"Hollywood Glamour: Sex, Power, and Photography, 1925-1939" historicizes the growth and development of "glamour" into the single most powerful ideology for women in the twentieth-century United States. It investigates glamour's introduction, popularization, and dissemination through an historical analysis of publicity materials associated with the Hollywood motion picture industry, including fashion and fan magazines, news periodicals, and photographic reproductions. This dissertation argues that the ideal of "glamour"--overtly sexual feminine beauty--became fixed in the American consciousness in the late 1920s-early 1930s through the powerful influence of Hollywood. Having discovered a new means of selling their products through sex, photographers, producers, directors, publicists, designers, and stylists promoted a new model of femininity through still and motion photography. The "glamorous" model, which redefined beauty as visually, obviously sexual, circulated through Hollywood imagery and offered powerful, visual directives for gender roles and sexuality.
The studio system embraced the elusive concept of glamour in the mid-1920s, when traditional attitudes towards gender roles, sexuality, class, race, nationality, and ethnicity were being challenged both on screen and off. At its Hollywood inception, glamour was imbued with an aura of foreignness, transgression, and sexual power. It was isolated and documented through new developments in publicity photography, which distilled the ambiguous concept into a set of visual signs, creating a "semiotics of glamour." Disseminated across the country in the largest distribution of photographs in American history, glamour became a driving force in encouraging conspicuous consumption through the exchange of images. Glamour was reworked by studio publicists and commercial advertisers over the course of the 1930s, redesigned to support hegemonic versions of femininity and masculinity as a response to economic crises, reform movements, and international tensions. Once a challenge to the limited model of acceptable "white" womanhood, glamour became but another means of enforcing traditional, patriarchal gender roles, racist attitudes, and the growing consumer ethos by the time Glamour magazine appeared in 1939. Glamour emerged at the end of the decade not as the potentially subversive, alternative form of female gender performance it once was, but rather as a requirement for American beauty and femininity.