The Art of Glamour #5 - Veronica Lake's Hair
Veronica Lake achieved icon status thanks to her trademark hairstyle and was one of the most beautiful visions of 1940s Hollywood.
She was just 19 when, during a screen test for Paramount, her long blond locks fell in front of her face, leaving a deep side parting of soft waves, a single S-curl obscuring one eye in an aura of mystery. In that moment, her signature look was born.
Something, though, had to be killed off, and that was her real name, the ungainly Constance Ockleman. A producer suggested they borrow Veronica from his secretary and then added Lake because he felt ‘her eyes are calm and blue like a lake.’
Almost overnight Veronica Lake became a huge star. Fans across the world wanted to emulate her ‘peek-a-boo’ hairstyle and get The Lake Look.
'I opened up my mop closet the other day and I thought Veronica Lake fell out'
- Groucho Marx
Lake may have been perfectly formed but she was small at 4’11” and Paramount Studios costume designer Edith Head used an array of tricks to make her appear taller. Her clothes were kept simple and sleek; often with long sleeves and plunging necklines. Streamlined silhouettes, with detailing on the bodice and high platform heels, all helped to make her look more statuesque.
In the 1942 feature, This Gun for Hire, which was based on a Graham Greene novel, Lake played the part of a sultry nightclub singer, and was able to channel her mysterious and detached image onto Greene’s femme fatale. Paired with the diminutive Alan Ladd, the two were considered a match made in heaven and would go on to star together in seven movies.
By 1943, at the grand age of 21, Veronica Lake was at the peak of her career, earning $4,500 a week, or about $70,000 today.
Lake had a complex personality and developed a reputation for being difficult. Eddie Bracken was quoted as saying that ‘She was known as The Bitch and she deserved the title.’ Screenwriter Raymond Chandler referred to her as ‘Moronica Lake’, while Joel McRea refused to work with her, saying, ‘Life is too short for two films with Veronica Lake.’
Her own opinion was that:
'Women are always trouble to unimaginative men...'
The impact she had on society was so dramatic that during WWII the War Womanpower Commission recruited her for the war effort. Lake was asked to wear her hair up, after numerous women in munitions factories had been injured when their hair got caught in assembly-line machinery. The Lake Look had become a safety hazard.
Lake complied and demonstrated her new up-do on a newsreel. Soon she began appearing on screen without her trademark hairstyle. Eventually she cropped her flowing locks and, Samson-like, seemed to lose the force of her power. Lake began a dangerous slide into obscurity.
She died in 1973, at the tender age of 50, owing to complications arising from alcoholism. Never, though, would she be forgotten, thanks to her alluring veil of blonde hair, to that S-curl falling seductively across one eye.
Veronica Lake has earned her legacy as a style icon.