An Homage to Valley of the Dolls’ Ultimate 1960s Glamour

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Valley of the Dolls, 1967(Film still)

To mark what would have been her 71st birthday, we celebrate Sharon Tate’s style in the cult 1967 film

Actress Lee Grant, who starred in Valley of the Dolls (1967) alongside Sharon Tate, had only one thing to say when Vanity Fair called in December last year to interview her about the film: “I almost fell out of my seat. I’m telling you, I just kept laughing and laughing. It was what it was. And here you are, phoning me 50 years later to talk about this piece of shit.” Certainly, critic Roger Ebert concurred with Grant, announcing it to be “a dirty soap opera capable of the most offensive and appalling vulgarity ever thrown up by any civilisation.” Me-ow! To politely paraphrase these scathing reviews, the campy melodrama, based on the novel by Jacqueline Susann published a year prior to its release, is not exactly renowned for its stellar acting turns or artfully adapted screenplay. But nonetheless, Valley of the Dolls has achieved cult status, particularly for its iconic representation of late 60s fashion.

The three protagonists, Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke), Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) and Jennifer North – played by Tate just two years before her infamously tragic murder at the hands of the Manson Family – are dripping in lurex, lacquered with hairspray and slathered with Pan Stik. Not to mention their ample sets of fluttering false lashes that defied aerodynamic laws, causing the women to take flight with each bat of their lids (well, that part is fictitious, but what a great image). To mark what would have been Tate’s 71st Birthday, we examine Jennifer North’s style – for she really is the ultimate 1960s glamourpuss. 

The Signature Style

“I feel a little top-heavy,” says Jennifer when she first appears on screen in nothing but a black leotard, 40 denier tights and a gigantic, billowing navy blue ostrich feather and diamanté headdress. This sets the tone for the rest of the film, where Tate steals each scene, replete with plentiful embellishment, ample cleavage and cheekbones that would slice through concrete.

Other choice ensembles include a white beaded shift dress, to which Neely astutely points out “she looks lovely, I bet 100 beads pop off every time she moves,” a floral one-piece in which she performs her ‘bust firming’ exercises, and an acid green and psychedelic purple poolside look, tasselled earrings and all. North’s brown eyes are lined with graphic kohl, rendering them huge and doe-like, and her honeyed hair is coiffed à la Catherine Deneuve in Belle du Jour. The film’s producers originally wanted to cast Raquel Welch as Jennifer but she refused, not wanting to play a ‘sexpot’. More fool her.

The Modern Manifestation 

“In the common imagination... they have come to represent the actual women: women so bound up in sex and money and performance that they seem in themselves to be some sort of heady, rare narcotic,” wrote Julie Birchill of the characters in Valley of the Dolls. “You can see their echo in the celebrity magazines of today, in Carmen’s eyes, Angelina’s lips and Jennifer’s bottom: women at once goddess-like and all too human.” Fashion has also looked to their archetypal 1960s allure; Tom Ford’s penchant for a vintage sexiness, Alessandro Michele’s sequinned pizazz at Gucci, and arguably in Karl Lagerfeld’s PVC-heavy S/S18 collection, which referenced the era in which the film was made.