The Power of Glamour

The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion

By Virginia Postrel

Glamour magazine talks about trendy fashions, beauty tips, and ce- lebrity news, supporting the common notion of glamour being more or less the same as beauty, style and celebrity. In The Power of Glam- our, the pop intellectual Virginia Postrel argues that glamour is some- thing more elusive – and more powerful – than a starlet wearing the fashion of the day.

Why does Angelina Jolie look glamorous while sitting barefoot on a wooden boat in a swamp, wearing dishwater-colored linen and seem- ing to forget the Louis Vuittion bag that sits beside her? The fact that she is Angelina Jolie is part of it. But according to Postrel’s fascinating deconstruction of the glamour concept, the scene is glamorous because it triggers all sorts of “inarticulate longing” in the mind of the viewer. Angelina appears to be in Cambodia or the Amazon. These places are difficult to reach even in the twenty-first century. We might love to travel there – if we were as rich and courageous as she is. She stares pensively into the distance, appearing to contemplate deep thoughts about nature or Cambodian refugees – which we would love to think about too if we had more time. Angelina makes sitting in a swamp seem “effortless,” a key element of glamour according to Postrel. She does not appear to try, yet she has it all: she visits the Amazon with- out the bugs, she travels without luggage, she even has good hair on a humid morning.

If Angelina were sitting in a ballgown at the Paris Opera look- ing straight at the camera she would look less glamorous, because everything about the scene is more attainable and less mysterious. Glamour reflects the most difficult-to-attain aspirations of its era, ac- cording to Postrel (who notes that divorce was glamorized in 1930s films). It therefore changes constantly. In a few years the appeal of being an intrepid human rights ambassador may lesson, and Annie Leibovitz’s famous swamp-portrait for Louis Vuitton will lose some of its glamour.

Glamour is “nonverbal rhetoric which moves and persuades not through words but through images,” Postrel writes. “By binding im- age and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning. It leads us to feel that the life we dream of exists, and to desire it even more … It intensifies a preexisting but previously incho- ate yearning.” It relies on mystery. What is it, exactly, that Angelina is staring at? What is Jackie thinking behind the smile? What is hidden behind the gleaming skin of the Chrysler building? Jackie Kennedy, the Chrysler building, and Moleskine notebooks are some of Postrel’s examples.

The book is written like a lecture: clear and full of colorful examples. She chooses 14 subjects for mini-essays, and these are more entertain- ing than the text. Among them are Smoking, Shanghai, The Princess, The Aviator, The Suntan, and The Window (where she addresses why people always look more glamorous staring out of windows).

Our take

Jewellery, handbags, food, drinks, cosmetics, cigarettes, and clothing are some of products sold through an appeal to glamour. The sale of many Consumer AlphaTM products requires an evocation of glamour somewhere in their marketing. This accessible book makes sense of a concept that “sells penthouses and cruises, sports cars and high-heeled shoes,” and yet is more ambiguous than style.

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