Every year people can expect to see the top celebrities wearing the latest and greatest in fashion. Style is something that’s interchangeable and full of history with countless changes over time. A lot of the things famous people wore have actually made a comeback in current fashion trends.
Famous starlets such as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Jean Harlow changed the style game during the Golden Age of Hollywood by being bold, confident, and matching their outfits to their large personalities. These are the most iconic style icons of the 20th century going year by year.
1930: Bette Davis
In 1930 one of the most prolific style icons was actress Bette Davis. Most of her outfits during this time defined old Hollywood glamour and even inspired a Ryan Murphy TV show called Feud about her rivalry with Joan Crawford. Studios wanted Davis in their films so much that she ended up being one of the highest-paid actresses of the 1930s.
Some of her signature pieces included satin heels, silk gowns, large overcoats, and a blonde bob haircut. She knew she would be a force to reckoned with telling a biographer that “a bolt of lightning hit a tree in front of the house the moment I was born.”
1931: Marlene Dietrich
As Marlene Dietrich got older she surprised her fans by admitting that if it were up to her all she’d wear would be jeans and a t-shirt because clothes bored her. This came as a shock because she was one of the most legendary style icons, especially known for her androgynous tuxedo costume in the film Morocco.
Dietrich only dressed to keep up her image of a sophisticated Hollywood star who loved posing for the camera. Her signature style can best be described as masculine with outfits such as wide-leg trousers and big fur coats. She thought she had an unusual shape with “broad shoulders and narrow hips.”
1932: Jean Harlow
Some may argue that Marilyn Monroe was the first blonde bombshell, but style experts suggest it was actually Jean Harlow. Her look consisted of thin eyebrows, pouty lips, and platinum, wavy blonde hair. She is the originator of the term “platinum blonde” after director Howard Hughes used it to strengthen her image during the shooting of Hell’s Angels.
Harlow could usually be seen wearing low-cut satin gowns that were so tight on her body that she would have a hard time sitting down on set. She was once overheard saying, “My God, must I always wear a low-cut dress to be important?”
1933: Joan Crawford
It’s hard to forget Bette Davis’ one true rival, the 1930s style icon Joan Crawford. She’s remembered for her thick eyebrows, broad shoulders, and overall campy outfits. Crawford often worked with studio designer Adrian Adolph Greenburg and set several style trends including the “Letty Lynton dress.”
The lavish, ruffled shoulders set the dress apart from many others and became in high demand among different social classes at the height of the stock market crash. She was a complete fashion chameleon by drastically changing her outward appearance each decade.
1934: Vivien Leigh
Vivien Leigh was well-known for her leading role in the Oscar-winning film Gone with the Wind and was almost always photographed in the most exquisite clothes. Her style was appropriate for the time, sensitive to colors, proportionate, full of texture, and always matched her sophisticated personality.
Even at the height of five foot three, she could pull off some of the most elaborate gowns in her movies and at Hollywood functions. Her private life was a bit different because she opted for a more casual look of high-waisted trousers and cotton blouses.
1935: Ginger Rogers
Feminist Ann Richards once said, “Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in heels.” Rogers was a triple threat able to expertly act, sing, and dance her way through Hollywood. On-screen she wore sparkling gowns that would easily twist and twirl as she moved.
One of her most striking features was her hair, which almost never looked the same twice. Most of her hairstyles matched her moods such as a sleek, pulled back look for a red carpet or light waves for a big musical number.
1936: Carole Lombard
By the late 1930s, Carole Lombard was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood and could often be seen wearing elaborate hats, long silk dresses, and large furs. She mostly acted in “screwball comedy” films and is recognized for her platinum blonde waves, high arched brows, and defined cheekbones.
She was famously married to one of Hollywood’s biggest actors at the time, Clark Gable, and the two of them were considered to be the power couple of the decade. Lombard was often dressed by Travis Banton, Paramount Pictures’ head designer, who would style her in fitted silhouette dresses with long trains.
1937: Barbara Hutton
Barbara Hutton is now compared to the likes of Paris Hilton and the Kardashians because of her life as a famous heiress. Even though she had more money than she knew what to do with she grew up with some pretty unfortunate circumstances. From as early as she could remember she was obsessed with precious gems.
At one point she made her father get her a Cartier ruby that cost $50,000 but would later come into contact with some of the rarest jewelry pieces in the world including a pearl necklace that belonged to Marie Antoinette.
1938: Greta Garbo
Greta Garbo started her career in silent Swedish films and was soon discovered by Hollywood filmmakers. Her style was quite unique at the time as she would be seen wearing sequin head wraps, slinky evening gowns, extravagant fur coats, and thin, arching eyebrows.
This photo shows Garbo in one of designer Adrian Adolph Greenberg’s most lavish gowns as a World War I spy in Mata Hari. It came with a long, shimmering gown covered in beads with a matching headdress and dangling earrings. It reportedly weighed over 50 pounds and is now worth almost $30,000.
1939: Katharine Hepburn
During the late 1930s, Katharine Hepburn made some bold fashion choices. At the time women were expected to look a certain way, mainly in tailored dresses and heels, but she found ways to work around convention. Hepburn could often be seen in blazers with large shoulder pads, collared shirts, wide-legged trousers, and loafers.
