Secretaries have been depicted on the silver screen for decades. Initially often only as the witty side-kick to a male lead, but increasingly so as career women in their own right.  Tara Gardner has found six style icons who really put the xxx into secretary!

Secretary No.1 – Veronica Lake in Slattery’s Hurricane, 1949…

One of the most phenomenal style icons of the 1940s, the exquisite Veronica Lake was the darling of the silver screen. With a mysterious and alluring on and off screen persona, her trademark peekaboo hairstyle set the trend for decades to come. Synonymous with glamour and elegance, her intelligent wit and enigmatic portrayals of a many a femme fatale, set Veronica Lake in a league of her own.

It’s rumoured that her signature hairstyle was accidentally created when a stray lock of hair fell over one eye during a photoshoot. Her hairstyle changed in the war years however, when she adopted a shorter version to encourage women in factories to have safer, more practical hairstyles.

In the later part of her career Veronica Lake played secretary Dolores Greaves in Slattery’s Hurricane. Directed by her then husband André De Toth, Slattery’s 

Hurricane represented a come-back attempt for Veronica Lake, whose career was beginning to wane. The film follows the story of Slattery, an ex-Navy pilot, who works for a dope-smuggling ring, with Lake playing the put-upon secretary of the ring’s leader. Slattery’s quest for redemption somewhat mirrored Veronica Lake’s personal struggle, as her career was on the brink of collapse.

An unforgettable starlet, Veronica Lake positively sizzles in as the lonely secretary, wearing her monochrome outfits, with buttoned-down high-necked collars, a triple string of pearls worn underneath a collar, and pleated, high-waisted, belted pencil skirts to absolute perfection.

Looking back over her career, Veronica once remarked “I never did cheesecake; I just used my hair.”

Secretary No.2 – Marilyn Monroe in Monkey Business, 1952…

In the 1952 Howard Hawks movie Monkey Business, a little known actress at the time called Marilyn Monroe played a small supporting role as leading man Cary Grant’s charming and endearingly ditsy secretary, Miss Lois Laurel. Clearly only hired because of her physical attributes (and what attributes they are!), the giddy secretary Lois gets dragged along by Cary Grant on a wild car racing, roller-skating, jive dancing adventure into his youth. Marilyn really wows as the hopeless secretary, with superb comedic timing.

With a 1950s frock to die for, complete with high-waisted pleats, a thin belt with a delicate gold buckle, her bullet bra really sets off her famous jaw-dropping curves. And with some pretty divine accessories as well, including a stunning 50s clutch bag, and distinctive neck-tie, what a pity she didn’t get more costume changes and screen-time!

The ultimate Hollywood style goddess, Marilyn would go on to bigger and better things, achieving mainstream success and eventually moving away from the typecast ‘dumb blonde’, and into the realms of film noir, and dramatic acting. And although she was often criticised for her somewhat low-cut outfits in public appearances, Marilyn’s iconic style status was firmly established.

Secretary No.3 – Katharine Hepburn in Summertime, 1955…

One of our favourite leading ladies, Katharine Hepburn – otherwise known as ‘Kate the Great’ – holds the record for Best Actress Oscar nominations, winning four out of 12! It’s little wonder then that this classy actress was voted the greatest female star in the history of American cinema, in 1999 by the American Film Institute.

A more unconventional starlet – and the daughter of a Suffragette, Katharine had a strongly anti-establishment attitude, which saw her reject the ‘blonde-bombshell’ image of the time in favour of more conservative tailoured pantsuits and subtle makeup. Although her many feared her outspokeness on this could ruin her career, it really set her apart from other leading ladies, and carved out her integrity as the greatest actress ever to enter Hollywood.

In the David Lean classic, Summertime, Katharine plays Jane Hudson, a jaunty, middle-age, spinster secretary who heads for Venice to fulfill her lifelong dream. There she falls for Rossano Brazzi’s character – an antiques dealer, and embarks on an epic love affair. A holiday romance Hollywood-style, Katharine does the secretary look beautifully. Wearing pussy-bow frilly blouses, polka dot lightweight skirt and jacket suits, with brightly coloured chiffon scarves, and a neat ribbon in her hair, her gradual style transformation as she falls in love makes this film an absolute must-see!


Secretary No.4 – Janet Leigh in Psycho, 1960…

In the seminal suspense thriller Psycho, Janet Leigh plays Marion Crane, the desperate secretary who steals $40,000 of her boss’ money and pays the ultimate price for her crime. Although actually only a supporting role in the film, Marion Crane is one of Hollywood’s most infamous figures, and Janet holds the crown as the most iconic of all Hitchcock’s blondes. Janet certainly made us think twice about staying in a dodgy motel, or taking a shower!

When she’s not in the shower fighting off knife-wielding psychos, Janet Leigh’s secretary oozes style and elegance. Introducing the 1960s to the classic cropped hairstyle, Janet’s look was a departure from the typical 1950s style and would go on to set real style trends with her shaped, arched eyebrows, and full false eyelashes. Her suit is much more 1960s with its shorter A-line skirt, and matching handbag.

Secretary No.5 – Lois Maxwell, as Miss Moneypenny 1962 – 1985

Spanning three decades of film and three different James Bond actors, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny is THE goddess of all secretaries!

Clearly smitten with James Bond, the on screen relationship between Bond actor Sean Connery and Lois Maxwell remains some of the best office flirting we’ve ever seen! The ever-reliable Miss Moneypenny supports James Bond with her fabulous administration skills, but sadly rarely accompanies him in-the-field, or even out of the office.

The very epitome of secretary chic, Lois Maxwell’s wardrobe acts as a style archive of the three decades in which she played Miss Moneypenny.

In the 1960s she combined a stylised bob with a string of pearls and sharp tailored suit-dresses. In the 1970s she added more wave and length to the bob wearing heavily patterned neckscarves and collared jackets. While in the 1980s she added backcombing to the longer bob, and wore more conservative tartan suits.

And despite Miss Moneypenny getting a total style makeover for the 21st Century and a new actress playing the role, Lois Maxwell will always remain the world’s best-loved secretary.

Secretary No.6 – Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary, 2002…

Okay so it’s not a vintage movie, but no retrospective on secretaries would be complete without Maggie Gyllenhaal’s phenomenally stylish portrayal of submissive secretary Lee Holloway. Taking employee-boss fantasies to dizzying new heights, Secretary examines the slightly darker side to office-life with a sado-masochistic relationship forming between the meek secretary and her eccentric employer.

Maggie’s secretary chic in this film really carved out her style icon niche, becoming a real fashionista of the 21st century. Her quirky and offbeat fashion sense sees her mixing vintage with contemporary pieces, and has led her into modelling – most notably her Agent Provocateur campaign.

With an air of silver screen glamour, and cheek-bones to rival Katharine Hepburn’s, Maggie’s unique and unusual look really sets her apart from other contemporary actresses.

Wearing pussy-bow blouses, polka dot shirts, tight pencil skirts, and those unmistakeable seamed stockings, Maggie’s secretary pays homage to all the decades of secretary chic which came before her.

2 Responses

  1. Danette

    Loved this! I loved Jean Harlow’s amazing 30’s style as Whitey in Wife vs. Secretary.