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Readers, I recently borrowed an interesting book entitled Glamour, A History by Stephen Gundle, a British writer. It’s a study of the concept of glamour throughout history; its origins and its varying definitions during different eras (the 1930s and 40s in particular), up to and including the present.

I haven’t quite finished it but it has me wondering: Do women aspire to be “glamorous” anymore? Do you?

Glamour seems to me to be a dated concept, at least the way I’ve always thought about it. For me, glamour suggests drama, artifice, and exoticism — all missing in today’s busy 24/7 media landscape and the (primarily) middle class, suburban culture which we (Americans at least) have been steeped in, even if we’re not suburban or middle class.

I think contemporary life is too informal, too come-as-you-are, too frank about sexuality for the concept to hold any attraction for most people today. Is this true in your country too?

Most women I know want to be, first and foremost, healthy, then probably thin, and then some variation of pretty as they choose to define it — and ideally a combination of all three. Do they want to be glamorous? The very word evokes stylized images like these from 30s and 40s Hollywood — a very different, more formal world.

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From left: Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo

By the postwar years, the 50s and the early 60s (a time of greater economic equality in the USA) the idealized woman was more likely to be girl-next-door types than glamorous and remote, at least in American popular culture. You wouldn’t have caught Marlene Dietrich posing with a fishing rod like Debbie Reynolds.

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From left: Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds

Today, apart from the ubiquitous red-carpet celebrity events and the people who make them happen, is glamour something anyone aspires to? How about in the pop music world — think Lady Gaga or Beyonce or Madonna? Do you consider them glamorous, or merely fashionable (if that)?

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From left: Lady Gaga with Madonna, Beyonce

Readers, I ask you:

Does glamour have meaning in your lives? Do you consider yourself — or would you like to be considered — glamorous and how would you define it?

Who are your contemporary glamour role models?

Conversely, do you think the concept of glamour is dead? If so, what killed it? I’d love to hear what you think!

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~Peter

When native New Yorker Peter Lappin bought his first sewing machine two years ago to hem a pair of thrift store jeans, little did he know he was initiating a journey that would bring him fame and fortune. While awaiting his fortune he stays busy writing “the world’s most popular men’s sewing blog,” Male Pattern Boldness, and now contributing to BurdaStyle.

“For more than twenty years I’d lived on the edge of the Garment District without even knowing what a seam ripper was. Now I rip daily!”

68 Comments

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    Jun 1, 2011, 09.27 AMby Ashley Langley

    Glamour is about making something appear better than it really is. It’s subtle traditions of care and grace that are withered virtues of some modern cosmopolitans. But not all. x

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    May 23, 2011, 02.04 PMby ichigogirl

    I’m afraid the word “glamour” has been kidnapped by the tacky soft-porn industry, to describe something that is as far away from glamour as I can possibly imagine. Plastic page 3-girls with too much make-up are called glamour-models, and I think the world has become twisted in so many ways… I hope glamour isn’t dead though. In my world, red carpet events with movie stars in designer dresses are still very glamourous, only, the word glamour is tainted, sadly.

    1 Reply
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      May 24, 2011, 09.17 AMby popbabe7

      Oh, how I agree with you!!!

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    May 23, 2011, 10.47 AMby aleah

    Glamour is… hard to define. It is not just about what a person is wearing, but how well it fits that person. Sometimes at parties I see people with the same dresses, and one of them always looks better than the other one. And no, it’s not always about how pretty that person is, but simply how well it fits! I can wear a dress that looks awful when I’m wearing it, but a friend of mine might look stunning!

    The whole idea of “showing cleavage and short skirts” as being glamorous, is something I strongly disagree with. A lot of cleavage doesn’t always have to be tacky, but it can be! Being “glamorous” is something entirely different for me. I think Beyoncé can look quite tacky, actually… glamorous has something to do with sophistication, accessories, simpleness… it’s not about going crazy, but a perfect mix. It’s not about flaunting everything you’ve got, but it’s not about wearing high necks and long skirts either.

    Gahh… it can’t be explained. I just know it when I see a glamorous person. It depends on the person herself/himself as well: how (s)he acts, carries h*self and of course: personality.

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    May 23, 2011, 06.42 AMby nappyc

    To me glamour was more about style and a way of dress that does exist in some of your local Sunday Services. Unless the congregation has adapted a more casual attire, you will see the ladies wearing hats/crowns, dresses, gloves, the right shoes, bags, hose and etc. Men still wear the fedoras, suits, and cashmere overcoats. The traditional type as shown in your article is very much alive.

    Celebrity style glamour today tends to be tacky, ultra revealing, sex sells, latest fad, and all about “who I’m wearing”….or how much does it cost. This came long before “reality shows.”

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    May 23, 2011, 12.26 AMby josephina

    I don’t believe that glamour is just about the way you dress; I believe it’s more about poise and attitude, which in my opinion, originate in part from taking time to care for yourself and your appearance. I do believe that our culture frowns on so many aspects of glamour and of self-care that it is becoming rarer.

