During the golden age of Hollywood, fully realized fantasy was practically a prerequisite to dazzle on the big screen.
With no detail too inconsequential to be spared, film studios commissioned elaborately decorated sets, rapturous original scores, theatrical bespoke costumes, and, for holiday beauty lovers, an endless parade of soigné hairstyles and mesmerizing makeup looks. With the holidays on the horizon, and no time like the present to turn up the wattage above the neck, what better time to binge on classics with leading ladies that shimmered and sparkled with unapologetic vanity?
Put simply: There’s peacocking, and then there’s peacocking of the Elizabeth Taylor persuasion. In 1967’s Doctor Faustus, the violet-eyed actress may have made a silent cameo as Helen of Troy, but trust, her cut-crease cat-eye liner, mother-of-pearl hair ornaments, and glimmering updos did all of the talking. Displaying a similar, if not rivalrous, flair for iridescence was Hedy Lamarr with her celestial crystal-star headpiece in 1941’s Ziegfeld Girl, as well as Audrey Hepburn in 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, bringing fabled girl-about-town Holly Golightly to life with a proclivity for elegant French twists, platinum blonde streaks, and petite diamond tiaras.
Of course, one would be unthinkably remiss to pass up a screening of 1963’s The Pink Panther, with costume designer Yves Saint Laurent topping off Italian-Tunisian stunner Claudia Cardinale’s voluminous raven bouffant with a large, symmetrical bejeweled golden hair ornament featuring forehead-grazing pearl detail, or 1975’s Mahogany, in which Diana Ross played rising fashion designer Tracy Chambers, taking fanned-out fringe and brushed-out curls to new heights.
Ann-Margret and Brigitte Bardot also made the case for long, bombshell lengths teased to the max in The Swinger and A Woman Like Satan, respectively—but short hair also gets its big screen due: In Cabaret, Liza Minnelli’s widow’s peaked bob punctuated her stage makeup, while in Chinatown, Faye Dunaway’s chin-grazing dirty-blonde lengths became all the more chic with a fishnet-veiled chapeau fastened on top. In other words, a well honed crop was just as blithely cool then as it is now.
Finally, there were the screen sirens that proved there’s nothing more perennially stunning than a bright red lip. During Singin’ in the Rain’s dreamy dance sequence, the only thing that could distract moviegoers from Cyd Charisse’s endless, sinewy legs (which were reportedly insured for $5 million by MGM) was the fiery shade of crimson lipstick slicked on her pillowy pout. In the same vein, in 1954’s Carmen Jones, for which Dorothy Dandridge became the first Black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, the trailblazing performer accented her scarlet-pressed mouth with a fresh rose nestled behind her ear.