Clara Bow came into my life when I was a teen. My parents had a coffee table book about actors of the first half of the 20th century. It had a provocative cover featuring many stars of early Hollywood. Some I recognized from the old movies shown on television on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, but many were unknown to me. One intriguing face belonged to Clara Bow.

Clara Bow Changes the Game in Hollywood

Clara Bow low back gown

Clara Bow was a film star of Hollywood’s silent age of cinema; a fresh and sexy young woman who possessed a certain charisma on screen. As a teen, she entered ‘The Fame and Fortune Contest.’ First prize was a part in a movie. She was looked down upon by the other contestants and ignored by the judges because she showed up wearing ragged clothes, but she was undeterred. Once she lit up the screen during her test, she won the contest by a unanimous decision. Although this wasn’t the catalyst to stardom she wanted, it was the start of her journey.

Clara Bow in low cut back dress

She was said to have ‘It,’ a word coined for that universal appeal she had on screen and the somewhat innocent sensuality she portrayed in the movie of the same name in 1927. Women wanted to be like her. There was no looking back once she took scissors to her work dress and turned it into what she wore to dinner with her boss. Women wanted to wear the same type of garment. She was the personification of the Flapper of the Roaring 20s. Henna sales increased so women could have red hair like hers. Women copied her makeup; penciled eyebrows and cupid’s bow lips.

Just like the roar came to a stop at the end of the decade, Clara Bow’s career came to a stop with the advent of the talkies. But, her Brooklyn accent wasn’t her only downfall. She was afraid of having to learn lines. She was also too honest when she spoke about her life. Clara was plagued by gossip and a high-profile court case involving embezzlement by her secretary.

Leaving ‘It’ All Behind

Although she appeared alongside Gary Cooper in Wings, the first film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, by 1931, she was done with Hollywood. By 1933, Hollywood was done with her. She married Rex Bell, who was also and actor, in 1931. They lived on a ranch in Nevada where they raised two children.

Clara Bow was born into poverty in Brooklyn, New York, in 1905. She died of a heart attack in obscurity in 1965. But, she left behind an indelible mark on Hollywood and fashion.

Recollections has a wide assortment of fashions from the 1920s, including those below!

Gallery updated 3/14/19

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