Glamour vs. Elegance

Fred&Ginger

You’ve made my life so glamorous,
You can’t blame me for feeling amorous,
‘S wonderful ! ‘S marvelous !
That you should care for me !

(“S’Wonderful” George Gershwin)

This is always a tricky one. As my friend The Architect has told me on more than one occasion, “You’re all about the glamour.”

“No!” I want to protest. “Elegance. I’m in pursuit of a constant state of elegance.”

DocMacro - Astaire, Fred_07

You see the conundrum. Especially those of you who have a general idea of my aesthetic which is based in that brief period “between the wars” and is embodied in the persons of Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, et. al. It was the period that saw Art Deco become popular. It also bore witness to the beginning of the leveling of society in England and the start of the Great Depression in the United States. People turned to the cinema to raise spirits, and put on a happy face. A whole generation went a little crazy celebrating the end of “The War to End All Wars.” The Golden Age celebrated glamorous sophistication.

The exceedingly glamorous can stun.

Monroe
(Image unsourced. Let me know and I’ll take them down.)

Elegance is quieter.

But are the two mutually exclusive? I’ve illustrated this post with images of Mr. Astaire (and Ms. Rogers in one case) since he bridged the gap.

As a movie star, he was inherently glamorous (this was the Golden Age of Cinema, it was expected.) But he was a master at appearing unassuming, at ease, friendly, American.

And when he was at ease, he was elegant still. (Of course, you might say that there are no candid photos of Fred Astaire.)

In 2009, being at all well-dressed can lend a kind of glamour to the proceedings. So few are and that makes you stand out. To turn on the glamour, choose flashier clothing. An extravagantly puffed pocket square, collar pin, horizontal striped shirt and double breasted suit may be considered glamorous. A two-button navy suit with a white shirt, square-fold white linen pocket square and macclesfield tie, if all perfectly fitted and worn, will be seen as more elegant.

What do you think? Is there a line between glamour and elegance that has been drawn? Who best illustrates your opinion?

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14 Responses to Glamour vs. Elegance

  1. Not sure what my opinion is, but I’ll offer up George Clooney as a representative anyway.

  2. Doug In OK says:

    I perceive a vast difference between glamour and elegance.

    *Glamour is purely external, whereas elegance is both external and, more importantly, internal.
    *Attempts to achieve glamour can often cross the lines of good taste, whereas constant pursuit of elegance promotes good taste.
    *Glamour is frequently self serving, whereas elegance is most usually self effacing.
    *Glamour is trendy, whereas elegance is timeless.

    Returning to your 8/31 post ‘Grime Waves’, I am sure there are many that would qualify Decarnin designs as glamorous. Would anyone qualify the designs as elegant? Worse yet, readily identify those who wear them as elegant?

  3. You are right…so few people even put any effort into looking nice, when someone does make the slightest effort they stand out.

    I agree with CashmereLibrarian – George Clooney is always so well dressed and groomed. He always looks great!

  4. HOBAC says:

    Glamour appeals more to the senses while elegance appeals more to the intellect. As illustrated by: HRH The Late Princess Margaret and HM The Queen, Sophia Loren and Donna Marella Agnelli.

  5. Ami Thomas says:

    My opinion is that they are not mutually exclusive. Also, I would respectfully disagree that glamour is purely external. And I would offer Ms. Monroe as an example of that. The ability to stun, that comes from within. It takes a lot more than looks to do it.

    You can’t really be glamorous and not be elegant…you just can’t do it. As to the “modern” definitions of things like glamour and elegance, they do not fit in this context. Nor do they fit into the context of my life anywhere at all! I reject them categorically, as I do most modern things.

    I think adding a bit of flash and flair here and there certainly will “glam up” a look, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

    Elegance is Glamorous.

  6. Gabrielle says:

    Doesn’t the word glamour mean something bewitching the eye, making something appear different than it really is? I seem to remember that it’s original context had more to do with witchcraft and spells…the Cinderella story is perhaps a personification of the idea.

    If that’s the case, then perhaps we all need a bit of glamour–a chance to be different or a bit better than we are usually perceived to be. So I’ve convinced myself that glamour and elegance are not at odds. In fact, in striving for elegance one might achieve glamour, at least until midnight. Which is past my bedtime these days so that really doesn’t matter….

  7. Paula says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Doug in OK. Also, glamour seems to suggest something a little provocative–not necessarily sexy, but provocative and maybe a little mysterious and also lends itself to special occasions. Character, virtue, how we treat others, manners, etc.–common traits in an elegant person for me. But I think we can identify and ascribe glamour without knowing much about the person at all.

  8. Ruth says:

    Glamour is a penthouse with 20-foot windows, white mink stoles and tie and tails. It’s fairly easy to be elegant in that setting, in those costumes. It seems to be what the film industry thought the Depressed masses wanted, and they seemed to want it. Would they have been as satisfied with Cary Grant elegantly hiking through the Appalachian Mountains? The eye candy of Busby Berkeley that I still enjoy was a relief, like eating a rich meal once in a while.

    This reminds of the argument about “class.” Does class come from within? Or is it how you dress? True class is how you treat people. Elegance is how you live in your own skin. Glamour is red lipstick and a stunning brooch. The other thing I think of is the “fact” that folks with “old money” don’t dress glamourously. They wear wool, and cotton and silk, no flash. They can certainly be elegant (or frumpy). Rarely are they glamourous.

    I don’t think I really drew the line, but it’s interesting to think about this. Thank you.

    I came over from Ripple Effects, and I’m glad I did.

  9. Paul says:

    I relate more to elegance than to glamour. Elegance is clean/neat/pressed/sometimes formal-though not always/positive/prepared/evokes self-esteem. Fred Astaire is elegant even when dressed casually. Glamour, these days more than not is reveals foolishness, whimsical, clean and messy at the same time. Glamour can trick you – it can be fake. I hate the word “bling” because its someone’s ideas of glamourous gone wrong. Just my 2 cents.

  10. Doug In OK says:

    I agree with you too Paula. Great comment regarding the depths of glamour versus elegance.

  11. Pingback: Easy and Elegant Life™ » Blog Archive » A Reader’s Thoughts on Smart Casual

  12. Mr E,

    I like breaking down the difference between glamour and elegance. I also think of glamour as being more glinty, more quick and in the moment, but that elegance — while also having an ephemeral quality — is a slower, easy appeal.

    My two cents.

    EQV
    atthemeadows.com

  13. Hels says:

    Deco DID seem to fit the needs of the 1925-39 era well *nod*. Getting past the nightmare of world war one and the Great Depression made Deco perfect for a shaky, tough world.

    Thanks for the link
    Hels
    http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/2011/02/art-deco-objects-and-hollywood-glamour.html

  14. Let us not forget William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies — I’ll take elegance over glamour any day…true elegance is inherent and effortless…glamour more ‘flash in the pan’ and contrived — which by the way, seemed to be Marilyn Monroe to me vs. Jean Harlow…

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