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The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion Hardcover – November 5, 2013
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"THE POWER OF GLAMOUR is another reminder why Virginia Postrel is one of our keenest cultural observers and most important social thinkers. Using lively prose, fascinating images, and examples that range from Alexander the Great to Kate Moss, Postrel brings to life an elusive subject. This book is essential reading for people in advertising, marketing, politics, and entertainment -- as well as for anyone interested in seeing our culture with fresh eyes." (Daniel H. Pink, author of TO SELL IS HUMAN and A WHOLE NEW MIND)
"[Postrel] offers a thoroughly researched, analytical, illustrated view on the characteristics, both keen and subtle, that qualify an object, person, event or location as glamorous...Postrel cites innumerable sources, weaving quotations and vignettes into each of her chapters, and the result is exhaustive and wholly entertaining. For those interested in the evolution of glamour over the ages, as well as readers with a stake in marketing, this is a must-read." (Kirkus)
“Postrel’s cleareyed and exhaustive analysis looks not only at the history of glamour, but at how it works…[Postrel] seems to be the kind of public intellectual for whom the TED Talk seems to have been invented." (The New York Times Book Review)
About the Author
Virginia Postrel is a columnist for Bloomberg View and has been a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Forbes. Formerly the editor of Reason magazine, she is the author of The Substance of Style and The Future and Its Enemies. She teaches a special seminar on glamour in the Branding program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She lives in Los Angeles.
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Virginia Postrel asserts, and asserts very convincingly, that `glamour' is something different from beauty or sexiness, from fame, wealth or style; in spite of the fact that many such attributes seem to typically hover around a glamourous figure.
She seems to believe that the perception of `glamour' is a relatively modern social phenomenon. It has something to do with the modern idea that the form and content of peoples' lives can be to a large extent of their own making. People are not necessarily doomed to accept the limitations and the drudgery of the former `lower classes'. The word `glamourous' is most often applied to individuals, less often to places or even objects that are potentially associated with glamourous individuals.
Glamour seems to be a concept known to both sexes, but differing in its various forms for each of them. Male glamour, one supposes, may well be older than female glamour, because it was originally associated with warfare or with phenomenal business success. It was only in the nineteenth century that glamour seems to have appeared as a persistent yearning in women, because before that the possibilities that were available for women to have any say in either their life-styles or their occupations were almost nil. And the idea of glamour is not total fantasy. It seems to require the faint perception of at least a far-out possibility. The glamourous figure is not just adored, he or she is an inspiration who, in imagination, might be emulated.
Glamour for the nineteenth century woman in both Europe and America was largely centered on wealth and beautiful possessions, frequently cloth and clothes. In certain sophisticated circles, however, (especially in European high society) the concept of a sexual freedom more equal to that granted to men did appear and take on a glamourous aspect. Glamour is a social phenomenon, and the forms it takes for different people depend on what their peers find desirable as well as on the individual who feels the longing. It is not the same thing as style, but it shares the same kind of social energy.
The perception of glamour became much more widespread in the twentieth century and began to evolve and rapidly change its forms. The movement of populations into large cities, the widespread use of photography, the near universal literacy, the cinema, the generally improving living standards--all of these things contributed to this evolution, because glamour is, in part, a social phenomenon. Rather, perhaps, it is an individual phenomenon which tries to reconcile the dreams and longings of the individual with the requirements and the possibilities of society.
Glamour in the twentieth century became less differentiated by sex and more differentiated in the areas and the activities which it invested. All glamour now, at least, seems to require a strong suggestion of excitement as well as degree of self-assuredness and effortless self-control that might be called serenity but is more often described these days as `cool'. The glamourous individual is in command of his or her situation, but at the same time, that situation is felt to be rich in excitement, in adventure, in possibilities which keep on revealing themselves, but have no specific form.
It occurred to me, reading this book, that glamour is essentially a vision of adulthood on the part of a young person. It is not the vision he or she was trained to expect or strive for. It is not dull or demanding of great effort and everlasting incremental advancements or (worse) failures. Responsibility is taken seriously, but carried easily. Life is excitement and adventure. The notion requires at least the idea that there is some possibility of fulfillment. That possibility probably recedes in every life and so does the idea of glamour. It may linger for some people who are especially fond of `genre' literature, where the various genres tend to have protagonists whose lives or personalities seem glamourous to the reader and where some people can temporarily shed the tediousness of their daily lives.