As many know, I have been celebrating film noir this Fall due to my December talk at the Skirball Cultural Center in L.A. on THE HISTORY OF FASHION IN FILM NOIR. One of the icons I will be discussing is Veronica Lake, and I recently wrote about the November birthday girl in the noir classic This Gun for Hire (1942).
This Gun for Hire is among The Style Essentials on GlamAmor for the the influence of the film on fashion--both then and now. First is its iconic costume design, of course, which is courtesy of the great Edith Head. The queen of 'Paramount Polish,' she was actually responsible for all of Veronica's onscreen style. The overall look--one that included many design elements used to elongate the petite 4'11" star--had an immediate impact on fashion at the time of the film's premiere and has continued to act as ongoing inspiration for fashion today.
That said, as wonderful as Edith's wardrobe was for her, what has really made the biggest splash in fashion is Veronica's hair. This is another reason that This Gun for Hire is considered such a Style Essential. Her hair was so popular with the public at the time that the studio experienced resistance if they varied her style too much. Over the years, I have heard several stories surrounding the origins of it all. One is that her hair simply had a natural wave and tendency to fall over one eye. Her legendary makeup artist Wally Westmore is said to have noticed it first. Another story is that the wave came as the result of clipping her hair to the side during one particularly bad hair day. And yet another story is that she played "peek-a-boo" with the camera when a stray lock of hair fell over one eye during a photo shoot...hence how the style became known as the "peek-a-boo." It actually seems quite reasonable that all of the above is true.
The 1930s had been dominated by shorter hair styles, but the 1940s were different with the advent of World War II. Suddenly, girls no longer had time or money to spend at the salon, so their hair naturally grew longer. Veronica gave them a star with a look to emulate, and made the "peek-a-boo" an extremely popular style throughout the decade. You can see other film noir stars like Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner somewhat follow suit, but no one had hair as long as Veronica's. Everyone loved her look--she became one of the pin-up girls for men fighting overseas and a style inspiration for women on the home front. Her hair was so famous that the government actually approached her to change it for the war effort--many women worked in factories where it was dangerous to have long hair--and that story played out for the public in LIFE magazine (below). So change she did, and then eventually even cut it. Many say that cutting her hair was partly to blame for cutting short her career as well, which was largely over by 1949. Audiences loved her hair that much.
LIFE magazine glorifies Veronica Lake's long hair in 1941 (above)
but then later suggests changing it "by government request" in 1943
As a result, Veronica pinned her hair up in Victory Rolls (above)...
she eventually even cut her hair, which some say cut her career short as well
Everyone still loves her hair. There are plenty of people today who have never seen a Veronica Lake movie, yet know her name because of that hair. Her "peek-a-boo" style is a trend that started in 1941 with her first film I Wanted Wings, gained momentum in 1942 with This Gun for Hire and her other film noir, disappeared in the late 1940s for a few decades, but then picked up again in popularity in more modern times. This is no passing trend either--it is a style that has remained classic year after year. I share only a small sampling of actresses who have recently channeled Veronica's look on the red carpet. Note that no matter what the woman's personal style--whether classic or edgy or boho chic--this is a look that seems to work for everyone.
1941's I Wanted Wings is the debut of both Veronica and her style (above)...
and Veronica at her "peek-a-boo" peak in 1942's This Gun for Hire
Evan Rachel Wood
LIFE magazine images courtesy of Cinemateque.fr
Short hair pics courtesy of ChicVintageBrides.com
Others courtesy of Getty, SelvedgeYard.com, Things-and-Other-Stuff.com