The term “jet set” should conjure images of post World War II glamour, cocktails and exotic destinations. It was a journalistic term coined in the late 1950s to categorise an international social gathering of wealthy and privileged people, who were not afraid to flaunt their means. They were the original “socialites” – made up predominantly by Hollywood’s A-list of the time – living lives that the masses daydream about in the midst of the drab, mid-morning coffee break of their 9-5’s. I know I do anyway.
For the rich elite, jet travel was a new and exclusively marketed means to get around. Leisure travel would never be the same. The “jet set” routes in the late 1950s through to the late 1960s were: London, Paris, Rome, New York and LA. No surprise there then. It wouldn’t be uncommon in these pre-carbon footprint days for celebrities and millionaires to “weekend” in Rome, before jetting off to New York – just for a party.
Travelling from one exotic place to another became the norm for this free-wheeling upper echelon. Other fashionable holiday destinations became the playgrounds of the beautiful and the successful. These “jet set” resorts are probably on the tip of your tongue as you are reading this; Cannes, Acapulco, Marbella, St. Tropez, Capri and Portofino.
Film stars, wealthy royals, powerful politicians and the uber-rich all came together in this glorious honey pot of glitz, glamour and style. As this ephemeral yet absorbing period drew more and more interest, the notion of the paparazzi reporter was born. At this time, the paparazzi journalist was held in more esteem and with less contempt than in contemporary society. Socialites would hold parties and gatherings at semi-public venues such as nightclubs and restaurants and were not coy in displaying their riches – whether it was powerful and fashionable friends or the high level of splendour attached to the particular event.
Below is a lookbook of snaps taken from the “jet set” era, of Hollywood royalty and other bona fide members of the social elite:
The movement was led by a new golden era of Hollywood; Kirk Douglas, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot and Alain Delon were all huge stars at the end of the 1950s and early 1960s. This was the height of what we know as the “jet set.” Their lavish lifestyles were photographed over and over again.
This elite lifestyle was wonderfully captured by Federico Fellini in his 1960 film, La Dolce Vita, starring Marcelo Mastroianni. It captures the allure and economic boom period of post war Italy. Driven by the mild climate and laid back attitude, it became one of the premier hot spots for the socially mobile.
The film depicts the celebrity and paparazzi phenomena at its height; a time when it was very much in the public consciousness. It follows a week in the life of the rakish gossip columnist Marcello Rubini, played by Mastroianni, who is torn between Rome’s elite social scene and a settled home life with his girlfriend. He is essentially drawn into the romanticised jet set world of parties and sex, whilst attempting to cling to his dreams of becoming a serious writer.
The costume of the film is elegant, classic and monochrome. These are not new terms to the regular FashionBeans reader but it’s a film that ticks so many sartorial boxes it would be a crime not to give it a watch.
Here is a lookbook of the lead character Marcello; a man who oozes effortless ‘cool’ in my eyes:
Even though this particular part of socio-cultural history spawned over 50 years ago and faded around a decade later, it doesn’t mean the style principles cannot be imitated or take on board. I am aware, as a writer, I can be guilty of romanticising certain eras and of succumbing to a kind of strange fashion nostalgia… but I don’t think I’m alone in this. Surely?
Taking in hand everything we know about the lifestyle and dress of the time, how can we apply it today? As has been discussed in many FashionBeans column inches, the nature of the timeless style is something that you should be familiar with as readers. With regards to achieving the sartorial feel of the jet set, I would suggest taking what we know about classic tailoring, comfort and effortlessness and incorporating a splash of Hollywood glamour and flashbulb glitz.
The aesthetic is dependant on sophistication and class. Slim, clean lines are essential; whether you are dressed in a lightweight jersey polo and white jeans or an immaculately tailored 3-piece. The rich and the famous all had power and money, therefore they wore items that cost a lot and marked their wealth – but they were not ostentatious or brash. Modern day elegance can be achieved through attention to detail and considering your finishing touches; try adding something as simple as a silk neck tie, a pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses or a minimalistic dress watch to your outfits. However, remember that your best accessories for channelling this style come from within – your overall demeanour, posture, confidence, etiquette and how you carry yourself.
Luckily for us, the big menswear trends for spring/summer 2012 all tie in beautifully with this glamorous era. Tonal outfits of beige, creams and whites exemplify French Riviera inspired style, and can provide a surprisingly vast colour palette for all of your looks during the warmer months. A silk neck tie is also the major accessory trend for men this year – and what better way to exude glamour and elegance (and just a hint of Dandy) than with a perfectly tied scarf or neckerchief?
Even the footwear trends are ideal; suede shoes are popular with both designers and the high street this year, and can be seen on everything from Derbies to loafers. Again, it is a fabric that exudes luxury but stills provides you with the laid back, effortless approach to your dressing that typified this sub-culture.
So let’s make this summer a glamorous one. Forget unemployment figures when you “weekend” in Skegness this July, and break out a pair of slim white cotton trousers and tasselled loafers. At this summer’s work bash why not follow in the footsteps of Marcello in La Dolce Vita and wear a crisp stone coloured blazer topped off with a black shirt and black neck tie?
Even though you might not [yet] have the power and wealth, inspiration can be taken from jet set style. There are ways to utilise current high street wears and adapt them to acknowledge this stylish moment in time.
But now it is time for your view:
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