How To Get Dorothy Dandridge’s Old Hollywood Elegance

By Nicole Andre··  6 min read
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How To Get Dorothy Dandridge’s Old Hollywood Elegance alamy

Want to master the charming elegance of Old Hollywood style icon Dorothy Dandridge? Read on.

Triple threat singer, dancer, and actress Dorothy Dandridge was born into the entertainment industry in 1922. She grew up in Cleveland, Ohio where her mother Ruby who worked in television and radio. It probably was a big part of what helped prepare her for the work she would one day do herself.

Ruby was determined to help her daughters get into performing. Dorothy and her sister Vivian started singing together when they were still young. They called themselves the Wonder Children. Cute, right? The family eventually moved to Hollywood where they joined their friend Etta Jones in their new singing group, the Dandridge Sisters.

The Dandridge Sisters act was a hit! They performed at clubs across the country with the likes of Cab Calloway and Jimmie Lunceford. Soon enough, they were also starring in movies together.

When Dorothy was in New York, she met her first husband Harold Nicholas, with whom she shared their daughter Harolyn. Unfortunately, Harolyn was born in 1943 with severe brain trauma which, coupled with Nicholas’s philandering tendencies, put a strain on the marriage. They divorced in 1951. 

As a single mother, Dandridge was determined to make things work out for her and her daughter. She would continue to sing and act in movies, but the biggest success of her career thus far came when she was cast as the lead role in Carmen Jones (1954). She was nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars for her work. It meant a lot since she was the first black woman to ever be nominated for the award! 

Unfortunately, Dandridge had a hard time finding starring roles following the film due to the lack of available roles for black women. She turned down a role in The King and I because she refused to play a slave. Instead, she would wait it out for other roles in films like Island in the Sun (1957) and, later, one of her most famous movies, Porgy and Bess (1959). 

porgy and bess 1959 dorothy dandridge

The rest of Dandridge’s life would not be easy. She went through another divorce, and because of her husband’s poor financial decisions with her money, she had to send her daughter to a state facility as she was no longer able to afford to take care of her. Her last role on screen would be as Empress Zaire in Marco Polo (1962), but the film was never completed.

That said, I think Dandridge would want to be remembered for the great life that she brought to the stage, her ability to light up a room, and her legacy. And last but not least, her great sense of style. Here are a few tips to help you to achieve her Old Hollywood look.

Casual Doesn’t Have to Mean T-Shirts

When we hear casual now, t-shirts, jeans, and even sweats probably come to mind. And as much as I love to get comfortable like everyone else, those looser items of clothing aren’t always the most flattering to our figures as women. So take a tip from Dorothy and make your casual a bit more structured. 

Try a button-down shirt or a blouse that has some structure to it. It’s really just as easy and comfortable as a t-shirt but will make you look super chic without even trying!

Don’t Leave Home without Jewelry

If there’s one thing that Dorothy Dandridge knew about, it was how to accessorize with jewelry. She stuck with gold tones that looked amazing with her skin tone. To know whether gold or silver will look better on you, decide whether you have a cool or warm skin tone. Cool skin tones generally look better with silver, while warm skin tones shine in gold.

Have Fun Getting Dolled Up

What Old Hollywood icon wouldn’t take the time to get herself all dolled up? The next time you have a date night or go out with your girlfriends, try getting a little more dolled up than you normally would. Put on your favorite music (my personal fav is T-Swift) and take your time getting ready. It’s super fun and the confidence boost you’ll feel from it will make you want to do it all the time.

Color Blocking

Another great style trick that Dandridge was a pro at is color blocking. It’s an easy way to make an outfit look like you spent a lot of time on it when you really didn’t. Looking super chic with minimal effort sound too good to be true? Color blocking has you covered.

Turtlenecks for the Win

If you pay attention, you’ll realize that women with really great style tend to wear a lot of classic pieces. Dorothy Dandridge was no different. She was a fan of the turtleneck silhouette. Wearing that cut with short sleeves is a really fun spring take on the style staple!

Shine in White

White is a great neutral to brighten up your spring and summer wardrobe. Plus, it looks great on everyone, so you can’t go wrong!

Try a Belt

A belt is a must-have for every woman’s wardrobe. One of the most important things to garments being flattering is that there is waist emphasis. A belt is a great way to add that emphasis on looser tops or dresses, or to draw the eye to the waist on clothing that already has that tailored fit. 

The Power of a Long Skirt

Sometimes it seems like it’s all about the mini skirt, but allow Dorothy Dandridge to prove just how elegant and enchanting a longer skirt can be. Plus, if you have them in neutral colors they work year-round.  

Rock a Scarf

Is there anything a silk scarf can’t solve? It’s the perfect hair accessory, can jazz up your handbag, and looks super cute tied around your neck. You’ll want one or two of this very versatile accessory. 

Go Retro with Your Swimwear

What’s more Old Hollywood than the classic one-piece all the movie actresses would wear to the beach? Dandridge shined at the Cannes Film Festival in this patterned number. So this summer, see if you can find some retro-inspired styles to wear for your beach day. 

Embrace a Red Lip

 A red lip was an Old Hollywood, and one of Dandridge’s, signatures. To imitate her look you’ll want to find the perfect red to suit you. In case you’re wondering, here’s how to wear red lipstick the right way.

Closing Thoughts

Dorothy Dandridge was a true star. She was not only super influential for her role in breaking barriers for the black community in film, but for her lasting presence as an actress and style icon. And with these tips, you can embody a bit of her Old Hollywood glamour.

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