Being a ‘Louise’
by Mrs. Williams of
The mindset has existed for years now that there cannot be one without the other; women are either wholesome or whorish, sleek or provocative. There’s been no end to the typecasting and labeling, sometimes brought on by no more than natural body type. It’s assumed that at some point, a woman is required to search into her inner being and finally proclaim to the world, after much deliberation, whether she is ‘A Marilyn or a Jackie.’ For easier societal labeling, there can not be any Jackie O or Audrey Hepburn sex kittens (not enough curves!); and goodness no, never any Marilyn Monroes or Jane Russells with an eye for modern clothing and ‘finer things in life’ (surely they aren’t capable of liking those!).
The tides of public adoration go in and out, and one day the popular girls are waifs, and the next, they’re vixens. It became pretty clear to me early on that I wouldn’t be a Marilyn or a Jackie: not curvy enough for one, not graceful enough for the other. But there is a middle ground, often overlooked by being pushed into the realm of tacky costume party outfits and poorly executed photoshoots. There will always be the flapper.
And there will always be Louise Brooks.
She wasn’t a weightless nymph, and she wasn’t a pinup girl. Her hairstyle was severe, as was her tongue; it moved a Photoplay journalist to claim–albeit an exaggeration– that “her legs are lyric.”
Her style was flawless but not without fault, always slightly menacing in her intelligence. That sharpness in her eyes gave flappers a defense against any who saw it as ditzy girls playing games. Louise Brooks did not play games. It was kill-or-be-killed, a lifelong code that left her obscure and penniless in the last decades of her life.
Louise had the elegance of Audrey Hepburn, tinged with a dark magnetism and a knowledge of her power over others. Her clothes fit her tightly and with necessity. Women of her time were discovering what they had been missing, which was freedom to move and dance and carry on as they wished. She epitomized the upscale glamour of the 1920s. Even now, a straight bobbed cut is an instant reminder of Brooks and the other women around her.
The hard-edged garconne look had taken over, offering a boyish silhouette and a risque view of leg. Louise embraced it and transformed it to her own liking, somehow managing to look like no one else in film. She was equally at home in evening gowns and in men’s suits– and looked the most stunning in the latter.
When I see books swaying women to decide if they are a Marilyn or a Jackie; or when the insinuation is made that women without curves are somehow less feminine; or that those with curves are no more than ditzy sluts… then I think of Louise. She blended sensuality with sharp wit, femininity with modernity. She was proof that a woman is more than the sum of her parts, and more than what others can see. In the process, she became an icon of the 1920s and an inspiration to women for years to come.