Lana Turner: A Life of Fashion
February 28, 2020 | by Shannon
Lana Turner was one of Classic Hollywood’s most glamorous stars, setting style trends both onscreen and off. Read on for all about Lana’s Fashion Influences, Fashion Favorites, and Always “Camera Ready” Look.
Lana Turner was one of Classic Hollywood’s most glamorous and fashionable stars.
Lana’s look both onscreen and off inspired a generation of women to dress like her, and a generation of men to swoon over her.
I love how Lana’s daughter Cheryl sums up her mother’s style and appeal [aff. link]:
“One’s eyes gravitated to her when she appeared and her image lingered in the mind when she left. Beginning with her first film, she had spontaneity and a personality that made audiences care what happened to her. She also had style and exceptional beauty while remaining approachable…”
How perfectly said.
Lana's "Lingering Image"
Since the very first portrait I saw of her, and then even more so after I first watched The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), the image of Lana Turner has lingered in my mind.
It’s this “lingering image” effect that brings me to write this Lana Turner fashion article. From Lana’s earliest fashion influences to her dream closet as Hollywood’s most glamorous star; from the “Lana Turner Glam Squad” who created her much imitated look to Lana’s personal style favorites; today it’s all about Lana Turner and fashion.
Let’s delve right in.
Lana’s Earliest Fashion Influence: Her Mother
Lana Turner came by her love of fashion honestly: her mother, Mildred Frances Turner, was one fashionable lady herself.
You may remember from my Star Spotlight on Lana Turner that Mildred raised Lana on her own after Lana’s father was murdered. The Turner women were always strapped for cash as Mildred juggled motherhood and employment, but, according to Lana,
“…my mother always dressed beautifully whether she was well-off or poor. Somehow she got herself together. She always had style and class.”
Through her own example, Mildred taught her daughter at a very young age the importance of always striving to look your best. It was a lesson Lana would remember her whole life, and I would venture to guess it was one of, if not the greatest, influence on Lana’s desire to always look “camera ready,” as Lana herself used to say.
Lana’s Backup Career: Dress Designer
Did you know Lana Turner was quite an artist in her youth? And wouldn’t you guess, fashion and clothing sketches were her specialty! Lana said of her early years that [aff. link]:
“If I had any real talented then, it was for designing clothes. I loved the costumes in the movies…if I hadn’t gone into the movies, I’d have become a dress designer; that’s where I seemed to be heading.”
One year for her mother’s birthday, twelve-year-old Lana drew her mother a series of fashionable clothing sketches. It was a gift Mildred displayed proudly. Lana said of the time that
“To everybody I would declare that someday, when I had money, my mother would have beautiful clothes like the ones I drew, and even more. And, by golly, she did.”
How sweet is that?
Fashion definitely held a special significance, and was even a sign of love, for the Turner women.
Star Trappings: Lana’s Dream Closet
As I mentioned in my Star Spotlight on Lana, she once had a closet that ran half the length of her home. Initially, this space had been the front porch, but Lana had it closed in and converted to her dream closet. For Lana, the closet of her dreams filled with the fashions of her dreams was physical evidence of her stardom and hard work.
The Details of The Dream Closet:
- Panel mirrors with a platform for wardrobe fittings
- A climate controlled vault for Lana’s furs (different times, right?!)
- A special revolving closet for evening wear, day wear, and slacks, all of which were organized by color and weight
- Huge Shelves for sweaters and blouses
- Hat shelves
- A twenty-foot jewelry vault
- And last but not least, a SHOE ROOM
That’s right, Lana Turner had a shoe room. According to Lana in her 1982 autobiography [aff. link],
“When I became a film star, I developed the spendthrift habit of buying shoes in quantity—two, three, or four colors in the same style. At one time I had a special room, with shelves from floor to ceiling, filled with shoes, I had one of those library ladders so I could climb up to select a pair. Once I counted them all, and I discovered I owned 698 pairs of shoes. That jolted me! Since then I’ve tried to control the impulse.”
Can you imagine needing a library ladder to access some of your shoes?
Now THAT’S a dream closet.
Lana's Fashion Passion: Jewelry
If you thought having 698 pairs of shoes was something special, Lana had an even greater passion than footwear:
“I’d always had a weakness for shoes, but my feeling for beautiful jewelry amounted to a passion.”
