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Eleanor Doughty

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The Beautiful and Damned

Posted: 23/05/2012 21:26

Public opinions differ on the CW show 'Gossip Girl'. Whether you love it, loathe it, or have never watched it, I find a certain stylish attachment to the show that seems impossible to shake off. 'Who wouldn't want a closet like Blair Waldorf's?' tweeted a colleague recently, so I thought I'd look into this question. Some covetous results appeared before me as I watched almost a complete season for research. The show may deal with the often blindly farcical 'first world problems', complexities one might suggest, of life on the Upper East Side, but the fashion is fabulous. Just fabulous.

Chanel girl Blake Lively plays the ever impeccably clad Serena van der Woodsen, her divine locks and sky high legs tempting every man on the street to fall immediately, and completely, in love with her. The six-inch heels that she glides effortlessly around in don't exactly detract from the picture, with the blonde starlet attracting attention from both sides of the Brooklyn Bridge. Her sidekick, gutsy Blair Waldorf, played by the much style-envied Leighton Meester, is the advocate of many a headband, kilt and dress coat. Where she might have appeared to be the less stylish of the two, times have changed, and now we see before us an altogether splendidly dressed young lady. Having grown up and out of prep school uniform, her wardrobe is coveted more than the men she keeps, notably the infamous Chuck Bass, played by London-bred Ed Westwick. B's style (in Gossip Girl tone), is understated- she's the American Duchess of Cambridge on the silver screen. At every junction she never fails to be anything but completely together- 'keeping up appearances' should replace Cornelia as her middle name.

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(Gossip Girl cast)

Even the names of the Gossip Girl episodes are as trendy as the Upper East Side itself; variations on names of major hit films describe the goings on in New York from week to week. Ranging from 'The Witches of Hushwick', to 'Southern Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' to 'It's a Wonderful Lie'; the writers have it all covered. Season two episode 'The Age of Dissonance' focuses on an exciting era the 1920s. During the inter-war period, a time of undeniably extreme hedonism, the society ladies lunched like it was going out of fashion, raced about town in their motorcars and decked themselves out in the best diamonds, frocks and furs. The Bright Young Things ruled the gossip columns, truly living for the moment. Photographed by Cecil Beaton, with appropriately embellished retellings described by Evelyn Waugh, the Bright Young Things roamed the streets of London in search of both liquid spirits and high spirits.

An integral part of British society in their prime, the distinctive and glamourous young people had an impact that stretched far beyond the social smallholdings in which they were stabled. Where the Bright Young Things seemed to lead by a perverted example, the rest of the country had undergone a revolution all of its own; the 1920s was truly the era of the fancy dress party. The obsession with glad rags and elaborate dressing went far beyond the confines of Elizabeth Ponsonby, Stephen Tennant and John Betjeman's circles. The exotic costumes of the young people's parties reflected a blend of styles; black and white tie united with casual wear produced an absolutely, unmistakably sumptuous selection of party wear. For most of these partygoers, as Beverley Nichols described, 'any excuse was good enough for putting on a wig and painting one's face and roaring around the town'. Bright Young Thing and novelist Nancy Mitford later described the 1960s as 'sobriety itself' compared to the wild ways of her pleasure-seeking youth.

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(The Bright Young Things, photographed by Cecil Beaton)

In a blinding return to the present, where it appears that roaming the streets of London will only drench us half to death, where Harrods is too expensive to buy our lunch from and where we're all just a little too busy for fancy dress parties, perhaps we should find a portion of the Jazz Age in our own lives. In times of financial crumble, political massacre and a real 'you only live once' attitude (thank you Drake), the influence of such hedonism is seeping back into our society. The Autumn Winter 2012 collections exude a certain 1920s appeal; glitter, beading and sheer material are a central part of not only the catwalk collections, namely Ralph Lauren where the American designer has returned to the impeccable rebirth of the Jazz Age, but also on the high street. Miss Selfridge produced a gorgeous Jazz Age inspired collection with pieces that scream decadence, just in time for the release of The Great Gatsby, coming to cinemas world wide in December. Jewel-bedecked wedges caught our eyes on the press stands; journalists were like magpies to the gold, silver and multicoloured assortments of shiny materials that will hit our stores in the coming months. For the colder season, it will be refreshing to glitz and glam up in every day life, without feeling like a fish out of water.


Although Gossip Girl might not be real, and on this side of the pond we are more adept to splashing through puddles than bathing in Tiffany diamonds on the Upper East Side, perhaps the twenty-first century glamour, glitz and gossip of their circle can remind us of the good times. Dig into some Fitzgerald, Wharton and Waugh and escape, in your minds, to a time of excess at a time when excess wasn't appropriate. After all, as Waugh said, 'the pretty can get away with anything'.

 

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