Sparkle Icon: Josephine Baker

A Civil Rights pioneer was also one of the most influential entertainers and style icons of the early 20th century.

Missouri-born Josephine Baker was one of the most original and celebrated entertainers of the early 20th century, taking France by storm in the 1920s and 1930s. An African-American during a time when the U.S. was openly opposed to racial equality, she nevertheless rose to prominence as a singer, dancer, and later, movie actress who was known for her provocative, semi-nude performances.

Baker was the first woman of African descent to star in a major motion picture and to racially integrate an American music hall. She was also a noted supporter of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, making her an early role model for many African-American women.

As fitting her trailblazing persona, Baker’s personal style was theatrical and forward-thinking, incorporating many Art Deco details from contemporary designers and artists. Her jewelry was frequently large, geometric, and dramatic, and she favoured pearls and diamonds in the stark, light colour scheme that dominated the era. The popular head jewelry of the era was a natural fit on Baker, whose spit curl bob, cupid’s bow mouth, and free-thinking personality made her the image of the Jazz Age flapper.

“A violinist had a violin, a painter his palette. All I had was myself. I was the instrument that I must care for.”

“Beautiful? It’s all a question of luck. I was born with good legs. As for the rest . . . beautiful, no. Amusing, yes.”

“The things we truly love stay with us always, locked in our hearts as long as life remains.”

“I wasn’t really naked. I simply didn’t have any clothes on.”

To learn how to do makeup a la Baker, visit our tutorial here. Or read more about Baker’s life and work in her own words by picking up her autobiography.

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