Few words are as ubiquitous in the contemporary mass media as glamour. 'The new glamour burns bright' headlined Interview in March 1997, while Elle of December 1996 tempted readers with the following cover title: 'Glamour! The people who live it - the clothes that scream it - the make-up that makes it'. Yet quite what glamour is frequently remains unclear. When fashion and women's magazines from time to time conduct enquiries into the meaning of glamour, they invariably seek opinions from a range of experts and celebrities, whose views are strikingly contradictory. Confusion arises over the gender connotations of glamour, whether it is an intrinsic (charismatic) phenomenon or a manufactured one, and whether it is permanent or temporary. In addition there is disagreement over its application to age ranges, places and situations. Such is the lack of common ground that it is tempting to agree with lexicographer Eric Partridge who, as long ago as 1947, included glamour in his list of 'vogue words' which had gained a momentum of their own whatever the original impulse had been.1 For Partridge, glamour was a word without meaning that had been invested with high status and picturesque connotations by authors and journalists.
One enduring feature of glamour is its identification with fashion. In a recent analysis of fashion photography, Clive Scott contrasted 'glamour' with 'sophistication'. He found that in the fashion press glamour was: youthful, dynamic, pleasure-seeking, extrovert, voluble, short-term, gregarious, uncultured, volatile, public (and thus downmarket). On the other hand sophistication was seen as: mature, poised, restrained, introvert, taciturn, long-term, solitary, cultured, controlled/severe (and thus upmarket).2 In other
1. Partridge, Eric, Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1947, p. 361.
2. Scott, Clive, The Spoken Image: Photography and Language, London: Reaktion, 1999, p. 156.
accounts fashion and glamour are taken to be synonymous. Jeanine Basinger takes this view in her analysis of classical Hollywood cinema and its female audiences. However, she also states that 'Glamour goes beyond mere fashion. Although the concept of glamour includes fashion, it ultimately involves more than what a woman puts on her body. It deals with the lady herself.'3 The movie stars she refers to usually occupied a median position between the two poles identified by Scott, thus rendering his differentiation meaningless.
In the context of such confusion, an attempt to identify what glamour is, where it comes from and how it works is surely timely. In this chapter three moments of glamour will be explored. In keeping with glamour's associations with the immediate and the commercial, the first of these will be the present. Older meanings will be considered in relation to contemporary uses in the press and advertising. Second, the root of many of the gestures and stereotypes of modern glamour - Hollywood cinema of the middle decades of the twentieth century - will be examined. In the final section, consideration will be given to the transformation of the nineteenth-century city which, it will be argued, was the original site of glamour as it is used and understood today.
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