My mother was not a regular reader of Vogue when I was girl in the 1960s, but my friend Diane’s mother—a cool, soignée blonde with an alluring French twist and a lily of the valley–infused cloud of Diorissimo hovering perpetually about her—was, and whenever I visited, Diane and I would pore over the magazine’s slick, bright pages together in a companionable reverie that needed no words. Veruschka’s Slavic exoticism held us deeply in thrall; the preternatural perfection of Jean Shrimpton’s full, exquisitely lipsticked mouth was like a valentine. We longed to look like them, but we knew these girls—and they were, after all, girls—would always remain at some poignant and unattainable remove from us, or anything we could ever aspire to be. With their sinuously lined eyelids, thick manes of hair, and aloof, worldly posturing, Shrimpton, Veruschka, and their ilk had already assumed the lacquered and impermeable gloss of fully grown women, and had left us far, far behind.
So you can imagine our mutual astonishment on the day in 1967 when we turned the page and found ourselves locking eyes with the vulnerable, unvarnished, and most astonishing of all: the impossibly young face of Twiggy. From the moment I saw her boyishly cropped hair, faint spray of freckles, tremulous mouth and huge, wide-open eyes, I felt a visceral shock of recognition. Although she was not one of us—neither Diane nor I were so deluded as to imagine that—we could discern that she was nonetheless only a few baby steps ahead, and onto her fey, coltish image, we could project that of an adored babysitter or someone’s cool older sister. The vestigial childishness of her narrow hips and her pipe-stem legs only confirmed our immediate sense identification. Twiggy was the first model appearing in a women’s magazine who was not precisely a woman; instead, she embraced and exalted her at moments awkward—yet always adorable—girlishness. And since it was clear that Twiggy loved being a girl, not a woman, she gave us the heady permission to love what was still girlish in ourselves.
Quickly, Diane and I spread the word, and the fifth and sixth graders who comprised our little pack were eager to climb on board. We formed our own Twiggy fan club, and at the weekly meetings quizzed each other on tidbits gleaned from teen magazines. Real name? Leslie Hornby. Birthday: September 19, 1949. Soon we could recite the complete catechism: she attended Kilburn High School for Girls and began modeling at fifteen. Her nickname—first Sticks, then Twigs—soon morphed into Twiggy; that was the one that stuck.
Those magazines yielded pictures too, and we jostled each other for the chance to see images of her riding her bicycle, sipping hot chocolate with her boyfriend-turned-manager Justin de Villeneuve or romping with a litter of puppies; clearly those dogs were as besotted as we were. Pages were roughly torn out, taped to our walls, doors, and book covers; we wanted to be Twiggy, each of us vying furiously for the right to inhabit the Cockney cutie’s persona for the duration of our “let’s pretend” games. Read More