Lauren Bacall will long be remembered as a formidable presence, both onscreen and off. When we lost her last month, I thought about how she had shaped so much that we've come to understand about the female celebrity, including the perception we've had since, about female starlets and how they should behave or dress. There's so much to be said for a young lady who isn't afraid to be herself in spite of the public's perceptions and Lauren was never fearful of what others might think, throughout her career. It's for this reason that I decided to dedicate this particular blog entry, not to her best movies or even her fabulous hair (which is destined to get a feature of its own), but to her pants.
In the 1940's, the world was at war, as all of you know, and fashion was wholly influenced by this fact. While long, flowing evening gowns and palazzo pants were still in style, they were largely worn by the celebrity elite and even then, only on certain occasions.
The reason for this was simple. Fabric and clothing were rationed. The least amount of fabric that went into a garment, the more 'responsible' the designer. Therefore, the 1940's saw a drastic simplifying of clothing. Skirts were shorter and slimmer, pants and shorts were considered a necessary choice for work or play, and firm undergarments were almost nonexistent, especially considering the amount of rubber and wire that went into creating the average girdle.
Here are a few examples of the easy style of the 1940's as worn by the every-girl:
Not to say that there were no elaborate clothing options in the decade; ladies were still fashion conscious and wanted to stand out. But even higher fashion options were more austere than in years past or since, focusing more on pattern than flow:
Evening wear was slimmer and draped in such a way as to highlight the female form without the need for girdles or underwire. Many stars even wore sensible suits to social gatherings, opting to don a more elaborate hairstyle or hat in honor of the formal occasion :
But I digress.
Since the majority of women were closely involved with the war effort, even going to work in factories to support their husbands and fathers overseas, the fact that some of the world's most successful actresses were already sporting a casual style made them feel more like a unified team.
Katherine Hepburn was an advocate of slacks, even before necessity made them more practical:
Betty Grable and Ginger Rogers sported them often:
But Lauren made them effortlessly elegant like no other. Coupled with her loosely maintained hairstyles and husky voice, they only accentuated the attainable femininity that so many desired in those stressful times. Women no longer felt as though they had to have two wardrobes: one for work and one for public outings. Now it could be chic just to be a healthy woman with a family. And for this reason, I feel like she did so much more for mothers and wives than just provide style support. She provided moral and sense support as well.
To close, here are some of my favorite photos of Lauren, showcasing her signature look but also that no-nonsense quality I loved about her:
Thanks, Lauren, for wearing the pants in the family.
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