We learned a lot about Gwen Stefani lately. First, she’s collaborating with Urban Decay to release a 12-shade palette for the brand. Second, she’s dating Blake Shelton (cool). But what I think is most interesting is the singer’s revelation about her long standing relationship with makeup — specifically, Old Hollywood and the aesthetic she’s honed since the days of Tragic Kingdom.
“I’ve always done the same makeup my whole life,” she said in an interview with Refinery29. “When I started wearing makeup, I was super inspired by Old Hollywood — I used to watch AMC and every single old movie. I’ve always loved a cat-eye and I’ve always loved a pretty arched and defined brow. It all comes from being obsessed with old movies, Marilyn Monroe, and Old Hollywood.”
“I didn’t wear lipstick until after high school,” she continued. “My grandma had bought me one of those things that come in a tube and there’s like lipstick in it in a long wand? It wasn’t even red, it was a deep burgundy. I was in my Honda Prelude and looked in the rearview and put that on and was like, ‘I gots you.’”
And believe me, we’ve all been there. Maybe not so much with the Honda Prelude, but certainly with the Old Hollywood stepping stone. In fact, unlike any other era, we’ve romanticize that particular time to excess. After all, it’s 2015, and we’re still citing cat’s eyes and red lips (a constant since the dawn of time) as the pinnacle of Hollywood glam. And yes, they absolutely existed then, but they’ve been a cornerstone of beauty trends since far before. So what’s up with Old Hollywood? Why is our thirst so real?
Well, first: pop culture as we know it now was birthed upon the popularity of movies and the celebrity system. For the first time, actors were photographed and shown moving and speaking on screen, while their personal lives morphed into gossip fodder in early-days tabloids. For the very first time, stars were “like us,” which explains why they, their fashion, and their beauty habits were emulated.
Not to mention the promise of glamour: while the rest of the world was in chaos during WWII, Hollywood still managed to thrive by offering the beauty of escapism to civilians who were dealing with the realities of war. And following that, movies were the first way to offer the promise of hope, prosperity, and a new way of presenting one’s self: a new you, post-bonds, rations, and grief. Red lipstick, curled hair, and black eyeliner were the tools of recovery. (Or so they seemed to promise.)
But perhaps more importantly, Old Hollywood was the last era in which the consumption of pop culture was kept low-key. Actors and actresses were controlled; bounded by the studio system and contracts that in some cases went on to ruin them. Tabloids were peppered with headlines and “salacious”-seeming photographs, but even the worst were a far cry from the exhibitionism and privacy invasions that dictate the celebrity system today. Frankly, there was mystery. And even now, upwards of 75 years later, we’re still uncovering details about actors and actresses we claim to have been obsessed with, whose lives were a mystery wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a fur wrap.
Which is why we still look to Old Hollywood with stars (sorry, guys) in our eyes. We want to evoke them because we didn’t know them. When we look at them, we see only their greatest roles and none of the personal baggage that defend our celebrities now. To compare ourselves with today’s rich and famous (or even the celebs of the sixties, seventies, and eighties), we bring along the good and the bad that defines their public personas. By citing Rita Hayworth, Anne Bancroft, or Jean Harlow as our beauty icons, we’re thinking exclusively of their work, and maybe a few red carpet appearances. We get to fill in the rest, and reclaim the era’s trends for ourselves, failing to acknowledge the pitfalls that actually defined the realities of being a working woman in Hollywood at the time.
Although, for the record, Old Hollywood certainly had their beauty game on lock. Just like sixties’ mod, seventies’ disco, eighties’ excessive, and nineties’ grunge — which, for the record, also boasted their fair share of red lipsticks.
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