For most of us, a smile is a natural expression, especially when we’re out in public. A smile is a natural expression when greeting people, and if you’re in front of a crowd delivering a speech, a smile is often encouraged to help establish rapport with your audience. We also know that an attractive smile is an important recipe for success when you’re applying for a job, or auditioning for an important role.
So why is it, then, that fashion models don’t smile on the runway? And why do some of our most famous celebrities decide not to smile in public? There’s actually many complex answers to this question, as revealed in part by Vanessa Brown of Nottingham Trent University.
The Origins of Fashion and Fashion Shows
Dr. Brown traces the smile-less expression of today’s fashion models back to Lucile of London, aka Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon. She started what she described as a “mannequin parade,” women parading past an audience wearing the clothes she had designed, commonly thought of as the first fashion shows. Dr. Brown says that Lady Duff-Gordon recruited her models from working-class women, but wanted to be sure that they presented themselves as aristocrats because that’s who most of her clientele were. Therefore, she trained them to have the studiously aloof expression that was popular among aristocrats at the time.
By making this transformation, Lady Duff-Gordon wasn’t just putting working class women to work, she was proposing a radical act of social mobility. People weren’t who they were born, they were the clothes they wore. By wearing Lucile of London, she said, you could reinvent yourself as nobility.
Dr. Brown also notes that smiling during a show could give the wrong message about the clothes. It could make them appear as if they’re embarrassed by the clothes, or uncertain about what they’re wearing. By wearing an appearance of “unconquerable self-assurance” they convey the impression that of course the clothes are right. No matter how outlandish and innovative the clothes, the model puts on an act of “oh, this old thing?” disdain.
There’s another purpose that Dr. Brown doesn’t note. Smiling is a very personal expression, and it allows the personality of the model to show. But most fashion designers want their models to be “walking clothes hangers,” as close to being an unperson as possible. Hence, the neutral, impersonal expression. This is also a common, but unpopular, argument for the unusual build of fashion models.
So Why Don’t Celebrities Smile?
The truth is that most celebrities do smile. Even models and supermodels smile for pictures when they’re not on the runway. But some conspicuous ones don’t.
One example is Kim Kardashian, who used to smile, but recently has put a lock and key on her smile in most situations. She revealed that the reason for this is essentially the same as for fashion models: she wants to look aristocratic, as if she is better than her audience and holds them in disdain.
Coincidentally, her husband is also a nonsmiler. I say “coincidentally,” because he cites a completely different reason for why he doesn’t smile in pictures. Essentially, he came across pictures of people from the 19th century, and saw that they weren’t smiling and they looked so earnest and authentic that he decided to adopt that persona.
What he doesn’t talk about is that people didn’t smile in 19th century photographs because it was believed that smiling frequently was only for crazy people and children. It was actually the popularity of photographs that helped transform our notions about the smile, and by the time that Lady Duff-Gordon was popularizing the aristocratic look in London, Americans began to adopt their characteristically sunny expression.
Most of Us Benefit from Our Smile Daily
Despite the example of Kim K and Kanye West, most of us continue to smile in this country. And part of the reason for this is clear from their example. While Kim K and Kanye West are very well-known celebrities, they’re not especially well-liked. And part of it is their tendency not to smile.
While these two can get away without smiling, most of us benefit not just from smiling, but from having an attractive smile.
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