Any list of the most stylish celebrities in Hollywood history would be incomplete without Greta Garbo. The cinematic icon didn’t follow trends; she created them, influencing generations of women. She could often be seen browsing French fashion magazines in Manhattan’s Rizzoli bookstore, looking for fresh ideas to make her own.
What made Garbo such an original was actually a very simple concept: she insisted on practicality and comfort. At the time of her U.S. movie debut in 1926, style-conscious American women were raising their hemlines, rolling their stockings and strapping their feet into high-heeled Mary Janes. The entrenched style they were bucking was an even more feminine one, centering on voluminous dresses, waist-cinching corsets and plenty of chemises and petticoats underneath it all. Garbo, on the other hand, favored trousers, flats and turtlenecks to skin-baring flapper dresses. Hers was a comfortable and androgynous style.
Below, we explore four elements of the star’s aesthetic.
Don’t think for a moment that Garbo came off as stodgy in her menswear-inspired wardrobe. In fact, she was anything but, exuding effortless glamor. She eschewed high heels, preferring the comfort of flats or a low heel and stating “there’s nothing attractive about the suffering face of a girl with ill-fitting shoes,” but she made ballet flats positively captivating when she paired them with silky lounge pants. She looked charming whether she was sporting trousers or dripping with jewels – and she was one icon who could pull off either look with ease.
The Chic Trenchcoat
Garbo’s glamorous spin on menswear was often topped off by a trench coat. She wore a tartan-lined trench in an early film, 1928’s A Woman of Affairs, sparking a trend for trenches that continues to be revived regularly over the decades. She cinched a trench again in 1931’s Mata Hari, when she played the notoriously sexy spy… but for Garbo, the trench probably wasn’t chosen for its sex appeal. Garbo was well-known as the star who had no interest in stardom, and her Grand Hotel quote, ”I want to be alone,” was reflected in her personal life (though she preferred to state it ”I want to be left alone” in the real world). The mysterious trench coat, hiding much in its yards of fabric, was the perfect accessory for reclusiveness.
The Glam Turtleneck
The trench coat wasn’t the only article of clothing that became popular thanks to Garbo. She also made the turtleneck into a high-fashion item, pulling it from the depths of sport-uniform drudgery. She and Marlene Dietrich, another star who went against trends by dressing in menswear, wore turtlenecks with their trousers, showing off the garment’s body-skimming silhouette. The turtleneck became so popularly associated with Garbo that the Hungarian word for it is garbó.
A Relaxed Silhouette
Garbo’s timeless silhouette is as apropos today as it was in the 1930s. If you try it out for yourself, you may find that her comfort-forward style is as pleasing to wear as it is to behold. Tailored trousers with a wide leg, a turtleneck or men’s button-down, and ballet flats are the building blocks of a Garbo-inspired look, with hair either sleekly pulled back or floating loosely around the shoulders. Top it with a trench, choose a pair of big sunglasses to slip on when you step outside and don’t forget to practice your best continental accent.
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