By Guest Blogger Kay Noske,
Want to know the secret to confidence? Well, if you listen to Joan Crawford, she’d say it’s all about image, specifically one’s figure and costume. Sure, I could say “clothes”, but if, like me (and Shakespeare), you believe that all the world’s a stage, and every time you get dressed, you’re suiting up for the role of a lifetime—YOU! So, why not dress on purpose—like you mean it—and see what the right clothes for the occasion can do for your star power.
Let’s take a peek at Joan’s background: Born in Texas to a poor woman, Joan (then Lucille Fay LaSuer), spent her days scrubbing laundry and dreaming of getting the hell out of Dodge. She worked what she could—her stalwart willpower (which makes Hitler’s ego look kind of wimpy) and her flying feet. She won Charleston contests, first locally, then nationally, until she’d parlayed her twinkle-toes into a screen test. Next stop, Hollywood!
After she’d shed 20 lbs via a protein-veggie diet (learn more about her makeover on my blog), tamed her frizzy brown hair, and listened to the advice of everyone from director to stagehands, she was on her way as a contract player and starlet. Then, romance made an entrance in the form of Hollywood royalty: Douglas Fairbanks Jr., the offspring of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. A swaggeringly handsome, charming fellow, Douglas swept the unresisting Joan off her size 4 feet. She was a chorus girl; he was the scion of Pickfair (a hilltop Hollywood mansion where the silent screen’s king and queen held court). While Douglas went into a full court press, Joan launched an endlessly inventive campaign of reinvention that went from soup to nuts. Fairbanks acknowledged these efforts, reporting “she was always trying for self-improvement in those early days.”
According Charlotte Chandler’s terrific (and occasionally very juicy) Crawford bio “Not the Girl Next Door,” to rise to his “level,” Joan studied the classics, French, and silverware placement, becoming a self-taught “high etiquette specialist.” Nobody was going to catch HER with her pinky down, damn it! She “toned down” her wardrobe (which I’m guessing means she stopped dressing like a honky-tonk floozy), ditching some of her faves (the spangled red satin number with the ball trim and feathers, perhaps or maybe the 30’s version of a puff-painted sweatshirt, shown here?). Joan discerned that the real “her”– loud, carefree, wild at heart—would never fit in with the social set she’d annexed by marriage.
Which brings us to my point today: Decide how you want to present yourself—just make sure you’re comfy with your choice. Little laundress Lucille Fay and Charleston contest-winning “Billie” (a beloved stepdaddy’s nickname) became mega-star Joan Crawford. And a lot of credit for that metamorphosis goes to wardrobe! Joan realized the easiest way to change inner and outer status was to just change one’s clothes. More than almost any other movie star, she reveled in the sheer joy of dressing the part, understanding that you’re never really off-stage, you just change audiences.
Producer-writer Joseph Mankiewicz once dropped in on Joan at home to find her sitting at a writing desk “…like a lady of the nineteenth century,” writing notes on thin, monogrammed blue paper. “She looked like a true movie star,” he noted. When he complimented her pretty attire, Joan replied, “It’s one of my dresses for writing.” Mankiewicz realized a) she wasn’t joking and b) she hadn’t expected company; she dressed that way for own pleasure. She invited him to stay for lunch, took off her sleeve guards (don’t you wish?), and announced she was going to change for luncheon. He protested that her dress was perfectly beautiful, no need.
Undaunted, Joan said, “I know, but it’s one of the dresses I wear for correspondence. I’m going to change to one of my eating-lunch-at-home afternoon dresses.” She returned, resplendent in a pale green dress, matching ankle-strapped high-heels, and an armful of green Bakelite bracelets. Joseph was flattered until Joan informed him, “This is what I was planning to wear, but I thought I’d be having lunch alone.” Mankiewicz’s reaction? “Joan Crawford was a real star, and she always played her part, even when she was asleep, I’m certain.” Joan was in the amen corner when Ralph Waldo Emerson when he said: Being perfectly well-dressed gives a feeling of tranquility that religion is powerless to bestow.
I promise you, without going to extremes like Joan, you can still enjoy the purely feminine surge of joy and power from knowing you’re dressed for the occasion—even if the occasion is just another day on Planet Earth.
Now, if you’re reading this, you already believe in the magic of clothes and you know what a great vintage dress or purse or hat can do for a gal. You walk taller, smile broader, flirt a bit more, and feel like a knockout. Why wait for a “special occasion” to experience that kind of spirit boost? You may not be able to rock that vintage prom dress at your office job, but you certainly can pin a vintage brooch on your nicely fitted cardigan, can’t you? And if that killer Adrian suit suffers from a bit too much patina (some might call them moth holes), you can toss the jacket over a snugly fitted V-neck tee in a contrasting color, slip on some great jeans and watch the magic of vintage lift your errand-running outfit from the mundane into the marvelous.
Joan knew the secret: “…this is what I was planning to wear..” Do you take a few moments to plan an outfit for tomorrow? It will make the coming day more fun for you and anyone who crosses your path. Once I heard a gent in our office say sincerely “thanks for making an effort” to a female co-worker, as he admired her simple, pretty work outfit. So, go on, make the effort. You’ll be glad you did, even if your audience is only that movie star in your mirror.
Thank you for contributing this great piece to vintagedancer.com