    For my 20 year high school reunion next month, we are having a cocktail party and one of the topics which appeared on the forum was – do we have to wear dresses to this event? The majority consensus was that people will be wearing jeans and pants because they are more ‘comfortable’ and ‘it might be cold’. A small number (me included) are wearing dresses because, lets face it, we don’t get to dress up all that often. Cold? I get to wear a jacket and some nice tights/pantyhose.

    Personally, dresses are more comfortable for me. Jeans and shorts don’t fit me well or suit my body shape, and I often feel uncomfortable wearing them. Sometimes the comments and looks you receive for dressing nicely are designed to make you feel uncomfortable though.

    Positively though, lately I hear a lot of comments from people that it’s sad so few people are nicely dressed and groomed these days, or how nice it is to see someone who is nicely dressed from head to toe. Maybe we are seeing a renewed interest in glamour along with the renewed interest in vintage style?

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    May 22, 2011, 08.31 AMby Rikki Cade Battle

    I don’t believe that glamour is dead, but for me, when i think of glamour i do pitcher the old black and white photos of the buy gone era. I believe that virtually everything can look more glamours in black and white, maybe its because there is mystery to the image, as you don’t know what colours the dresses are and so on. black and white also seems to have the ability to make you look floor-less it can wipe away many imperfections. so maybe we don’t see glamour because we are looking for it in a new way, in colour, on HD and blue-ray? Were every thing that is wrong with the image is on show, were you can see all of the little imperfections, were all the mysteries have been uncovered.

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    May 21, 2011, 08.15 PMby momsgotanewhobby

    I do not agree that glamour is dead. Sure the idea has been co-opted by plastic people in our media but true glamour is sort of a lifestyle choice. Glamorous is something that you are, not something that you wear. My Southern mother, who will turn 82 this July, is a glamorous woman, always has been. It is a way of life for her, life lived by a set of rules that she never breaks (always leave the house well dressed, made up with hair coiffed, proper outfit for the outing). She has forever despaired that I am not the glamour-gal she wanted me to be. I “put it on” only when I have to-she on the other hand will look great even working in the garden!

    1 Reply
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      May 22, 2011, 03.48 AMby rochelle49

      That is how my Mom was. It was part attitude but also a standard of appearance that was refined. She felt we had a station in life to represent. I did not get a pair of jeans until I was 17. We wore nice dresses and gloves to go downtown as kids. I feel that is part of glamor. The good news is as people who sew, we can create the glamor anew.

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    May 21, 2011, 04.33 PMby luluxo

    I agree with the comments regarding reality television shows, media, and technology destroying any sense of mystery and glamor. It does still exist…….It’s just outnumbered! This was a great post from burda, thank you so much. i’m going to glam it up tonight at work ;)

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    May 20, 2011, 07.21 PMby mitmit

    I don’t think glamour is dead! I think that for most (women especially) we have to save being glamourous for special occasions. I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me with all the cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and all of those everyday things, it isn’t exactly easy to be glamourous on an everyday basis ;-) I love dressing up in glamour clothes for a night out, but I couldn’t really see myself doing the washing/ironing in heels and a dress!

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    May 20, 2011, 04.53 PMby ruthw

    I think it is odd that so far the consensus seems to be that only women are glamorous, that glamour is a feminine characteristic. I think that’s a big mistake. I think glamour is gender neutral. It depends on good grooming and enough mystique to keep people intrigued. So for me Dita von Teese is tacky (burlesque is just stripping for the middle-classes, after all) but I see plenty of good examples of glamour all around. And a well-mannered, well-groomed (and strong-silent type) man in a super sharp suit (and absolutely NOT the pseudo-juvenile uniform of shorts and a T-shirt) is the epitome of glamour. If anything, glamour is actually easier for men to do than for women these days.

    What kills glamour is the foolish me-me-me (narcisissistic) narrative and the public over-exposure of both body and emotion. The best example of glamour murder is probably that show Big Brother, where all people do is talk incessantly about themselves (and what passes for their “inner” life) and take their clothes off as often as possible.

    1 Reply
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      May 20, 2011, 05.04 PMby Peter Lappin

      Ruth, I agree with you! I’m not sure burlesque has the same connotation it had, say, in the 1940s. It’s more playful/ironic than tacky/pornographic I think.

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    May 20, 2011, 02.56 PMby Sabrina Wharton-Brown

    I think if there were more glamorous role models it would be more fashionable and more people would aspire to be glamorous. People become like their friends and the people they see in magazines and on television, and the characters in books they read – it’s subconscious programming, or “culture” (which is really group habit).

    Glamour is when it’s what’s inside that counts. It’s about attitude (not like “ganstas”) and is expressed in our appearance and manner.

    That said, some glamorous clothes and styles look best only when in a certain setting. I like the look of lady’s summer gloves but it would look out of place in modern day-to-day life.

    One rule that ought never to be broken is that tracksuits are for sports and nothing else.

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    May 20, 2011, 01.05 PMby fuzzyg

    Unfortunately, I think glamour as in ‘totally contrived version of feminine beauty’ is indeed making a comeback.. For myself? Hell, no! I only like it on boys :-).

