The Wisdom of Pearls

Pearls are big news this season in the beauty world, with Chanel and Guerlain both paying tribute to that most flattering of jewels in their spring make-up collections.  How better to complement a pearl-inspired make-up than with the real thing? Here, then, is a selection of stylish ladies who knew how to work their strings of pearls. Josephine Baker (sometimes nicknamed the Black Pearl),  knew how to get mileage out of her beads – both offstage (above) and on (below). Given that she made her name on the Paris stage, there’s a good chance that some of these pearls came from the boutique owned by one Mademoiselle Chanel ..

Silent movie icon Louise Brooks got in on the pearl trend when she played Lulu in Pandora’s Box in 1928.

By the 1940s, multi-strand necklaces which sat at the collarbone had become the “in” way to wear pearls, and, as screen siren Hedy Lamarr demonstrates here, it was particularly effective with a black chiffon. Anything else would have been too heavy-looking..

In the 1950s, a single strand worn high at the neck was a favourite way of wearing pearls, especially if you wanted to achieve a demure, ladylike look – which is clearly what a certain Miss Monroe was going for in this next photo.

And Elizabeth Taylor (almost) managed to deflect attention away from her low-cut dress with her ladylike single strand of pearls..

Of course, the reason for pearls becoming so strongly associated with a ladylike look was the fact that they were – along with white gloves – a key component of the signature style of Grace Kelly, the Hollywood star who became a real-life princess. Here she is in one of her beautiful Edith Head gowns from Rear Window (1954), a film in which her character’s chic wardrobe was designed to reflect the star’s own.

Jacqueline Kennedy was another American aristocrat who was known for her penchant for pearls – simple jewellery to complement the unfussy lines of her much-admired clothes.

Just when pearls were at risk of becoming too conservative a style choice, along came Sophia Loren – whose bib-like multi-strand was clearly a favourite, as she was often photographed wearing it.. If anyone could inject some va-va-voom into the art of wearing pearls, she could..

These days, anything goes – pearl-wise. Heaping them on to create a mess of pearls has become a statement-making way of of wearing them. Sarah Jessica Parker worked this look in Sex and the City but I don’t think it’s been done better in recent times than by the singer Rihanna whose pearls were the talking point of the Inglorious Basterds premiere in 2009.


But the pearly queen of them all – the woman who stayed true to the jewel throughout her life and who is still teaching us how to wear it- was Coco Chanel (pictured below with Serge Lifar in 1937) who was layering real and faux pearls of different sizes from early in her career. Vive les perles!

(c) Lipnitzki / Roger-Viollet


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1 Comment

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One response to “The Wisdom of Pearls

  1. But Chanel herself actually wore fake pearls all the time.

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