An aspect of Lana’s jewelry passion that I find particularly admirable is that as long as she found a piece beautiful, Lana didn’t much care about how prestigious the metal was, or how rare the jewel. According to her daughter Cheryl [aff. link],
“Mother was no snob about the jewelry she wore. ‘MGM rings,’ which were imitation, rested alongside the real thing. Whether it was genuine or costume, if a piece of jewelry caught her eye with a brilliant sparkle, she would wear it…”
Another little known fact about Lana’s jewelry passion is that she preferred colored stones over diamonds. Lana’s particular favorite stones included turquoise (my favorite too!) emeralds, amethysts, and star sapphires.
A Glimpse of Lana’s Jewelry
For a glimpse of Lana’s real life jewelry, be sure to watch The Sea Chase (1955) [aff. link]. This adventure film is made even more thrilling by the fact that all the jewelry Lana wears in it was her own. (As was all her wardrobe in the film, with the exception of the champagne colored dress.)
My Piece of Lana's Jewelry
I’m beyond excited to share this next glimpse of Lana’s jewelry with you:
I actually own one of Lana’s rings!
Here I am, wearing my ring from LANA TURNER’S PERSONAL COLLECTION.
According to Lana’s daughter Cheryl, Lana bought this ring when filming Love Has Many Faces (1965) in Acapulco. It’s simple sterling silver—I’m not one for large stones or diamonds myself—but it’s a sizeable ring, and definitely has that “sparkle” Cheryl says her mother always looked for in her jewelry choices.
Lana Turner 2021 Fashion Update
This year, thanks to the lovely collections of vintage estate jewelry at the House of Francheska, I added a pair of Lana’s hair combs to my Lana Turner Estate collection.
As Lana fans know, hair combs were a quintessential part of Lana’s flawless look in the 1940s. She wore them often, and she wore them well.
Here’s a pic of Lana wearing one of her signature 1940s hair comb styles, and me, wearing my 2021 spin on Lana’s ‘do, with my hair combs that were ACTUALLY owned and worn by Lana herself.
And here’s one of my Lana Turner signed photos, with the Lana Turner Estate card authenticating the hair combs, signed by Cheryl Crane, which reads:
“Lana Turner owned vintage silver ball hair combs, worn in films from her personal collection -Cheryl Crane, 2009”
It’s an absolute dream come true to add these hair combs to my Lana Turner collection!
I love how my Lana ring and hair combs both have the sterling silver ball motif. As Lana probably purchased the hair combs in the 1940s, and Cheryl Crane says her mother purchased the ring in 1965, it shows a continuity of Lana’s tastes and style through the decades.
Lana’s Fashion Favorites
We’ve discussed Lana’s love of shoes and jewelry. Here are some of Lana’s other fashion favorites:
Lana adored bright colors. In her autobiography she writes:
“I like colors to be definite. I’m not a baby blue or baby pink girl. Black, white, strong red—those are my colors. If it’s yellow, let it be bright yellow. If green, make mine an emerald green. I don’t care for muted colors, except the beautiful lilacs and lavenders. But that’s my romantic side coming out again.”
Lana was also a fan of the dramatic effect of wearing all black or all white, much like her character Cora Smith in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).
She Didn’t Show Much Skin
Onscreen and off, Lana didn’t like to show much skin. Her daughter Cheryl insists that this truly was her mother’s taste, not just Lana conforming to the more conservative 1940s and 1950s.
For a woman whose film career was in large part based off of her sensuality, I think it speaks to who the real Lana was that she much preferred to leave things to the imagination, rather than bare all in her wardrobe choices. Classy Lady!
Lana’s Favorite Gown: The “Mermaid” Dress
According to her daughter, despite the personal tragedy that surround Lana at the time of the 1958 Academy Awards, the gown Lana wore to awards ceremony that year was probably her most favorite EVER.
Can you blame her? Just look at that breathtaking mermaid sheath dress with white lace. Absolutely stunning.
Lana’s Favorite Designers
As a stunning Hollywood star who loved fashion, Lana Turner worked with some of the best designers and costumers in town, including Adrian, Irene, Helen Rose, Walter Plunkett, Don Loper, and Edith Head.
