vivien leigh

The Sixth Sense is Dress-Sense


Vivien Leigh in a magenta velvet with turquoise tulle gown by Victor Stiebel | Photo by John Rawlings

A couple months ago I wrote a guest post for The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower titled Style Icon: Vivien Leigh, in which I explored Vivien’s side-job as a fashion model and style maven. Like many actresses who become famous, however briefly, Vivien graced the pages of fashion and women’s magazines. Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Ladies’ Home Journal, among others, reported how their readers could relate to Vivien Leigh, star-as-woman, by observing her unique fashion choices.

In doing research for my dissertation on how “Vivien Leigh” was created through the media, I’ve come across many references to fashion being an integral part of a female star’s image. Throughout her career, Vivien was classified by Vogue and other magazines as a certain “type” of woman. She was “exotic,” “strange,” “beautiful” outwardly “flawless”  and these traits came across in the characters she played on film.  Today I spent some time in the Westminster Reference Library with my friend and research partner in crime, Sammi, flipping through old bound  issues of Vogue in effort to find blurbs about Vivien. The following is one of my favorites because it describes her to a T.

The Sixth Sense is Dress-Sense

Vogue, December 22, 1937

Miss Vivien Leigh strikes a particularly vibrant note, in a fey style of her own. She is a pixie rather than a fairy: her feline, wispish face, both elfin and worldly, has that breathless quality of perfection we associate with film stars. She has a quality of burnished metal…of finely tempered steel. She wears vivid, dragon-fly clothes that are either tautly draped around her flawless, hipless figure, or nipped into her wasp waist to billow out as does Stiebel’s tulle and velvet skirt in her picture on page 14. Her mannerisms are as perfectly tuned to her personality as her clothes. A darting glance from those strange Persian cat eyes, a shrug of those perfectly poised shoulders…a pouting moue…What assurance, what knowledge of her type lies in each one…an actress to her fingertips, in spite of what some disagreeable critics say. An actress, moreover, who knows how to change her mood with her frock. She can wear all sorts of clothes of any period, and on her lovely head, the most hysterical hats seem logical.

Kendra has been the weblady at since 2007. She lives in Yorkshire and is the author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, and co-author of Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies (Running Press). Follow her on Twitter @kendrajbean, Instagram at @vivandlarrygram, or at her official website.

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Comments (6)

  1. Kendra, I’ve been swamped lately, so this has been my first opportunity to see your most recent series of blog posts about the Oliviers. Your posts and pictures are always worth waiting for, however, including “The Sixth Sense is Dress-Sense.” Beautiful photo! Looking forward to catching up with the rest of your pictures on the site, too!

    1. Maybe thin was in at the time? Also, I’ve always thought she had a curvy figure–not in the Marilyn Monroe sense but she had hips and a small waist

  2. She had style, poise and was so graceful in movement but I too think that most of all she had perfection of face… anyway, that’s how most people imagine a perfect lady… slim,almost etheral and unselfconscious about her appearance .

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