Style Icon: Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow 3 March 1911 - 7 June 1937

Firstly I have to thank you for your for all the comments about the previous Style Icon posts (If you missed them I will add links at the end don't worry) I guess in a world that can often seem to be full of doom and gloom we still love and perhaps need a bit of glamour. A bit of sparkle and glitz. Whether your budget is Oxfam or Dior you can take inspiration from the style queens of the past. With the Oscars fast approaching I thought we'd take a look at Jean Harlow as a style icon today.

Often evening wear can appear very thirties inspired with its timeless and elegant lines. Jean Harlow certainly added a whole lot of sexiness to what could be a demur look. When you hear the words ' blonde bombshell' you'd be forgiven for thinking of Marilyn Monroe but Jean Harlow is often referred to as the 'original blonde bombshell'.

Born in Kansas City Missouri  Harlean Harlow Carpenter (Harlow was her mothers maiden name) to a father (Mont Clair Carpenter ) who was a dentist and a mother ( Jean Poe Carpenter) who was the daughter of a rich real estate broker, her childhood was not always the happiest with her parents having an unhappy marriage and finally divorcing in 1922 when Jean Harlow was just eleven. She went to live with her mother, single parenthood, like binge drinking is really nothing new.

Researching this post has been so interesting, in 1923 the pair moved to Hollywood because Jean's MOTHER had aspirations to pursue an acting career but her hopes were dashed, as at 34 she was considered too old! Struggling for money, her wealthy father ordered her to come home or be disinherited.

Funny isn't it? At 34  (that's my age!) you're past it and can't become an actress but your parents can still control you.... that's also something that isn't a new phenomenon. It's said that her father actually arranged the marriage that she had left, so it's no surprise that she wanted to escape the life she had been placed into and it must have been soul destroying to have the door of Hollywood closed in her face.

Eventually they had no choice but to return  'home' but Harlow's mother never stopped wanting a better life for herself and her daughter. Jean Harlow went on to drop out of high school in 1925. Harlow's mother sent her back to a different school where Jean went on to meet her her husband who within a few months of marriage he received a large inheritance which rocketed Jean Harlow on to the socialite scene. It's said neither of them worked, living on the inheritance money enabled them both to party and drink heavily.

Jean Harlow's 'break' was purely down being in the right place at the right time, allegedly she was just sitting in a car having agreed to keep a friend company as she attended an appointment at Fox Studios. The story goes that and executive walked past the car as she sat alone waiting for her friend to return, he was quite taken with her and so approached her about auditioning for some parts. She said no and that she wasn't interested! But the executive, not wanting to take no for an answer gave her some details and during a conversation with her friend later that day a bet was made that she wouldn't dare go back and audition! Pushed by her mother to do it, she returned and was signed and began using the name Jean Harlow.

I wonder how her mother would have felt at that? Thrilled? A little envious may be? Starting off as a paid but uncredited extra, Jean Harlow's climb to success seems to have had a lot to do with her pushy mum  from all the pieces I've read. But what a career she went on to have despite dying so young at the age of just twenty six.

Her hair was dyed blonder and blonder as the years passed and Harlow's striking platinum blonde look was so sought after that sales of hydrogen peroxide in America trebled during the thirties (I wonder how many of those sales ended in injury?!)

Jean Harlow went on to be married a further two times with husband number two committing suicide. Jean Harlow was chief suspect at first and it was thought that she had shot him herself. The death was judged to be suicide in the end though and whilst is was a big Hollywood scandal it didn't harm her career at all and she continued headlining  films alongside big stars including James Stewart and Clark Gable right up until her death in 1937 from kidney failure. As always there are a million rumours out there that claim this is a cover up and that she died from alcoholism, an abortion gone wrong and a whole host of other issues.


A short but intriguing life, when I think Jean Harlow I think if full on glamour and decadence. Silky gowns and robes trimmed with marabou. If you have the urge to take inspiration from the thirties then for a Hollywood inspired evening look, think long floor sweeping bias cut satin/silk gowns, chiffon dresses where the material is layered to create a waterfall/floaty effect. Think swooshy and graceful.

'' You can't slouch in them or walk heavily in an ungainly manner. You have to hold your head high to give them the right line''  - Jean Harlow gives advice on bias cut dresses.

Red dress  from Debenhams was £150, reduced to £75online price £45

Blue dress from Girl Meets Dress from £109 (for two nights HIRE!) A great way to be a 30's goddess in a dress that has an rrp of £700 ! click the link and go to the website to see how dress hire works.

You can keep jewellery quite simple or do what I did when I attended a thirties cocktail party and go for some waterfall diamond earrings..... straight from Primark!

Dress from Debenhams - Their evening wear is really superb.

Never have I worn a pair of earrings that got so much attention, and gasps when I said they were from Primark!

My hair is actually quite long but I've set it and gripped it into a faux bob - really easy to do. I'll cover thirties inspired hair in a separate post but in the mean time here are some links to some thirties themed cocktail parties I've attended which you may inspire you even further.

What makes a cocktail party a marvelous one?

1930s cocktails and glamour

Below you will find the two other Style Icon posts I mentioned earlier.

Style Icon: Louise Brooks

Style Icon: Elizabeth Taylor


  1. She was just so elegant and glamarous! great post, really enjoyed reading it! X

  2. I don't think I realised quite how young she was when she died - very sad.

    Those earrings of yours truly are amazing though!

    ***Faith Hope and Charity Shopping first blogiversary giveaway open now***

  3. I do believe Monroe based her look on this very lady. She used to watch her movies when she was a child and often said Harlow was her inspiration.

    I love Jean Harlow - but have yet to see any of her work. For shame.

    Fab post :)

  4. Oh my! I didn't realise she was that young when she died! How tragic!

    I love 1930s glamour for an evening! My prom dress was a handmade 1930s dress in emerald green inspired by Keira Knightley in 'Atonement'.

  5. I love her- she has a real air of tough beauty and grit, ironic considering her relatively financially stable upbringing!


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