The bimbo has recently been reclaimed as a feminist icon by Gen Z content creators on TikTok. By their standards, being a bimbo involves a self-aware performance of hyper-femininity, whether ‘you’re a girl, a gay or a they’, according to Queen Bimbo Chrissy Chlapecka. There’s even a space for straight ‘himbos’, too. As ‘thembo’ Griffin Maxwell tells Rolling Stone, ‘if [being a bimbo] was originally about catering to the male gaze, we’re taking that back.’ Though originally, bimbos were thin, white women, those reclaiming the term are not bound by the patriarchy’s expectations of white femininity. This performance often includes, but is not limited to, peroxide blonde hair, heavy makeup and false nails and eyelashes… Before the inevitably pink and sparkly garments have even been put on, the body is made bimbo. This aesthetic of artifice is precisely camp. As Susan Sontag puts it, ‘the essence of camp is its love of the unnatural,’ but modern bimbos are not ‘de-politicised’ in the way that Sontag believed camp should be.
Indeed, a fundamental of the movement is its leftist values – bimbos are pro-choice, pro-sex work, pro-BLM and pro-LGBTQ+. It encounters many of the same stumbling blocks as choice feminism, especially when it comes to cosmetic surgery and upholding oppressive beauty standards. But in its extreme, almost parodic, hyper-femininity, bimbofication also requires us to remove the assumption that femininity is equal to stupidity, naivety, and weakness. This article will take a look at three iconic bimbo fashion moments of the past, and how they have influenced the present.
Perhaps the most famous bimbo of Old Hollywood is Marilyn Monroe’s character, Lorelei Lee, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Her most iconic outfit in the film is from the musical number ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’: the dress has its own Wikipedia page. Costume designer William Travilla originally designed an incredibly bejewelled, showgirl body stocking, but after nude photographs of Monroe (shot for a calendar before she had made it big) were leaked, the pink dress was created instead. It is constructed of a hot pink peau d’ange satin, with matching opera gloves and shoes by Ferragamo. The straight neckline covers Monroe’s cleavage, though the huge bow – which was stuffed with horsehair and feathers for shape – emphasises the movement of her hips as she dances. This extension of her physical expression is where the sensuality of the dress lies.
Aside from pink, the other essential component to any bimbo ensemble is sparkle. Monroe’s wrist, neck and ears all drip in diamonds from Harry Winston. Crucially there is no diamond ring, a symbol since the late thirties that a woman was ‘taken.’ In this way, she is free from male ownership – the power is hers to choose. Monroe’s character is a gold-digger: she believes that women’s power is in their looks and men’s is in their money. The mutual objectification gives all financial, and therefore all tangible and enduring power to men. Though she is painted and played as ditzy, Lorelei Lee is very successful in securing precisely what she desires: a very rich man.
The ditziness of this character has often been ascribed to Monroe herself. Rosenbaum beautifully illustrates this in his article Merry Marilyn, where he writes that her private speech is peppered with ‘citations from and sophisticated discussion of Freud’s introductory lectures, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Shakespeare and William Congreve.’ He goes on to write that ‘the difficulty some people have discerning Monroe’s intelligence as an actress is rooted in the ideology of a repressive era, when super-feminine women weren’t supposed to be smart.’ If you’ve read any of the comments on BimboTok, you might argue that such an era has not yet passed.
The second, absolutely iconic look I want to explore is Dolly Parton’s pink, flared jumpsuit. It was worn for her 1974 performance of ‘Jolene’ on The Porter Wagoner Show, which launched her into stardom. The set of the show is old-fashioned and homey, with cardboard cut-out houses and a painted Western sunset in the distance. Juxtaposed against it, Parton’s outfit seems dramatically new.
The jumpsuit is magenta with bell bottoms and bell sleeves, flaring her whole silhouette so that she is literally larger than life. Her waist is picked up with a rhinestone belt and her chest sparkles with the jewels, too. Her body is totally covered by fabric, yet emphasised in the process. The white lace inserts on her sleeves fulfil much the same function as the bow on Monroe’s dress, completing her movement as she performs. Her hair, the same peroxide blonde as Monroe’s, is backcombed and teased to the gods.
Parton is staunchly apolitical in public, uncomfortably so for many of her fans. Above all, she is a businesswoman (hence her silence on most divisive issues), but, when it comes to gay rights, she breaks her silence to defend them. Like Monroe, she is constantly underestimated but, to Parton, it is a strength of sorts: ‘I’ve done business with men who think I am as silly as I look. By the time they realise I’m not, I’ve got the money and gone.’
The third and final bimbo fashion moment of this article is Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, specifically the court scene – a performance of a very different kind.
In a room full of men in dark suits, Witherspoon’s pink and sparkly dress pops. The body of the dress is hot pink, calling on the power of bimbos past. The wrap shape recalls the Diane von Fürstenberg dresses so popular with working women for their ease, comfort, and modest, yet flattering cut. The collar is wide, and with the cuffs suggest the shirt of an eighties Wall Street banker. This brings a high masculine element to the dress, but reframes it within the feminine by virtue of the cotton-candy, satin material. This same fabric is used on the rhinestone belt – which seems inappropriate in a court room setting, just like Woods herself. Yet ultimately, she wins the case, proving she is just as worthy as any of the law firm bros in the background. Like many other women, she overcomes sexual harassment and constant underestimation to gain the same respect as the men in the room. Regardless of the realism of the film, it is a situation which many women recognise all too well.
Bimbos continue to show up the ways in which society continually undermines and underestimates those who present as hyper-feminine. The real question is whether bimbofication is a revolutionary act – a detournement of the societal ideal – or one that plays into late-capitalist expectations of womanhood, and thereby is recuperated into misogyny.
By Alexandra Sive