Look at portraits and you’ll see how the face of beauty changes constantly. A voluptuous Rubens lip, or a hooded Lely eye, is as different from a soulful, pre-Raphaelite neck as from the Clara Bow lips and tiny heads of the Van Dongen girl of the 1920s. They have one thing in common, however. Each proves that, while pretty doesn’t always survive the passing years, strong usually does. Take the case of the famous society hostess Lady Ottoline Morrell, who was dubbed the ugliest woman in Britain in the 1920s.
There was nothing of conventional charm in her face at all, yet when she spoke – and she did so rather a lot – the power of her personality matched the strength of her features and she was captivating.
Women of our own time who are neither classically beautiful nor pretty have the same effect. Like Morrell, Barbra Streisand, Diana Vreeland and Erin O’Connor have memorable looks because of the gloriously prominent noses that make their profile so extraordinary – and that, wisely, they have made no attempt to diminish. Lesser women might be miserable until they copied the clones and had bud-like nose jobs. Without the fabulous linearity that God gave them, their hooters will look like badly applied putty by the time they are in their late sixties, and their physical impact will be nil.
Who wants to look like everyone else? Style has always been about confidence.
Nowhere is this clearer than in physical looks. A stylish woman is one who knows who and what she is and doesn’t spend too much time dreaming of becoming a classic beauty or a pretty young thing. Instead, she looks at ways to capitalise on what others may consider disadvantages. This brings the self-knowledge and wisdom that leads to assurance. It’s why a woman such as Anjelica Huston, by no means a conventional beauty, has retained her sexual strength long after more conventionally pretty stars have been forgotten.
Lucky is the woman who has the sort of features foolish people might consider ugly, because they will take her as far as she wishes to go. The real challenge is for the woman who – deliberately or not – has no extraordinary features at all.
(First published July 2005)