We’ve seen their pictures on the pages of alternative fashion magazines or publicized on trendy blogs: the It Girls. Starlets, socialites or just the offspring of older celebrities, the It Girls are stylish, in the know, and at the centre of every party. It’s a term that is today considered to be so ubiquitous that few would believe its origins would trace back to a shy girl from Brooklyn.
On July 29, 1905, Clara Gordon Bow was born to anything other than glamorous circumstances. Her mother, Sarah Gordon, was a prostitute and her father, Robert Bow was abusive and absent most for of her life; while she technically had two older sisters, both died as infants within days of their births.
While Clara’s childhood was far from easy, she took to watching films as an escape from her everyday life. When she was sixteen years old, she won a contest sponsored by Motion Picture Magazine. Her prize included a role in the 1922 film Over the Rainbow. Her scenes in the movie ended up being cut from the final copy, but the magazine went on to praise Clara’s talent and screen presence. This helped Clara gain some recognition and she was given roles in silent films including The Daring Years, Enemies of Women, and Down to the Sea in Ships.
Clara was then approached by a representative of the film studio Preferred Pictures, and offered a contract. The head of the studio B.P. Schulberg became enamoured by her talent and started to overwork her, booking her for every acting job he could. Clara’s career exploded – within two years, she had starred in 25 silent films.
As Clara’s career was blossoming, a new lifestyle was taking over the lives of America’s elite – a time later to be dubbed as the Roaring Twenties.
Post war sentiments gave way to a spike in the popularity of drinking, partying, jazz music, and the flapper style. Women began shortening their hemlines and haircuts, wearing heavy makeup, and treating sex less as less taboo than it once was.
Clara Bow exemplified this lifestyle; with her deep set eyes, heart shaped lips, and affinity towards a sensual wardrobe. She exuded a sex appeal never before seen on the silver screen. After starring in the 1927 film It, she became known as the first official “It Girl.”
Unfortunately, Clara continued to struggle with her tumultuous personal life. During her peak years as an actress, her mother committed suicide and her father milked off his daughter’s fame. Clara turned to the typical party girl lifestyle, including an excess of drugs, alcohol, and suitors.
As the Roaring 20’s came to a close, so did the era of silent film. Clara did star in a few speaking films, but by 1933 she had married actor Rex Bell and decided to give up her acting career to raise a family.
Clara spent the rest of her life out of the public eye, until she died from a heart attack on September 27, 1965. While her party girl persona may have overshadowed her talent, her influence can be seen today in actresses, designers and yes – the It girls.
Photos courtesy of the Fashion Spot forums.