Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Powers Girls and Fashion Modelling in the 1940s



In yesterday's post, I wrote a little about Powers Models, based on John Robert Power's The Powers Girls book, published in 1941. It's probably the models who made the pages of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar that are most familiar to modern eyes. In this famous Horst P. Horst cover for the November 1939 edition of US Vogue, two of the models - Helen Bennett and Muriel Maxwell - are Powers Girls.

Powers describes the attributes of his high-fashion models, including Bennett and Maxwell, and also Dana Jenney and Elizabeth Gibbons, thus (and not dissimilar to the kind of advice you hear on modelling shows today): "Beauty is not so essential in this particular field as chic, and a flair for wearing clothes effectively. An interesting face is more effective than a flawless but empty one. The high-fashion models must have a knowledge of clothes and be able to change their moods with their costume."



Here's Muriel Maxwell, again shot by Horst P. Horst, on the cover of the Vogue July 1939 edition - one of my all time favourite covers. Powers attributes a type to each of his models. Maxwell is "The Autumn-Leaf Type". As illustrated, "This cosmopolitan type is tremendously dramatic in high fashion work."



And I love some of the pictures Louise Dahl-Wolfe took of Elizabeth 'Liz' Gibbons, including this one for the January 1938 edition of Harper's Bazaar. Powers describes her as "The Urban Type ... she appeals alike to the fashionable women of Paris, London, Vienna and New York." Apparently she still does.


Irving Penn's famous 1947 photograph for Vogue, showing the 12 most photographed models in America between 1937 and 1947 includes no less than seven women included in my 1941 edition of The Powers Girls, alongside Dorian Leigh and Lisa Fonssagrives: Helen Bennett, Dana Jenney, Betty McLauchlen, Andrea Johnson, Elizabeth Gibbons, Muriel Maxwell and Kay Hernan.

Helen Bennett in Coronet Magazine, 1941, via

There's plenty bits of nuts and bolts advice given for aspiring high fashion models in the book too. Muriel Maxwell supplies a list of the wardrobe required for a working woman (remember the one given in Clothes Pegs?):
  • One good tailored suit
  • One dark dress with long sleeves and one with short sleeves
  • One light dress with long sleeves and one with short sleeves
  • One dark and one light evening dress
  • A fur jacket
  • Shoes for all occasion
  • Advanced hats
"Gloria Models For The Newspaper" cut-out-paper Powers Models dolls, 1942, via

I've no idea what "advanced hats" are but they sound delightful. All the more reason, then for the hat box, which are described as "the insignia of the models, and they have become as familiar to New Yorkers as the doctor’s black bag and the lawyer’s brief case."

However, they also had a purpose simply beyond being just a hat box, used to carry all the paraphernalia of a model we know about from her 1950s successors such as, "photographic make-up and the clothes or accessories required for each assignment. In one case, this may be a bathing suit and cap; in another, certain accessories such as gloves, handbag, costume jewellery, and so forth."


But, of course, the high fashion models were only a handful of the hundreds of women on Power's books. Next, I'm going to look at another significant strand of his girls - the ones who packed up their suitcases and hatboxes and headed across to Hollywood.

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