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How to Get the Rita Hayworth Look: Vintage Hollywood Glamour

Updated on June 1, 2017
Jayne Lancer profile image

A beauty consultant by profession, Jayne has been advising on correct skin and hair care, makeup, and other cosmetics for almost 20 years.

Forties screen siren Rita Hayworth still inspires women today with her outstanding poise and style. How to get the sultry look of the Love Goddess—vintage Hollywood glamour at its best!

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Rita Hayworth was a phenomenal actress and dancer, but she wasn't perfect enough for Hollywood. She was of Spanish descent and looked much too Mediterranean. Her hairline was too low and her hair too black to earn her anything more than mostly obscure roles as exotic foreigners.

So, in the late thirties, she dyed her hair a fiery red and underwent a year of painful electrolysis to raise her hairline. She became the perfect, all-American girl-next-door.

By the mid-forties she'd cultivated the look of the sultry vamp and Love Goddess that won her the role of Gilda in the 1946 film noir of the same name. It's a look women still try to emulate, and the one for which she will always be remembered.

Rita's Most Prominent Features

Hair

Rita's luxuriant hair was parted at the side and cascaded in soft waves over her shoulders. Unlike most styles of the period, it wasn't set and static. It was loose and bouncy, enhancing and complementing the grace and pizzazz that emanated from a lifetime of dance.

Nails

Her nails resembled lethal talons way before the age of gel and acrylic. In fact, she was said to have the longest nails in Hollywood. She usually painted them to match her lipstick, as was customary in the forties.

Lips and Eyes

Her most prominent facial features were long lashes and sensual, full lips. Her brows were thin and perfectly proportioned, with two thirds of their length sloping upwardly from the bridge of the nose, and the remainder sloping downwardly almost to the temple.

Figure

Not only were her brows well proportioned, but her body, too. She had the strong, shapely legs of a dancer, and voluptuous curves all in the right places. Privately, she preferred to wear loose, flowing garments that allowed freedom of movement, but she looked her best in slinky, floor-length gowns slit to the thigh.

Rita Hayworth in the 1946 movie "Gilda": she had the strong, shapely legs of a dancer, and voluptuous curves all in the right places.
Rita Hayworth in the 1946 movie "Gilda": she had the strong, shapely legs of a dancer, and voluptuous curves all in the right places. | Source

How You Can Get the Look of the Love Goddess

What Qualities Do You Need to Pull Off the Rita Hayworth look?

Rita's poise and elegance of manner seemed inbred, but it came from years of training as a dancer, which began when she was only three—you need excellent carriage and posture to pull off her look.

Other necessary attributes are full lips, thin eyebrows, a good complexion, long nails and a decent figure—you definitely need curves.

Unless you're attending a theme party, you don't need flaming red hair. You can adapt Rita's look with any warm shade between dark blonde and medium brown; light gold-brown works particularly well. However, your hair must be thick and healthy-looking, and of at least medium length. Ideal is a 'middy' cut, which is the basis of most forties hairstyles.

How to Do Rita's Makeup

Foundation

The smooth and creamy appearance of Rita's complexion was achieved with Max Factor's Pan-Cake or Pan-Stik Make-Up.

There's a much wider choice of foundation nowadays, so use whatever works best for you. Important is that it matches your skin tone exactly, as should your powder and concealer.

Blush

Rita wore only a light application of blush in a natural shade, placing it below the cheekbone to accentuate the contour.

For a subtle effect like Rita's, use a tapered blush brush and a powder product. Blend well and finish with a dusting of translucent powder.

Alternatively, dab just a touch of color on the apple of your cheeks with a large powder brush.

Apart from the lashes, very obvious eye makeup would spoil the overall look.
Apart from the lashes, very obvious eye makeup would spoil the overall look. | Source

Lipstick

Rita's mouth was not to be overlooked. Her teeth were perfectly white and all her own, and her lips were full and glossy. She nearly always wore an orange-red lipstick, and never anything too dark.

  1. When you apply foundation, don't leave out your lips: it's the best primer for lipstick.
  2. Trace the shape of your lips top and bottom with a lip liner the same color as your lipstick. Alternatively, use an auburn eyebrow pencil.
  3. Apply high shine lipstick using a lip brush.
  4. Blot your lips with a cosmetic tissue, apply a second layer of lipstick and blot again.

Nail Polish

Rita's nails were usually of the same color as her lips, but she sometimes wore clear nail polish.

Eye Makeup

Bold eyeliner, dovetails and colored eye shadow didn't become popular until the fifties. But, although fashionable makeup of the forties placed more emphasis on the lips, the eyes were still important.

Long, thick eyelashes were essential. Rita achieved hers with false lashes, which provided a better option than thickening her own with alternate layers of cake mascara and powder. Nowadays you can get Rita's look with black, lash-building mascara. Always use an eyelash curler before applying.

Apart from the lashes, very obvious eye makeup would spoil the overall look. Should your eyes need more, experiment with the following:

  • Apply only a very thin stroke of black eyeliner along your upper lash line.
  • Apply black eyeliner to the upper waterline to make your lashes seem even longer and denser. Through blinking, it will also catch on the lower lash line to add subtle definition. If too much 'catches', gently remove the excess with a Q-tip.
  • Apply bronze eyeliner to the lower waterline. The effect is completely natural while adding definition.
  • Using a firm pencil brush, apply brown eye shadow along the lower lash line.
  • Highlight the arch of the brow with concealer two shades lighter than your complexion.
  • If your eyes need contouring to improve shape, use only nude colors.

The hairstyle Rita wore in "Gilda" is the one she is best known for.
The hairstyle Rita wore in "Gilda" is the one she is best known for. | Source

How to Do Rita's Hair

The wavy hairstyle Rita wore in Gilda is the one she is best known for. It's relatively easy to achieve, although time consuming. As previously mentioned, you need thick, bouncy hair with as much body at the front and crown as at the sides and back.

Using Rollers

  1. After washing your hair, towel dry and apply setting lotion.
  2. Part your hair at the side.
  3. Use 1 inch rollers at the front and crown, and 3/4 inch rollers for the rest. Work away from the parting towards the sides, and away from the crown towards the nape of the neck. Magnetic or plastic mesh rollers give best results.
  4. Dry hair completely. It's best to use a hairdryer with a hood.
  5. Allow hair to cool before removing rollers, then wait a further half an hour before brushing out in case of moisture left in the hair.
  6. Brush out.
  7. Tease and shape with a rat-tail comb and your fingers. The style looks less dated if you don't smooth the top quite as much as Rita sometimes did.
  8. Direct hairspray under your hair to increase volume and allow natural movement. This 11 second video clip from Gilda demonstrates the effect you should be aiming for.

With a Curling Iron

  1. Use a 3/4 inch iron and curl in the same direction as with rollers.
  2. Secure each curl with a clip until it's cooled.
  3. When all curls have cooled, remove clips and proceed to step six above.

Further Inspiration

For more inspiration and to discover who Rita Hayworth really was, take a look at the following video:

© 2014 Jayne Lancer

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