Becoming the Blonde Bombshell

With the rise of the media throughout the early part of the 20th century, it was inevitable that it would give birth to starlets, first, of the silver screen – then of popular music. The public idolised these torchbearers of Hollywood glamour, the superstars of the time. As time has passed, many of these stars are remembered for their performances on stage and screen; but there are still a certain number of starlets that are still referenced for their beauty and their style. Undoubtedly, the key example of this kind of legacy is Marilyn Monroe. A pioneer of the “blonde bombshell” style, Marilyn’s platinum hair and red lips are still constantly referenced within modern media. Also, with the resurgance of 1940’s fashion in the past decade, the result has been more and more Monroe-a-likes in cities across the world; intergrating the look into street style more than ever.

But no matter how familiar these mini-Marilyns become on the street, there will also be superstars who also recycle the look time and time again. Perhaps the biggest advocate of this iconic look was the “Queen of Pop” herself. Madonna has steadily referenced the blonde hair/red lip of Marilyn since the late 1980’s – seemingly bringing the screen star back to life. But, she isn’t the only one. Debbie Harry, of Blondie, was also sporting the look during the New York punk scene; singers such as Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilieira used it during the nineties and countless actresses have adopted the look on the red carpet.

We should remember that Marilyn’s style wasn’t a result of personal experimentation, but instead a business-led decision by the movie studios at the time. Even the term blonde bombshell originated with Jean Harlow in 1939, long before Marilyn took centre stage. But what seems to keep Marilyn alive as the definitive blonde bombshell is the success that she enjoyed. Marilyn became the goddess of Hollywood fame, success and glamour. According to biographer Sarah Churchwell, “blondeness’s most obvious association is with the gold it resembles. And thus with power.” So, does wearing the blonde hair of Monroe – the true symbol of her style – empower the stars that followed her? It can’t be argued that it did anything but help the success of Madonna, Debbie Harry or other stars such as Bridgette Bardot – but the blonde hair was just one aspect of these respective stars style; one part of a huge melting pot, each unique to the different star. Still, while unique, these mixes are always dependent upon past stars for their ingredients.

I’ll continue with the blonde theme by bringing a more recent icon into the discussion. Lady Gaga has seen nothing but success since her deubt in 2008. Whilst also sporting platinum blonde hair, this is a pop star takes as much reference from Manson as she does from Monroe; taking a much darker stance on the blonde bombshell ideal. But isn’t this just how our media is? Would a tounge in cheek performance from Monroe really launch her to stardom nowadays? Times change, and the bombshell has to adapt. Let’s examine this. In her 1990 song, ‘Vogue’, Madonna references past models of Hollywood glamour, such as Monroe, basing her ‘blonde’ style on early Hollywood glamour. 20 years later, Lady Gaga’s music tells us that her blonde is based on beautiful, yet tragically mortal, icons of recent past such as Princess Diana, as well as Monroe, of course, as her name is bound with her premature death.

So, it seems we have three stages of this style: the original template, found in Monroe’s Hollywood years, Madonna’s playful recyling of this template and finally Gaga’s extreme, deadly version. And these blondes are true examples of their time periods. Back when Marilyn Monroe was idolised simply for her glamour, the media was seemingly more ‘naïve’. In Madonna’s heyday, the taboo of sexuality was a key part of her unique appeal. Nobody else was so provactive with her femininity. But in 2011, the media thrives on darker tones. Sex, violence, money are key parts of success. So while Marilyn may have been a product of her time – beautiful, classically feminine and funloving, Gaga is a product of our time – fragmented, mortal and ambigously sexual.

So, where does this leave us? What does the future hold? Obviously, it’s hard to say. As I’ve discussed, the context of the time period is a key element to becoming the ‘blonde bombshell’. If you can mix the look of Marilyn Monroe as well as the successful elements of that particular decade, you’re heading for success. Punk = Debbie Harry, Sex = Madonna, Violence = Lady Gaga. To predict who will be next in line means to predict where the media is heading – and it’s an impossible task. Maybe more violence is on the cards, or perhaps a turn around in public opinions? Ten years from now, we may be seeing a media culture more representative of Marilyn’s classic Hollywood. Or we could be facing even darker times, led by a new Lady Gaga. It’s hard to say where we are heading, or who will be our bombshell – we will just have to trust the right one will come along.

(Original article written for Olivia Abrahams)