Born July 29, 1905
Hair Dyed Red
The Beauty Contestant
Clara Bow, the It Girl, comes to epitomize the Hollywood flapper of 1920s, a time before sound in the pictures and a time when the swimsuit is evolving.
Bow is a Brooklyn girl born in 1905, so she is 17 in 1922 when she wins a beauty contest and earns her first movie role. Her makeup, including decorative lipstick and eyebrows which have been shaven off and painted back on, captures the style of the flapper and is a feature of her portrait pictures. In an era or chorines, Bow dyes her hair flaming red-orange (which you can't see in black and white movies, so this is a "live" thing).
Like most entrants into show business, Bow shoots nudes in her early years, and her pinups through out the 1920s include bare-midriff and leggy stage costumes, swimsuits, lingerie, and gowns.
Bow often plays the independent gal who is not to be intimidated; and her famous film stills include scenes in the bedroom wearing underwear, cigarette smoking, posing with a surfboard and a gun, and the dance-hall gal.
Bow begins her film career but moves to Hollywood in the mid-1920s, where she will make a string of movies with Paramount throughout the late 1920s including Dancing Mothers, Mantrap (1926) and Fascinating Youth.
The Swimsuit Pinup
Bikini Science must of course dwell upon her role as a swimsuit pinup, for in her era it is the maillot which possesses momentum. The deux-pièces hasn't evolved yet and will not until after her era--the two piece, bare midriff swimsuit. Bow bares her belly and she does wear swimsuits, but there is scant evidence she combines both. Bare arm, cleavage, bare bellies, legs, even belly buttons are all in play in the theater and the movies, but their combination into a two piece swimsuit does not occur in Bow's heyday. And there is certainly no reason to suspect Bow would not take the exposure. She had no reason not too--she had bared all more than once--rather the situation may be simply that the species hasn't evolved yet.
With Bow the embellishment is in the maillot plays a central roll in her Hollywood pinups. They are not all of her, of course; there exists a deep records of her headshots, her costumes, with fellow stars, in scenes. 16 of 52 videos survive in VHS. Who knows what all stands behind that.
Bow's maillots have the opportunity to draw upon two decades of maillot development--from the pinup and French postcard to competition for maillot attention in general.
There is a spin of the maillot that addresses a reductionist approach to maillot--sort of the digression of the pantaloon and the skirt into the pure maillot tank silhouette; plus fancy business like a tighter fit, elastics, opening the armhole and cleavage.
It may be possible to correlate Bow with some of these evolutions temporally, but it may also be the case that in the tactical these ideas dance around and don't necessarily follow a single order. Different talent may take different sequences. There is the individual vs the cultural. In any respect, the Bikini Scientist is uncertain about Bow sequences, between press release and movie release of material, and so on, to feel that perhaps just sharing Bow is enough.
The Sex Symbol
So, in now particular order, some of Bow's maillots, all assumed to be late 1920s: a backless, haltered maillot (CB2L10-15), a X-back with playsuit overtones (CB2L20), a fairly pure maillot tank (CB2L30), a tight-fitting maillot pantaloon (CB2L60-62), swinging from a tree (CB2L80), and skirted, but with a plunging armhole (CB2L90). It appears that once a maillot is settled into it makes a lot of appearances, as in this skirted maillot believed to be related to the movie Red Hair, Bow's signature color (CB2720). Rough House Rosie introduces skirted maillot with a button front panel , and a boxing top and trunks (CB2740-42).
Bow's career peeks in 1927 with the movie It, the title which becomes her moniker. In 1927 she also embraces some of her original deshable: there are questions raised if the airmen in Wings catch her topless, but there is little doubt about the seduction in Hula.
In Hula Bow introduces a more streamlined, open armhole tank (CB2L40). But that is just the swimsuit seduction. As a Hawaiian maiden, Bow dons a bandeau and grass hula skirt to dance in a culture also popularized also by Gilda Gray, Betty Compton, and others (CB2750). Bow caps the movie with a nude skinny-dippin' bathing scene(CB2755). The bathing scene has resonance to Annette Kellerman from before, and Heddy Lamarr in the future, because of its "Adam and Eve" nature.
Three Weekends, made for Paramount in 1928, showcases Bow in a polka-dot tank maillot (CB2880) as well as another bare-belly harem outfit (CB2882). Another tank top and pantaloons are suitable for a boat feature (CB28C0) possibly related to The Fleet's In, made the same year.
Her Last Movies
Bow's first sound film is Wild Party, which features a single-should strap maillot (CB2910). In the early 1930s a Ross Verlang Movie Star trading card features Bow in a maillot playsuit with Felix the Cat. Both wink (CB3150). And although there is no evidence Bow ever wore a deux-pièces swimsuit, this apparent maillot cutout may date from the late 1920s or early 1930s (CB3E50).
Bow's last two movies are made for Fox. Call Her Savage is released in 1932, and the successful Hoop-La, with its revealing dance costumes, in 1933 (CB3310). Despite the film's success, Bow retires from filmmaking and will live a secluded life battling mental illness until her death in 1965.
Bow shows off virtually every maillot silhouette known in the 1920s.