When I think of glamour, I instantly think about high fashion, expensive jewelry, someone like Jackie Kennedy or Audrey Hepburn. But when I opened critically acclaimed author Virginia Postrel’s new book and started reading, I realized it was much, much more than these stereotypes. In provocative detail with more than one hundred illustrations, Postrel (The Substance of Style) separates glamour from glitz, revealing what qualities make a person, an object, a setting, or an experience glamorous.
Glamour is more of a sense of longing, a promise of escape and transformation. Glamour assumes some level of discontent in your life. It is an illusion, a magical spell and it hides any difficulties–cost, distraction–that detract from our dreams.
Postrel does a fabulous job analyzing the deeper significance of the glamorous people and places that have shaped the last century of American culture. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter of THE POWER OF GLAMOUR, which I am sure will pique your interest in how glamour influences our everyday choices.
by Virginia Postrel
When she was four years old, Michaela DePrince saw a picture that changed her life. Then known as Mabinty Bangura, she was living in an orphanage in Sierra Leone; her father had been murdered during the country’s civil war, and her mother had starved to death. Even among the orphans the little girl was an outcast, deemed an unadoptable “devil child” because of her rebellious personality and the vitiligo that left white patches on her dark skin.
One day, a discarded Western magazine blew against the orphan- age’s fence, carrying with it an image from a mysterious and distant world. “There was a lady on it, she was on her tippy-toes, in this pink, beautiful tutu,” DePrince recalls. “I had never seen anything like this—a costume that stuck out with glitter on it. . . . I could just see the beauty in that person and the hope and the love and just everything that I didn’t have.” She thought, “This is what I want to be.” Entranced by the photo, the little girl ripped off the magazine’s cover and hid it in her underwear. Every night she would gaze at it and dream. The image of the graceful, smiling ballerina “represented freedom, it represented hope, it represented trying to live a little longer. . . . Seeing it completely saved me,” she says. She yearned “to become this exact person.”
DePrince was lucky. Adopted by an American couple not long after she found the magazine, she showed her new mother the tattered clipping and began studying ballet when she settled in New Jersey. By age seven she was already dancing en pointe, and in 2012, at seventeen, she joined the Dance Theatre of Harlem as a professional ballerina. “I just moved along fast,” she says, “because I was so determined to be like that person on the magazine.”