When we talk about fashion icons from the bygone era we automatically think of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. Vivien Leigh doesn’t seem to appear in the category. She doesn’t seem to appear in many categories applied to old Hollywood types.
Look at photos of Vivien when she’s not on stage or in front of a rolling camera. Her style shouts elegance and simplicity rather than oozing sex appeal like Monroe. For a British woman what Leigh wore was similar to what we wore. Some people forget that while married to Laurence Olivier she was Lady Olivier. She lived in a gorgeous house in the English countryside and had the opulence that came with a title. She still didn’t dress in diamonds everyday or wear dresses that shouted she was rich and entitled. Even when she and Olivier met Monroe she looked elegant in a skirt and jacket. Many people would have dressed to the nines in meeting a star that famous.
A lot of roles Leigh took were in period films, think Gone With the Wind, That Hamilton Woman, Anna Karenina. In these she wore big, gorgeous dresses that back then were worn everyday not like today where we’re lucky if we wear one of them once. Maybe that influenced what she wore in her private life, some people feel the need to be “dressed up” everyday. Vivien looked stylish and prepared for the world without doing this.
In a lot of photos towards the end of her life she was pictured in skirt suits or skirts and roll neck jumpers. Clothing we’d deem as comfortable. How many times have you looked at a photo of celebrities and thought are they really comfortable in that? She made classic cut skirts popular like Katharine Hepburn brought high waisted trousers and shirts to the public.
When you look at what she wore to premieres and award ceremonies you’re again hit by an elegant simplicity. Compare her to todays red carpet fashions and some of them are left wearing nothing while others look a bit over the top. And we can’t really say it’s down to times changing because some outfits back then were slightly scandalous (for there time).
Leigh wasn’t a sex symbol like Monroe or a designers best friend like Hepburn or even a walking jewellery box like Taylor. She was a fashion icon for the masses in her understated style and classical beauty. She may not be deemed as important as some golden age actresses but many people unknowingly dress like her everyday and that, Vivien lovers, makes her a style icon.