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    May 20, 2011, 11.24 AMby urbandon

    Reality shows and those ‘trash’ magazines killed glamour. Could you ever imagine an article from 1940/50 saying “Liz’s bizarre diet cellulite shock!!!”. No. Commercial, exploitative suck-the-life-blood-out-of-it media reality/who/new weekly /ok magazines are responsible for destroying mystique. Shame on them.

    Who is glamorous now?Very few.. For me glamour is style, taste and sophistication. Who is like this????- very few slip off the tongue….Cate Blanchett- YES! Kardashian sisters a big NO!!!- you can’t be glamorous AND white trash.

    2 Replies
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      May 20, 2011, 05.05 PMby Peter Lappin

      I think over-exposure of any kind definitely kills glamour.

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      May 20, 2011, 07.51 PMby thesnakeships

      Have you ever looked into Men’s mags from the 50’s?

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    May 20, 2011, 10.11 AMby varenoea

    I think the problem is that 30s glamour is very artificial, and very hard to bring into a normal life. Also, thanks to the improvements in news media, we are now more aware that there are loads of people in the world who don’t have basic human rights or enough to eat – and this gets into the back of your mind, and makes you feel strange about acting luxurious or dramatic. Here in Germany, glamour is for weddings. On a different note, I’m nosy: what is this “teenage glamour” book about? Is it a novel, or a style guice?

    1 Reply
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      May 20, 2011, 05.06 PMby Peter Lappin

      It’s a (unintentionally) hilarious style guide from 1955 — all about how girls should dress, style their hair, act around boys, etc.

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    May 20, 2011, 09.38 AMby nessys

    I think the whole reality TV culture (think Big Brother/people posting “real” pics of themselves online ie Facebook) has a lot to answer for and consider it a factor in the lessening of glamour (actually – I blame it for a lot of things…) and a general downing-sizing of standards. Think back, the times we now generally consider “glamorous”, 20’s – 60’s, even 70’s, 80’s – did people wear track (sweat) pants down the street to do the shopping, in public? Did they have “muffin tops” on display?? I think not. And the whole “show it all” boobs & legs and whatever else popping out all at once…. did these icons of glamor show all? Underpants (or lack of) getting out of cars etc… Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying Rita Hayworth was dressing like a prude but it wasn’t as cheap and nasty as it seems to be now. I think when it comes to glamour – mystique is everything – revealing all in public is not!

    It’s not just “frocks” either. Look at the photos of Marilyn in her jeans or Jackie in her capris. People generally took more care with their appearance. If you went into the local town to do either business or shopping you wore your best (I can even remember this when I was a kid in the 80’s in a small country town – if we went down to the city we got dressed up – 80’s chic – white lace gloves and all….:) )

    I wear track pants at home (or to dance class) but not out in public…..

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    May 20, 2011, 08.51 AMby Natasha Venzke

    I’m not sure what glamour really means to me. I do know that I feel like I have to dress down for most occasions, because life has become so informal.

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    May 20, 2011, 07.26 AMby andreadevis

    I do not believe glamour is dead. I do believe class is on life support.

    1 Reply
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    May 20, 2011, 05.40 AMby samcam

    I think the root of the answer lies in the way which individuals define glamour. Perhaps these days there exists glamour in the plural – glamours – rather than glamour in a similar way to how we think of there being multiplicity in other areas of life and study. My interpretation is that glamour comes from a put together look. That is the person has chosen an outfit, is groomed, and accessorised all coherently for the look they are trying to work (or conversely they have pulled together a mismatched or dishevelled look purposely) and alongside this they convey a presence or posture that works with their look.

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    May 20, 2011, 04.43 AMby denise2003

    Years ago, I got new makeup, spent a lot of time picking out a new outfit, got my hair done professionally, and took a lot of time getting ready for a party. It took a few minutes for people to recognize me (although I admit that my son’s reaction was really what made it all worthwhile). It was my one night of being glamorous, and I really enjoyed it.

    I am a very casual person, and I like it that way, but I think that every woman should periodically get an opportunity to do what I did that night. I don’t think that glamor should be everyday, because then it loses its punch. I do believe that we should enjoy it periodically and have some fun with it. It was good for my husband to be reminded that I was more than just a housewife. The shock of the transformation was one of the things that made it so effective. I really enjoyed watching the reactions of the people who knew me at that party!

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    May 20, 2011, 02.13 AMby LéonaDy

    I think glamour today is very different from what it used to be in the sense that you can’t define what glamour is. What I mean is that, instead of having one big fashion trend and one way to be glamourous, we are in an age of individual styles. That in mind, glamour is but it’s not dead just because we can’t define it. Glamour is an attitude before a conformist way of being dressed. I see modern hippies that are glamourous everyday because they own their style and love their life. Wasn’t that what glamour was about in the day as well? It was about having money, jewelry, going dancing, etc etc. It was living the dream life. What if you are living exactly the way you want to and you express it? Doesn’t that make you glamourous, even if it doesn’t include ball gowns and chauffeurs? I think it does. And people definitely aspire to be happy and confident.

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