Take the turtleneck, the beret, the trench coat and a laced up pair of brogues - Garbo could lay claim to these key elements in a modern woman’s wardrobe. Her chosen way to dress was simple, comfortable and androgynous.
The Swedish star wasn’t interested in such trivialities as fashion. Instead of the bias cut gowns and long skirt lengths of the 1930s, she favoured tailored, simple and comfortable clothes - loose trousers to stride in andher favourite old corduroy jacket with deep pockets to sink her hands into.
Her good friend Cecil Beaton compared her way of dressing to “a mix of what a street bandit, Robin Hood and someone from ancient Greece would wear. She dons large pirate hats and the blouses and belts of a romantic knight, always unadorned and often times with dull colours.”
She was a great believer in the practicality of clothes – choosing Oxfords and brogues instead of heels, and offered this sound advice - which could be taken to Sauchiehall Street on a Saturday night -that “there’s nothing attractive about the suffering face of a girl with ill-fitting shoes.”
She introduced the turtleneck to female fashion, she popularised the trench coat by wearing it over sweaters, cinched at the waist and with the collar up-turned, and she wore trousers long before they became acceptable wear for women. She said, “Perhaps I am most pleased at having fought for the right to wear trousers. For everyday wear and for outdoors trousers can be a healthy alternative.”
In studio portraits by George Hurrell, Garbo’s face is bare, stripped back, with her long eyelashes casting shadows. Garbo’s face was considered to be a paradigm of female beauty with the perfect symmetry of her features and it lent itself to a simpler way of dressing.
Despite being one of the biggest movie stars of the 20s and 30s, she was in reality quite shy and reclusive. She gave few interviews, refused to attend premieres and parties and pleaded to be left alone. But this only served to make her fans want her even more.
Her films were huge box office draws, and whatever she wore on screen, as created by MGMs head costume designer Adrian, would be mass-produced by department stores and become huge trends.
Adrian dressed her in Schiaparelli-inspired hats in The Painted Veil, jewelled skull-caps and embroidered Oriental tunics in Mata Hari and boyish velvet riding suits and starched white collars in Queen Christina. An Empress Eugenie hat, worn to the side and with a feather sprouting from it, was an instant hit when she wore it in Romance in 1930.
It was the wardrobe Adrian gave her in A Woman of Affairs (1928) that was closest to Garbo’s favoured way of dressing. Adrian dressed her in a simple plaid-lined trench coat, a geometric print scarf and a cloche hat pulled down, and it became apparent that audiences loved Garbo’s distinct but casual way of dressing.
“The Garbo girl must never wear anything that would come under the descriptive category ‘dainty’,” Adrian said in an interview in 1929. “Such things are for flappers and Garbo is not a flapper.”
In later life, Greta Garbo tried to live as anonymously as possible in New York; giving the occasional sighting to startled passers-by in her sunglasses, floppy hats and raincoats. She said “The story of my life is about back entrances, side doors, secret elevators and other ways of getting in and out of places so that people won't bother me.”
Get Garbo’s look
Selina Mac, Hobbs, £89.50
Hobbs has a good selection of quality belted trench coats – turn up the collar and slouch like Garbo.
Leopard print beret, from Topshop £8
Garbo wore some interesting hats in her movies and in real life – you could also find a creations from Glasgow milliners Pea Cooper and William Chambers.
Brogues, Dune, £65
For Garbo it was flat Oxfords and brogues all the way. She wouldn’t suffer the foolishness of having uncomfortable shoes.
Wide legged slacks – Oasis Celeste wide-legged trousers £42
As a fan of exercise and the great outdoors, Garbo preferred to wear trousers. Try a pair of tailored, wide legged slacks.
Ribbon Blouse by Sister Jane £48
Tops would be simple, comfortable and sometimes with a tie at the neck, like this blouse by Sister Jane, available at Top Shop.
Garbo's make-up look for studio portraits was pretty simple, and all about her porcelain skin and long eye-lashes. She didn’t go for the overly done 1930s look, but would have used heavy powder in studio publicity shots.
Smashbox Photo Finish primer (£25) is established as one of the best base for creating flawless skin, and then Revlon’s Nearly Naked Make Up foundation and pressed powder (£8.99 and £7.99).
Garbo applied petroleum jelly and then neutral eye-shadow to the eyelid, but try sweeping
Benefit Lemon-Aid (£16.50) over the lids for a smooth finish, then apply a beige shadow.
Line top lids with dark eye pencil, and use layers of lengthening mascara, like
L’Oreal’s Volume Million mascara (£9.35).
Eyebrows in the 1930s were heavily plucked and pencilled in – Garbo’s weren’t overly done, but they were thin and arched in shape. Lips were also defined with a lip-liner –
Bobby Brown’s lip liner (£15) is great for a more natural colour.
So you’ve got the wardrobe and the make-up...now all you need to develop is the Swedish accent.
Contextual targeting label: