Clara Bow: The Later Legend

Dorothy Parker’s succinct critique of Clara Bow in her career-defining film It was probably the last word on one aspect of Clara Bow’s visual appeal.  As a response to the indefinable “It” Clara had, Dorothy wrote, “It, hell! She had Those!”

This is an enlightening statement.  Clara Bow, although she had achieved the title of “America’s Flapper” with movie goers, was not the best representative for the flapper “type”.  The “true” flapper style actually was informed by a female body along very boyish proportions.  The ideal flapper was flat-chested and linear and sleek.  The short flapper haircuts enhanced the boyish imagery.  Many women in the Roaring Twenties, more endowed in their upper decks, actually bound their larger breasts, flattening them uncomfortably against their chests to get “the look”.  The straight-line shifts favored by flappers were borne of two things: 1) they accentuated the slim figure and downplayed the female form in a shapeless tube, and 2) in an era when many women still sewed their own clothing these dresses were very easy to make.  This is the decade for which the phrase “One can never be too rich or too thin” fits best. The flapper came to represent sophistication – an esprit de corps the rabble did not have.  The free-wheeling flapper did as she pleased and was widely emulated. [For one to truly appreciate the real flapper body type, although it is several years after the trend, Claudette Colbert in Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934) is exactly what the ideal flapper should look like.  In this movie Colbert was slim with almost no womanly curves, had a boyish haircut, and wore clothing that did not stress her “femaleness”].

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