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Passion, not fashion
She was short. She didn't have the greatest legs in the world. She was overloaded with hair and bosom, a dreadnought of glamour rather than an elegant swan, and for that reason she did not fit as naturally on best-dressed lists as Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly did. But Elizabeth Taylor's style told a great deal more.
It told that she was a woman of instincts and almost violent passions;that she wore her vices, as well as her virtues, for all to see;that her allure was a result not of impossible fame or even beauty, but of an inhuman femininity;that despite the jetset life, the jewels and the husbands, she retained an Englishness, a hominess, a love of children and animals that was recognisably real.
"She was the only goddess I know who had a sense of humour and a gigantic heart, " said Joel Rosenthal, one of the top jewellers in the world. "She was irresistible mayhem...she transcended whatever else she was doing, a mediocre script or a dress that didn't look right. You saw her. It was, let's get back to the face, the laughter. "
Because of Ms. Taylor's physical effect, which audiences registered in Butterfield 8 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, when she appeared at her most dangerous, in a slip or a stolen fur coat or an unchaste white sheath dress, you tended not to notice the particulars of her wardrobe.
Instead, you noticed the heavily penciled brows, the lipstick-ed mouth, the riot of hair crowned with fresh flowers or jewels or the head scarf when she was on a beach or relaxing with her family, oblivious of the chaos her star presence was causing.
And she was a star. That Ms. Taylor often wore some very strange or outrageous getups in the '60s, during the Burton years, indicated that she knew her celebrity had a special claim on people. Just as she didn't refrain from using four-letter words in conversations with friends, or hiding her love affairs, so she didn't feel the need to look perfect. She was herself, she was Elizabeth Taylor.
To be sure, in later years, during marriages to Senator John W Warner and Larry Fortensky, her weight and her penchant for fussy tweed suits, generous caftans or busty satin dresses with pinched sleeves made her the butt of jokes. Still, you couldn't stop looking at this amazing woman.
In a way, though, the Elizabeth of the mid- '60s through the early '70s - a period encompassing her first marriage to Burton and the making of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - is the one burned into memory. This kind of style had nothing to do with luxury or imprisoning taste. But it had a great deal to do with living.
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