Don Loper was a favorite, and he designed Lana’s gorgeous 1948 wedding dress for her marriage to Bob Topping.
But according to Cheryl Crane, her mother’s very favorite designer was the legendary Jean Louis. Louis famously designed Lana’s luscious wardrobe in her 1959 comeback film, Imitation of Life. Look at this wardrobe! Jean Louis knew how to design, and Lana sure knew how to wear his designs.
The Lana Turner Glam Squad
When Lana became a star at MGM, she was so important to the studio that she got her own team for hair and makeup: Helen Young and Del Armstrong.
Helen had a hair salon in Beverly Hills, and first worked with Lana on Green Dolphin Street (1947). This movie was a true test of Helen’s coiffure skills, for in the film, Lana has 34 different hairstyles!
Helen even devised a way—using dark vegetable dye and hairpieces—for Lana to go from long dark locks for the reshooting of a couple scenes from Green Dolphin Street (1947) while she was filming Cass Timberlane (1947) as a short-tressed, platinum blonde.
Can you imagine going from long dark hair in the afternoon to short platinum hair the next morning, and back again?
What a hair genius. No wonder Lana invited Helen to come work exclusively for her, which Helen did until she retired in the 1960s.
Del Armstrong began doing Lana’s makeup on the film Marriage is a Private Affair (1944). Lana was so impressed with his skill, the two became the best of friends, and there was rarely a Lana Turner film after Marriage where Del was not her makeup artist.
Lana so trusted Del with her face that when she went to England to film Another Time, Another Place (1958), Lana formed a production company and named Del her assistant producer: this was the only way Lana could get around the English union laws that prohibited her from bringing her own makeup man. Pretty cool!
There was one film from Lana’s prime that Del did not do her makeup for: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). Del was drafted into the navy before shooting began, so for this iconic film, Lana Turner did her own makeup. Del taught her well, for Lana is arguably at her most beautiful in Postman, in part due to her flawlessly applied makeup.
Lana’s Insights: Costume Fittings at MGM
Lana was a perfectionist, especially when it came to her costume fittings. She instinctively knew when a gown was not right for her, and could drive the studio designers crazy with her insistence that every line be perfect.
I love that Lana wouldn’t settle for anything less than perfect.
But stars didn’t have to stand for fittings all the time. According to Lana,
“In those days the studio kept eight or ten mannequins made to the exact measurements of each of us [MGM stars]. They reflected every tiny imperfection—for example my left shoulder and hip are higher than my right—that the designer would have to accommodate. Each mannequin was labeled with the name of the star: Greer Garson, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr. My hip mannequin was the smallest in the entire studio. Greer Garson’s was the largest, but she is a tall woman.”
And quick side note: Lana mentions having the smallest hip size in the studio, but she wasn’t bragging. According to Cheryl, Lana’s lack of size in the hip and derriere departments were two things she was self-conscious about her whole life.
Always "Camera Ready"
I certainly attribute Lana’s desire to always be “camera ready,” as she put it, to come from the example of her mother growing up, and the star training she received at MGM.
It did not matter the circumstances, Lana Turner would not leave the house without her makeup on! Perfectly applied lipstick and eyebrows were an absolute must! (Like Lana’s friend Lucille Ball, Lana’s eyebrows never fully grew back after the makeup department shaved them off for a role in her starlet days.)
According to Cheryl, even in Lana’s last years,
“She was serious about being presentable at all times…‘Camera-ready’ was even the rule into her last few months of life, when she never left the house. I remember one time we were just going to watch a movie at home and I found her wearing a blue silk Chinese robe with her diamond and pearl broach as if she was going out to meet Mrs. Astor. She never let herself go.”
Now that’s a true star. What a darling woman.
My Favorite Lana Looks
To wrap up my Lana Turner Fashion Tribute, here are a few pics of Lana sporting my favorite looks of hers through the years, both in her films and in real life:
So Long, Lana!
And this closes our month with Lana Turner.
I truly could write about this woman exclusively every week. Lana Turner will always be a very special star in my book.
And stay tuned as we begin March with our new Star of the Month, an actor less remembered today, even though he was one of the greatest comedians of his generation and starred alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Ginger Rogers, and Betty Grable.
Take a few guess as to who he could be, then be sure to read my article next week to find out.