Who are the American style icons of the 20th century? Grace Kelly, Katherine Hepburn, Gloria Swanson and Wallis Simpson instantly come to mind. And then there is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, whose charisma, grace and flair captured the attention of the American public and shaped popular fashion.
Who will be the Jackie of the next century? The cult of celebrity makes Hollywood a natural place to look. But should today's stars be commended for their style when so much of what they wear is decided by stylists and fashion designers? In a word, yes.
"What we see today is similar to what existed in Hollywood in the 1930s and '40s during the studio system," said Kathleen Craughwell-Varda, a costume and textile historian and author of the new book "Looking for Jackie: American Fashion Icons" (Hearst, $50, http://www.lookingforjackie.com).
Studios, she said, often mandated what actresses were to wear off-screen. (That's not the case today, but many are the stars who would look like bag ladies without their stylists.)
Gloria Swanson, she said, didn't need to be told how to dress, but Joan Crawford, though influential, was style-challenged. She realized her style with the help of costume designer Adrian.
Gwyneth Paltrow has icon potential, said Craughwell-Varda. Like Jackie, she knows how to choose simple clothes to play up her best features, and like Swanson, she has a natural sense of style.
"Sure, she gets bags and bags of free clothes from designers, but it all boils down to what she picks to wear when she walks out the door," Craughwell-Varda said.
Madonna also has promise. The pop singer is a style chameleon, always wearing the latest trend, and in many cases, starting it. "She introduced Ohio to [fashion designer Jean-Paul] Gaultier."
But Jackie's style went way past her pillbox hat, encompassing the way she raised her children, the way she entertained, even her manners and speech. We wondered whether stylish-living maven Martha Stewart could achieve icon status.
"What bothers me about Martha is the element of control in everything she does. Jackie did things so naturally."
That's our goal for the 21st century.
Lest you cast a champagne-blurred glance at the sky over downtown tonight and think the aliens are finally landing, we thought we'd let you know: It's just a laser light show, part of a display created by Laserium. Three beams of green light will shoot nearly straight up from Bunker Hill and intersect as many as 60 miles up. The show will start at 9:30 p.m. and end after midnight. And by the way--you will have to leave your house to see it.
We would like to announce our New Year's resolution: We're streamlining, slimming down, simplifying. (It's the way of the 2000s, no?) From now on, we will be an I. Honestly, who are we to be a we, anyway?
Booth Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.