What Old Hollywood Glam Teaches Us About Style Today

Old Hollywood is romantic. Be it the black and white tints of the screen, the honey-like smoothness of the music or just the notion that America was at its absolute best, one can’t help but look to the Golden Era of film nostalgically.

And as women, we also can’t help but be inspired by Hollywood heroines and their effortless yet glamorous senses of style when curating our wardrobes. History smiles quite fondly on legends like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly, but there are other stylish starlets that can sometimes slip through the cracks.

Here are four Hollywood actresses of old who have influenced our style and our society more than we may realize:

Lupe Velez

This “Mexican Spitfire” made a name for both herself and Mexican actresses during the silent film era. Lupe Velez began her show business career as a dancer in Mexico but moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting. Velez later became one of the first Mexican A-list actresses of Hollywood, being cast as the leading lady in motion pictures like Wolf Song (1929), The Girl From Mexico (1939) and, of course, The Mexican Spitfire (1940-1943) series.

Get Her Look

While a fiery force to be reckoned with on-screen, we can say the same for her savvy style off-screen. Velez managed to accentuate her curly bob with cloche hats reminiscent of her era and fabulous fur coats over mid-length dresses. While the fur coat (we prefer faux) may be a little hot for the current season, you can still capture Velez’s style with a French-inspired cloche and a well-tailored, mid-length dress.

Wear your Lupe combo at your next brunch date with friends or jet-setting rendezvous, as Velez certainly took part in back in her day. You’re surefire to look like a spitfire.

Sophia Loren

This Italian bombshell is the Hollywood success story of rags to riches. Raised by a single mother outside of Rome, Sophia Loren lived under her grandparents’ roof where she shared a bedroom with eight other people. Her life of poverty altered when she struck silver — on the silver screen, that is.

At fifteen years of age, Loren’s mother moved them to Rome to break into the industry. After several smaller films, Loren established herself as an “up-and-coming” actress as the star of The Gold of Naples (1953). Four years later, she acted alongside debonair actors, Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant in The Pride and the Passion (1957). But her most notorious role, one she drew on from personal experience, was in Two Women (1960), a film about a mother-daughter duo trying to stay afloat financially during World War II. Through this motion picture, Loren became the first actress to win the “Best Lead Actress” Academy Award in a foreign film.

Get Her Look

Besides being regarded as one of the “world’s all-time most attractive women,” Loren knew how to dress to accentuate her features, and her style continues to provide vacation inspiration today. From floppy hats to statement pearl necklaces, Loren knew how to properly spice up a summer dress. You can, too.

Walk the beach this summer in a flowy, floral summer dress similar to Loren’s. Add a flimsy hat, statement necklace and bold lipstick to embrace your inner Italian fashion guru!

Anna May Wong 

Known as Hollywood’s first Asian-American star, this silent film siren graced the films of Shanghai Express and The Toll of the Sea (1922), an Academy Award-winning Technicolor rendition of the musical, Madame Butterfly. Due to her heritage and the stereotypes that sprung from the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), Anna May Wong dealt with discrimination from her days in school to the screen, despite being born an American citizen.

Rather than landing roles as the benevolent protagonist, Wong either was cast as the vixen-like villain who attempted to steal love from the Caucasian lead or did not find love whatsoever. Similarly, when positive Asian roles were available, such as “Star Blossom” in The Son-Daughter, Wong was regarded as being “too-Chinese” for the part. Despite her hardships, Wong displayed her talents in the roles given to her. That sort of perseverance and can-do attitude is something women of any background can deeply admire.

Get Her Look

Wong may have been better known as the Lotus flower of Hollywood, but she was also the Jasmine flower of jewelry. The actress truly knew how to play up a simple ensemble with many statement rings, fun headpieces and standout necklaces.

We can thank Wong for the new embellishment trend that will be this summer’s staple. You cannot go Wong (pun completely intended) with Anna May’s signature pearl headband. Move over, Blair Waldorf.

Dorothy Dandridge

dorothy dandridge

Portrait of Dorothy Dandridge in “Island in the Sun” directed by Robert Rossen

During an era where most women of color were cast as background characters, Dorothy Dandridge proved that her skin color looked best directly under the limelight. In fact, Dandridge turned down a role in The King and I (1956), because she refused to play a slave. She starred as the lead in blockbuster titles like Carmen Jones (1954) and Porgy and Bess (1959).

Dandridge even became the first African-American woman to be nominated for Best Actress and graced the cover of Life Magazine a year later.

Get Her Look

In addition to being a stellar actress and singer, Dandridge was also an impeccable dresser who we can thank for our recent favorite trend: the off-the-shoulder. From dresses to tops, Dorothy taught us modern women that showing off your neckline and shoulders are foolproof style strategies to communicate “I’m attractive and classy.”

In Carmen Jones, Dandridge wore an off-the-shoulder black top with statement hoops and high-waist red trousers with a matching flower hairpin for a tropical look. You can beat the heat in Dandridge’s “cold shoulder” top this summer with similar pairings.

Which of these styles do you prefer?

Featured image of Dorothy Dandridge; LIFE Magazine

Kristin is a fashion/entertainment journalist with a passion for storytelling through visual and written narratives. Currently Darling’s Online Editorial Intern, she enjoys profiling industry creatives and uncovering how individual experiences can inspire and bring knowledge to the masses. In addition, she has a love affair with the literary powers of style. A forward thinker with a vintage soul, you can find her reading fairytales and British literature in quaint coffee shops or perusing museums in the pursuit of outfit inspiration for her fashion blog. Previous work includes covering London Fashion Week, profiling New York Time’s bestselling author Pierce Brown and former Executive Assistant to Ronald Reagan, Peggy Grande.

  • Otilia Ellingwood February 21, 2018

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  • Art January 13, 2018

    Maybe you could interview this guy. A man in his early 50’s with a savant type mind. Has an “encyclopedic” knowledge of all the old movie stars and who and what they did.. His name is Jeff Gilbert out of Sonoma, California. A radio host. Jeff’s Joynt. Does incredible impersonations of the old stars.

  • Paul goldston July 23, 2017

    I had a mother who was a dressy kind of lady and was a beat dresser even she had always purse gloves and hat to church and if going to a play same thing she was old school some girls need some fashion tips from my mother would told them dress meat not tacky as the girls do today they have no class . Etcetera

  • Paul goldston July 23, 2017

    If must go to picnic wearing capris sandals or sneakers tee shirt and baseball hat or if sit down soiree nice slacks and ballet slippers if formal basic cocktail dress with pearls and Sabrina heels give the 50 or 60 look

  • Ooh I love May Ann Wong! It’s probably because I’m Chinese myself, but I really do relate to her. Her photo is gorgeous too!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    • Lana July 22, 2017

      Great article, though you could’ve included a bit more background on Dorothy Dandridge, nothing on her background or how she ended up in show business?? Her section fell a little flat when she’s just as well known as Sophia Loren.