Her androgynous, sporty, and casual style was effortless and chic and inspired countless fashion designers for years to come. Now, menswear is often seen in popular women’s fashion thanks to her desire to put comfort over glamour.
1940: Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr wasn’t just a pretty face. While she was an actress with powerful fashion statements she was also very intelligent because she invented technology during World War II that would be the building blocks for WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, and more. Her gorgeous and exotic looks inspired the characters of Snow White and Catwoman.
She once said, “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” After Lamarr starred in Samson and Delilah numerous women requested to get the same hairstyle and make-up she wore in the movie.
1941: Barbara Stanwyck
There was quite a divide in what actress Barbara Stanwyck wore on and off-screen. In the 1930s and 1940s, she was known for playing the female lead in emotional dramas and could be seen in evening gowns, structured suits, and an effortless pinned back hairstyle.
She spent her time away from set at her horse-breeding ranch and would wear tailored blouses, wide trousers, riding pants, and ties. By 1944 Stanwyck was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood and went on to star in numerous movies, television, and theatre roles.
1942: Ingrid Bergman
When Ingrid Bergman first arrived in Hollywood a famous movie producer told her she wouldn’t make it because “her eyebrows were too thick and her teeth were no good.” She soon proved him wrong by earning the lead in 1942’s Casablanca. Throughout her career, Bergman opted to stray from the norm.
She rarely chose to wear designer clothes and her style consisted of flat shoes because heels hurt her back, minimal makeup, slim-tailored skirts, button-down blouses, and brimmed hats. A lot of her costumes in Casablanca were modeled after her personal wardrobe.
1943: Rita Hayworth
Rita Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino to a mother who was a dancer and a father who was a Spanish-born performer. As she started her career in showbusiness she took the advice of her first husband and manager to change her name and dye her hair lighter to appeal to audiences.
One of the colors Hayworth loved to incorporate in her everyday looks was white because she thought it made her stand out in black and white films. Her other signature looks included off-the-shoulder dresses, high-waisted bottoms, glitter evening gowns, and red lipstick. She was even voted best lips several times in the 1940s.
1944: Ava Gardner
Some may only remember Ava Gardner for her high-profile relationships with famous celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Howard Hughes, and Ernest Hemingway, but she also had a lot of memorable fashion moments. Gardner would often wear tailored suits with padded shoulders and large fur coats, but her signature style focused on emphasizing her tiny waist.
She usually gravitated toward the color blue, so many of her portraits feature her in luxurious blue evening gowns tailored to perfection. She didn’t always go for the glamour and knew how to keep it casual with button-up white shirts and high-waisted shorts.
1945: Ann Sheridan
Ann Sheridan was known for her down-to-earth leading roles opposite stars such as Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Errol Flynn, and George Raft. She despised her nickname of “The Oomph Girl,” which was given to her because she was a pin-up girl.
She grew up a tomboy doing things such as riding horses, playing football, and working on cars, but as she got older the femininity in her clothing started to come out. Her looks were usually polished with knee-length fitted dresses, closed-toed heels, silk head wraps, and blazers. In the early 50s, she was named one of the eight best-dressed women in America by the Fashion Academy of New York.
1946: Gene Tierney
Someone who embodies the ideal image of 1940’s glamour is actress Gene Tierney. Her outfits were simple, but elegant once they were completed. Some of her staple looks included designer gowns, pearl or diamond necklaces, and hues of bright red and deep green spread throughout her wardrobe.
The film that best represents her style is Leave Her to Heaven. Tierney played a beautiful, yet troubled young woman who interacted with a famous novelist (Cornel Wilde). Viewers couldn’t take their eyes off Tierney in outfits such as green and pink silk pajamas and a color-blocked red and white pantsuit specially embroidered for her role.
1947: Lana Turner
Lana Turner didn’t know what to expect after getting discovered at a local soda fountain when she was ditching school, but it soon turned into a whirlwind career. She was almost always found wearing a 40s wave hairstyle, tea-length skirts, and furs, becoming a style icon for some of today’s biggest performers including Madonna and Lana Del Rey.
Her daughter Cheryl Crane said her mother “had presence, style, and beauty, but was also very approachable.” Crane also confessed that Turner would always be dressed as if there were cameras everywhere with her make-up and hair done no matter the time or place.
1948: Lauren Bacall
Since Lauren Bacall’s nickname was “The Look” it meant that she was one of Hollywood’s most popular fashion icons of the late 1940s. Style experts found that her look was never try-hard, but always glamorous. Most of her outfits included silk blouses, blazers, pencil skirts, and sharply creased trousers.
After getting discovered by the editor of Harper’s Bazaar at 16 she soon became an actress most known for her role in To Have and Have Not opposite husband Humphrey Bogart. When she walked into a room people would immediately be in awe of her presence due to her deep, confident voice, strong gaze, and perfectly kept wavy hair.
1949: Betty Grable
Betty Grable considered her most valuable body part to be her legs and even had them insured for one million dollars. Her acting career included movies such as Mother Wore Tights, How to Marry a Millionaire, and Meet Me After the Show and the fame she received from her roles made her one of the top 1940s pin-up girls.
She was able to act alongside many of her fellow style icons including Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe. Grable’s hair was usually worn in a tight curl up-do and she would wear silk sweetheart dresses, high-waisted shorts, and kitten heels.