Over the past few weeks, I watched the Golden Globes and Emmy Award shows. In both programs, I was struck by the excess and extravagance of the stars’ attire. Necklines plunged lower. Slits were slit higher. False eyelashes were longer. Heels were stiltier. Sequins, ruffles, puffy sleeves, and glitter ruled the evenings. Some gowns were so wide that awardees had difficulty navigating their way to the stage. People literally had to get up off their chairs and find a place to move aside to enable awardees to pass. One dress was so wide that it pretty much matched the circumference of the table.
Revealing apparel is not limited to awards shows. Increasingly, you see movie stars on beaches in bathing suits which are almost nonexistent. In current movies and non-cable TV series, stars are often nude. Even professional broadcast journalists sometimes adopt the plunging neckline look, or the cut-out sleeve that leaves little to the imagination.
Such excess makes me long for the days of Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Ingrid Bergman. These stars exuded class and sophistication. Yet they also managed to convey strong sensuality and appeal.
Dressing “appropriately” for various venues is complicated. The attempt to look as good as possible for as long as possible is admirable. People are exercising more, taking care of their hair and skin, eating healthier, joining fitness clubs, etc. These are all exemplary actions. But so is discretion and good taste. Many movie stars opt to forgo “good taste” and instead seek to use dress as a means to gain attention and press. Just check out social media and People magazine days after these award shows air.
The New York Times recently published an article entitled, “What Does It Mean to Dress your Age?” Its chief fashion critic, Vanessa Friedman, opined that, “Being more covered feels more practical and more elegant to me, and both these words (along with the corollary “pulled together”) suggest values I have come to appreciate.”
I just finished reading the novel Tom Lake by Ann Patchett. (The audiobook is read by Meryl Streep.) The plot of this novel revolves around a woman who was an actress for a brief time more than 20 years ago. During that time, she fell in love with an unknown star who later became a Hollywood sensation. The young actress realizes her talent is limited and opts to marry a man who owns a cherry orchard in Traverse City, Michigan. She raises three daughters there and lives a healthy life filled with simple pleasures and wonderful memories.
The novel, which I highly recommend, does an excellent job of depicting the shallowness of Hollywood life. The never-ending efforts to look younger, be more provocative, etc., and the inevitable sadness and emptiness that often results from being consumed with those values.
I must admit that when I watched those two award shows, I felt sad. I watch these programs because I often learn of a program that I was not aware of or a movie that I should put on my must-watch list. (I highly recommend Past Lives, Oppenheimer, Killers of the Flower Moon, The Holdovers, Netflix’s The Bear, and Apple TV’s Slow Horses.) This year I kept thinking about how much effort it takes to stay matchstick thin; affix those eyelashes that have become longer and longer over the years; decide how much lower that neckline should plunge; figure out how to hold up that backless gown, and so much more. And then I thought about how little time is left for more substantive, more meaningful endeavors.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.” Thank you, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Sophia Loren, and Meryl Streep. Your examples of ageless beauty are truly inspiring.
Maria Grant was principal-in-charge of the Federal Human Capital practice of an international consulting firm. While on the Eastern Shore, she focuses on writing, reading, gardening, piano, kayaking and nature.