Style Icon: Marlene Dietrich

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Jean Harlow, Mae West, Bette Davis – Old Hollywood is just overflowing in glamorous women with their sleek gowns, their manicured hair, their impeccable taste. Although their elegant looks all send my heart aflutter, there is only one star who mastered the ability to make any outfit – be it a tuxedo, a suit, or a skirt and shirt – the epitome of sultry style. Without further ado, I introduce to you a glimpse into the style of Marlene Dietrich.

Dietrich (b.1901, d.1992) was a German born actress and performer who took her day and age by storm, not only through film, but also through fashion. At a time when women seldom stepped out of a skirt, Marlene embraced menswear fashion head on, defying societal norms. She wore what she liked, without a care to critique. I can’t help but admire her gutsy approach to fashion and her steadfast devotion to her own unique taste, which is exemplified in the following Dietrich quote: “I dress for myself. Not for the image, not for the public, not for the fashion, not for men.”

Read on to find out more about Marlene’s willful and wonderful style.

This image and the one at top are quintessential examples of Marlene’s menswear-inspired style.  To say “menswear-inspired” is, in fact, nearly inaccurate. Marlene took genuine menswear items – tuxedos, top hats, ties and pants (at the time, a men’s garment) – and tailored them to her feminine form. With her high-waisted trousers, dinner jackets, bow ties, and the like, Dietrich cultivated a uniquely sexy and powerful look. Today’s recent resurgence in menswear-influenced fashion, as mirrored in items such as the Walk the Line Top and the High Powered Pants, tips its theoretical hat in acknowlegement to Marlene’s trendsetting style.

Though Marlene is most noted for her sensual take on masculine dress, she also was an expert at constructing fabulously feminine looks. Here, Marlene plays up her curvy silhouette with a figure-hugging suit. The frilly bib at her bust gives a softer, more girlish touch to the svelte, sleek shape of her suit, while high heels and stockings hail directly from women’s fashion. Only the wide-brimmed hat, with its fedora-like shape, hearkens to men’s fashion, adding just the perfect twist to an otherwise standard women’s outfit.

Here Marlene calls upon textures and materials to capture an, as always, alluring look. With sheer organza-like fabric and a sea of muted sequins, this formal look is hands-down glamorous. Tousled hair and a large fan add elements of unique charm to this evening ensemble.

Never afraid to be daring, Dietrich also wore her share of show-stopping pieces, such as this coat. Thanks to its full train, nipped waist, and elegant 30s style cut, this is the ultimate garment to flatter Marlene’s feminine form. What I love most about this coat, however, is its unabashed use of volume. The high, decadent collar, over-sized bell sleeves, and wide, circular hem give this garment a sculptural quality worthy of an art museum. Volume such as this is an oft under-appreciated way to add flair to your style.  Architectural fashion, like seen in the Pump Up The Volume Dress and The Strata Dress, is something Dietrich knew how to use to her advantage.

Can you think of anyone whose fashion choices are evocative of Dietrich’s consummate style? Do you like the current menswear trend?

11 Responses to Style Icon: Marlene Dietrich

  1. roxanne rosenbaum 08/12/2009 at 5:01 pm #

    Love Dietrich!!

    Especially when she played a saloon girl with Jimmy Stewart in “Destry Rides Again”

  2. roxanne rosenbaum 08/12/2009 at 5:01 pm #

    Love Dietrich!!

    Especially when she played a saloon girl with Jimmy Stewart in “Destry Rides Again”

  3. Shannon 08/12/2009 at 9:01 pm #

    Love Dietrich’s style. Until now, I never realized how well Maggie Gyllenhaal echos her look!

  4. Charlene 08/13/2009 at 2:24 am #

    I personally think that women wearing men’s tailored clothing can be very sexy, it shows a masculine edge that’s streamlined with a feminine confidence. I never knew that Marlene Dietrich dressed this way, and I fully applaud her for it!

  5. Rachel C 08/13/2009 at 7:33 am #

    Great post! I love all those old-fashioned Hollywood glamour stars! I’ll sit by myself and watch all the old movies and just drool over how utterly cool and collected they are.

  6. Jade Langley 08/13/2009 at 8:43 am #

    LOVE! I love men’s wear like you would believe. My style ranges from super girly wing-tip heels to Ziggy Stardust androgyny. I an so inspired by this post, I need to run out and pick up a pair of oxfords!

  7. Jade Langley 08/13/2009 at 8:43 am #

    LOVE! I love men’s wear like you wouldnt believe. My style ranges from super girly wing-tip heels to Ziggy Stardust androgyny. I an so inspired by this post, I need to run out and pick up a pair of oxfords!

  8. Kiri Palm 08/13/2009 at 12:56 pm #

    Jade: I love the phrase ‘Ziggy Stardust androgyny’. Fantastic. 🙂

    Marlene Dietrich is right up there with Katherine Hepburn in my book of best female stylists. I spend most of my life in pants (I work in a dusty, cold theatre) and it was long past time for ladies to be wearing the pants in the world. And without the menswear trend, could I really rock high-heeled Oxfords? Let’s focus on the important things in life. 🙂

  9. Lola 09/05/2009 at 5:18 pm #

    Marlene Dietrich “Glamour is assurance. It is a kind of knowing that you are all right in every way, mentally and physically and in appearance, and that, whatever the occasion or the situation, you are equal to it.” Gotta love her! She was the ultimate trendsetter in my opinion.

  10. Savannah 09/06/2009 at 4:53 pm #

    dear style icon writer,
    could ya PLEEEASE do a feature on regina spektor? her style is fantastic.

  11. Annabel 10/12/2009 at 10:03 am #

    marlene dietrich is tottally hot!
    i’m in love with her!
    she is just the example of elegance en feminity just how al women should be!!

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