The perfect loveliness of Elizabeth Taylor’s astonishing face remains unquestioned, of course. But did she really receive a lifetime achievement award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in 1998 for her fashion sense? In the days following her death, there has been heated, interesting debate about her merits as an actress but, honestly, when it came to being well-dressed, she was rarely a winner. Even Liz herself admitted and revelled in her own unquenchable, glorious life-loving vulgarity, which she said, like Dolly Parton, was what people loved about her.
She was fabulous living proof that neither fabulous beauty or wealth could buy good taste.
We must not forget, however, that she did have some influential style moments onscreen, when certain of her costumes were avidly copied all over the world by women of all ages.
her A PLACE IN THE SUN evening gown with its white velvet violet-trimmed bodice, designed by Edith Head, that was THE prom dress of 1951. White really was her go-to color onscreen. Almost her entire, beautiful wardrobe for ELEPHANT WALK (1954), in which she replaced an ailing Vivien Leigh was in that virginal shade.
her Helen Rose-designed gown in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1958) which inspired 100s of rip-offs, and was so similar to Marilyn Monroe’s most famous movie gown from THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH the year before, designed by William Travilla
and, when it came to working a simple white slip, Liz reigned supreme
then there was that infamous Jean Louis white bathing suit in SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER
and, of course, for better or worse, there was CLEOPATRA, with its BHBC (Beverly Hills Before Christ) “Ancient Egyptian” garb by Irene Sharaff, which also had every woman (and drag queen) in the world making with fishtail eye pencil effects
But oh! when left to her own devices, in private life, la Taylor rarely seemed to get it elegantly right. She was fond of satorial sore spots like ponchos which hideously foreshortened her, caftans which made her look heavier, feathers and spangled effects over which she would layer her mythic jewelry collection. And then there was the HAIR, which devolved from the butch pixie cut of 1950s, which only she, Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn could really pull off, to the sculpted and beehive architecture of the 1960s, and ending in those insane rat’s nest confections of her final decades which made you really wonder how (or if) she actually paid top dollar for them.
For pure, enduring vulgarity Taylor’s only real rival was Ginger Rogers, who looked so divine on screen mainly because costume designers used to keep her under locky and key, practically, to avoid her adding beads, fringe or corsages to their confections before going before the camera.
with Grace Kelly and Laraine Day at NY International Airport in 1955. Grace and Laraine are simply if somewhat boringly attired for travel, but there She is, sporting the Dior New Look she so favored, which never really favored her short legs and, by the mid-1950s, already burgeoning, once wasp waist
I much prefer what she wore, perhaps inspired by the gravity of the occasion, when she converted to Judaism and married Eddie Fisher a few years before. She looks like an ancient sculpture of a Roman matron.
at the Rothschild Proust Ball, Paris. Although Cecil Beaton took this portrait, in his diary he wrote the most vicious eyeball-scalding description of her ever penned, proving that when it came to bitchiness he simply had no peer
Her final marriage to Larry Fortensky was her final apotheosis of youth-clinging glamour girl which found its taste-challenged match in Fortensky, whose mullet rivalled his spouse’s legendary gallery of hair-don’ts
But let’s end this orgy of bad taste on a nice note. In all my memory, I recall her getting it perfectly right at one 1970s Oscar show.
And here she is, on the set of GIANT in 1955, in an ensemble thrown together to obviously beat the heat, which, ironically, has almost become everyday streetwear for women the world over.