How to get that 1940s movie star look

When hens approach me asking for a vintage hen party, 1940s style, they’ll often choose the 1940s tea dress look. So I always get very excited when hens ask for the forties movie star look. It’s probably one of my favourite things to try and imitate, as it combines pure glamour and beauty with inventive photography and use of lighting.


Rita Hayworth

It happened this July, in Oxford. The hens had asked for our dressing up and dress hire session, along with hair and make up and photography, so we were able to work together to create the whole look for them. They actually asked for a whole variety of looks, from tea dresses to day wear to 1940s suits. But a good three of four of them went for movie star!

1940s movie star dress

What you want for the 40s movie star look is a long evening gown, perhaps off the shoulder, or with large shoulders, with a narrow or slightly flared skirt (not the large circle skirts of the 50s) furs, choker jewellry and earrings, gloves and furs. Heavy fabrics look good for 40s, though the styles really did vary.


1940s evening dress

Then, study the old photographs.

1940s long evening dress

Betty Grable

The photographer and I were in our element studying the poses and the lighting in the old film and vogue shots, and putting together our look book, then posing the hens on the day.

3. 1940s movie

The poses from Vogue are angular and marvellously haughty. And look at the contrast lighting and shadows.

The close up film shots of the era really were beautiful, often with wonderful contrast lighting (light and darkness, and wonderful use of shadow) – a film noir feel. Look at the wonderful sculptural use of lighting on the face here.


Evelyn Keyes

This one below is a little more ‘come hither’, but still she is the ice queen of glamour. Honestly, this is the kind of language we often use when getting the hens to pose! My language here is a little over the top and hammy, but it helps the hens, or people posing, to have an image in mind. Having some hammy words for a facial expression and attitude in mind and getting them to feel bold about exaggerating this, really helps them.

2. 1940s long dress

A model looking intimate and haughty at the same time.

In close up shots, the starlet often gazes off into the distance or to the right or left, wistfully. It really was the era of ultra glamour. This shot below is elegantly sweet, as reflected the character in this film. Here the lighting is softer behind her, with less stark contrasts.


Gene Tierney

And finally, you had those starlets who were pin ups, with a more direct, sultry look.


Veronica Lake

Our photographer is currently going to town editing the pictures from our latest 1940s photoshoots, and I look forward to posting them here soon!

Shimmy-lin x


About charlestondance

We are a group of 1920s and 1940s enthusiasts providing wonderful vintage hen parties in Cheltenham, London, Oxford, Henley on Thames, Wallingford, and Reading, or we come to you! Choose from: Charleston dance classes 1930s-1940s jazz dance classes Pop Up Afternoon Tea Parties and tea dances with a dance class, a full champagne afternoon tea and our live 1920s jazz or swing pianist Vintage Makeovers and Photoshoots Classic Musicals Hen Party dance class, or singing workshop (or both, for an all singing, all dancing, live life in a musical experience!) Our special, deluxe 1920s Day Out or 1940s Day Out in Cheltenham or Henley incorporating one vintage jazz dance class, one creative workshop (including vintage life drawing or fascinator making), a vintage makeover and photoshoot, afternoon tea, and a 3 course dinner!
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