East London, where I was born in the early 1970s – and I wonder if this generation may have shaped my own fondness for glamour, and love of diversity. “’Glamour’ is the keynote to the appearance of women in the East End,” Dyhouse writes. “‘Cockney’ girls were judged less glamorous than ‘Jewesses’ in these accounts…”
There was something rather democratic about the heyday of glamour which seems rather lacking in today’s superskinny, anti-ageing culture. Many of the most glamorous stars were not conventionally pretty, and with the help of make-up and boutiques, ordinary women were able to forge their own identities and challenge perceptions. Increasingly, however, advertising and the media are encouraging a new generation to pursue a near-impossible ideal of beauty and fitness.
In my view, glamour should be empowering, and fun – but not tyrannical – and it certainly inspires me in daily life, and as a writer. If you’re interested in reading more on this subject, read Carol Dyhouse’s latest book, Glamour: Women, History, Feminism. And to purchase copies of Herstoria, or to subscribe, visit their website or blog.
The latest issue also includes an unrelated, but complementary article on 18th century fashion; a look at London’s Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret; a women’s history tour of Bradford; a feature on the pioneering Welsh women’s publisher, Honno Press; plus profiles of remarkable women such as Anne Lister, the openly lesbian Victorian heiress whose life is the subject of a forthcoming BBC drama starring one of my favourite British actresses, Maxine Peake; journalist Evelyn Sharp and ‘bluestocking’ Elizabeth Carter.