Secret Style Icon(s) No.10: Vamps


“So you’re a private detective. I didn’t know they existed, except in books, or else they were greasy little men snooping around hotel corridors. My, you’re a mess, aren’t you?”

As if it wasn’t enough that everybody knows Bogart and Baccall were falling in love in real life while filming The Big Sleep, they get to sulk their way through the film being spectacularly rude to each other, all the while smoking and wearing a series of very boxy outfits. I LOVE IT.

With a name like ‘Vivien’ and a silkily flirtatious, idiotic younger sister as her counterpart, Baccall is the ultimate 1940s vamp. She’s witty and she doesn’t mind insulting Marlowe’s intelligence (she mentions Proust and then airily dismisses the topic: ‘A French writer, you wouldn’t have heard of him’. Ouch. Marlowe gamely responds, ‘come into my boudoir’.)

Vamp, as in vampirical, the coldly confident and cynical women who populated 1940s film noir (I refuse to admit the 1970s bunny boiler ‘femme fatale’ idea into this category – just. not. cool.)

The look works best if your life is lived in black and white. If you can’t manage that, then anything daring, sharp and black (or white!) works. Breton stripes if you’re having a lazy day. The whole vampy look is far preferable to the cloying tweeness of 1950s fashion. Vamps are grown-ups. They’re mean and they usually smoke too much, but they come out with some great lines, and they’d be much more fun at a party.  I’m not even going to pretend to be able to create such style in my own life, but here’s a little peek of some excellent fashions to aspire to.


Gene Tierney in ‘Leave Her to Heaven’ (1945)


Ava Gardner in ‘The Killers’ (1946)


Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946)

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