Elsie de Wolfe, Older Icon from the 1920s

Ladies Home Journal, May 1927

Elsie de Wolfe, the famed interior designer, lied about her age.  According to the birth date on her passport, which many questioned, she was at least 57 years old when she was featured in a Ladies Home Journal fashion spread in 1927.  Unless you knew who she was, you might not identify her as an older woman in the photos. Small and slim, she was able to wear the straight, dropped-waist styles of the 1920s with ease.  She ignored much of the fashion advice given to mature women at the time, which was to cover up and wear darker colors.  Instead, she bared her arms and favored beiges and grays.  Her fashion code was simple: clean lines and lots of jewels, “real if you can afford it—if not there are plenty of attractive imitations.”  A trend setter on many levels, de Wolfe popularized blue hair and lap dogs.  She carefully regulated her diet and developed a rigorous exercise routine, wearing special workout shorts made by the fashion designer Molyneux.    

However, de Wolfe’s look was far beyond the reach of most older women.  The problem was not only money, since few could afford the Parisian clothes she favored; it was also body type.  Dresses in the 1920s were designed with thin, straight figures in mind.  Normal shifts in the older female figure, which increases belly and breast sizes, distorted the straight up and down flapper silhouette.  Even many well-endowed younger women also had trouble in getting the right look in the stylish clothes of the era.  De Wolfe could be a fashion icon because she embodied the new ideal of slim fitness, where body size was more important than age. 

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