Tuesday, March 1, 2011

High glam a la Harlow

Today I am looking at some of Jean Harlow's most iconic looks for the Jean Harlow Blogathon. This post is all about gorgeous gowns, flamboyant feathers, high glamour and high drama! "You have to have faith in your clothes, just as you have to have faith in yourself, to be successful in dressing," Jean told Modern Screen magazine in 1933.

When one thinks of the Jean Harlow look, what comes to mind first is her iconic look in the George Cukor directed movie Dinner at Eight (1933). To this day it still largely defines the quintessential Harlow look. All of those long, sweeping, bias-cut white gowns created by MGM costume designer Adrian highlight her every curve and stunning silhouette. They are an essential element of the character of Kitty Packard. "Even Jean's clothes show emotions. They live and breathe with her," the designer said.

Simplicity is the key to a Harlow look. In real life, she favored simple négligées, most often in white or black, which are her signature shades. White, especially, worked with her pale skin and platinum blonde hair and gave her a luminous look. Jean loved materials like satin and silk. She did not care for lace. Harlow rarely wore any jewelry with her evening gowns because she believed that a dress of fine material should be permitted to stand out by itself. Jean often paired her gowns with short boleros, capes or fur to keep warm. "An ermine coat or any good fur coat goes with everything and it lasts for years. That's why I'd rather have fur coats instead of cloth ones," she said. Jean topped her costumes with tilted little hats, often with a lace veil, and finished a look with cute satin pumps or sandals.

Harlow was a smart dresser who favored good materials and invested in a few quality key pieces that she could wear for a number of years. "I'd rather have a few dresses of very fine material than a whole closet full of fussy, cheap-looking things. I find you don't tire of anything that is lovely in quality and line," she said. "It saves you money in the long-run to get a good dress of which you're always proud." Another actress, noted for never wearing the same dress twice, once went up to Jean and exclaimed, "Oh, darling, I've adored you in that dress all the times I've seen you in it for the past two years!" And Jean sweetly replied, "Yes, I like it too. That's why I keep wearing it." Hear that, ladies! There's no reason not to rock the same stunning frock multiple times! It was good enough for Harlow so it should be good enough for us.

This is what Jean had to say about the bias-cut gowns she is so famous for: "They require more poise than any other kind of formal dress. You can't slouch in them - or walk heavily in an un-gainly manner. If you do they become a travesty of fashion. Something terribly un-smart. You have to hold yourself up and carry your head high to give them the right line. Sixty-inch satin is a favorite for these dresses because it lends itself to an unbroken line in cutting, doing away with seams, from bust to hemline."

Jean already had an undeniably strong influence on fashion back in her day. Today, over 70 years since her passing, you can easily spot Harlow inspired looks on the red carpet and runway as she continues to be a muse for contemporary fashion designers and stars. Indeed, her glamorous numbers are so timeless that they are still as fashionable in 2011 as they were in the 1930s. This is a testament to Jean Harlow's legacy as a true icon of fashion.

Quotes from Harlow are sourced from a 1933 Modern Screen article, which is available at the Jean Harlow Platinum Page.


  1. Fabulous read! Jean Harlow is to die for gorgeous! I totally adored her looks.

  2. Thanks for posting this! Great analysis of Harlow's impact on fashion.

    ("Yes I like it too-- that's why I keep wearing it." What a great comeback, Jean!)

  3. Love Love love her.

  4. great post! the photos are fabulous!!

  5. Interesting how the classic style of her dresses never goes out of fashion...Love the pic on the top left; she is stunning!