In the weeks since Elizabeth Taylor passed away, I’ve been reminded of what a style icon she was. While she’s often remembered more for her many husbands than her fashion choices, and falls behind Audrey Hepburn, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Grace Kelly in the fashion icons of the 50’s and 60’s lists, the reality is that from clothing and jewelry to makeup and perfume, she had a huge impact on fashion for decades.
So what set her apart?
First and foremost, Elizabeth Taylor was a movie star. She was trained in the studio system of the 1940’s and thus never appeared in public looking anything less than spectacular. While today’s starlets are often photographed in jeans and no makeup, you will never find such a picture of Elizabeth Taylor in her heyday. It’s one of the reasons men loved her and women wanted to be her: she was beautiful and glamorous and made no apologies for it.
Secondly, she had the talented Helen Rose design most of the costumes for her movies. The 5’2″ Rose approached creating 5’2″ Elizabeth Taylor’s elegant petite style with one philosophy: “Simple and dramatic. If you have a magnificent jewel, you put it in a simple setting; you don’t distract from it with a lot of detail.” With that in mind, Rose created some of Elizabeth’s most iconic ensembles.
Finally, Elizabeth Taylor had a zest for life and many deep, abiding passions. She loved men and beautiful jewelry and surrounded herself with both.
Here are the many ways Elizabeth Taylor impacted fashion:
The Wedding Gown from
Father of the Bride (1950)
Released just two days after Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding to Nicky Hilton, Father of the Bride was an instant hit, and the nipped-waist, princess style wedding dress became THE bridal gown silhouette of the 1950’s. MGM costumer Helen Rose designed both wedding gowns for Taylor (as well as Grace Kelly’s wedding gown for her marriage to Prince Rainier).
The White Party Dress from
A Place in the Sun (1951)
Designed by the legendary Edith Head, the white party dress with the daisy-covered bodice became THE most popular prom dress of 1951. Like the wedding gown from Father of the Bride, this evening gown heavily influenced the princess silhouette that dominated early 50’s fashion.
The White Chiffon Dress from
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Wearing yet another Helen Rose creation, Elizabeth created a buzz with this chiffon dress as “Maggie the Cat” and sent women stampeding to stores yet again to duplicate the look. It became one of the most popular styles of the year, available in every color.
The White Slips
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Butterfield 8 (1960)
The sensuous white slip from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was so well received in 1958 that Helen Rose repeated it two years later in Butterfield 8. Tame by today’s standards, these beautiful undergarments set a new standard for elegant underwear in the late 50’s and early 60’s.
Elizabeth Taylor was paid $1 million dollars to play Cleopatra in this expensive flop that’s remembered more for the dramatic eye makeup and her illicit affair with Richard Burton while filming than for anything else. Those heavily lined eyes set the standard for eye makeup throughout the 1960’s and was still worn by many suburban women (including some of my friends’ moms) until the mid-1970’s.
Elizabeth liked her some serious bling – as chronicled in her book, My Love Affair With Jewelry (2002) – and expected the men in her life to provide it for her. They did – including the legendary 69.42 carat Taylor-Burton diamond that Richard Burton bought for her at auction for $1 million dollars in 1969.
Elizabeth launched Passion in 1988 and went on to have ten different perfumes in her portfolio, but it’s the iconic White Diamonds introduced in 1991 that remains one of the best-selling perfumes of all time. While Taylor wasn’t the first celebrity to introduce a perfume, she’s been the one with the longest staying power, and her collection of scents rakes in about $200 million in sales per year. She made far more as a perfumer than she ever did as an actress.
So that’s the legacy Elizabeth Taylor left after 70 years in the public eye. Would that we could all have a life a fraction as interesting…