Eva Peron was no doubt a woman of style and glamour. As First Lady of Argentina, she had to dress the part, but she often went above and beyond duty. She was often criticized for how she dressed, especially due to her claim of love for the poor, but Eva herself said "the poor like to see me beautiful."
Though it seems somewhat hypocritical, Eva's jewels, furs, and gowns were no different than any other First Lady. Even Eleanor Roosevelt, a contemporary of Eva, had nice gowns and dresses.
Eva had grown up poor, so likely as a child she did not have many nice things. As a woman who has not been able to wear jewels and perfume until recently in my life, I don't blame her. Eva's story was a true Cinderella one. However, even as a child, Eva was very beautiful. With her black hair, olive skin, and enormous eyes, all the poverty in the world could not hide the beauty of her pure heart.
As an actress, Eva often dressed for her parts. During the time of this era, many actresses were often "sponsored" by men who paid for their dresses and parts. However, when Eva first arrived in Buenos Aires, she did not know anyone who could do this for her and was often poorly dressed and mocked for this. I have noted the dress she wore for the part of Napoleon's sister, as well as the swimsuit picture in Sintonia.
Eva toiled many years in Buenos Aires before the hard work finally paid off. Her big break came in 1939, and then she could begin dressing as a more elaborate woman, with her hair done up in the ringlets of the 1940s and the beginning of Eva's glamour began when she began to be known in radio. For most of her acting career, Eva had dark hair. It was not until her part in The Circus Calvalcade, in which she bleached her hair to play a country girl, that her famous blonde beauty was born. She was still a brunette when she met Peron.
Paco Jamandraeu is considered the creator of the style of the iconic blonde Evita. He was an Argentine fashion designer who met Evita before she became the wife of Peron, and who appears in my novel, warning her that if she decides to become a blonde she may never be able to return to her natural color. But he was more than just a man who created her chignon and gave her advice on how to dress. The two were friends and confidantes. His friendship with her is dramatized in the Argentine movie Eva Peron, which was Argentina's answer to the film with Madonna.
After becoming the wife of the President, Eva considered her past career beneath her new position and had many of her acting stills and movies destroyed. She also began to cultivate a more professional image, although she still had some fashion faux pas when she became First Lady.One of my personal favorite stories that shows both Eva's love for style and her courage to break tradition was the scandal of the bare shoulder at Peron's 1946 inaguration. She sat in a a gown that revealed her left shoulder while seated next to a cardinal. T his photo is reproduced in the Navarro and Fraser's biography.
Eva had not grown up rich, so she had several friends help tell her what was proper in how to dress. One of them was Liliane Guardo, the wife of one of her husband's close aides. It was said that when she first became First Lady, Eva would dress in mismatched outfits, but soon with Liliane's help became a fashion plate. In her tour to Europe, Eva dressed well in the "new Look" of the late 1940s. Of course, when she visited Paris, she could not help but dress like a queen.
My favorite outfit of Eva's is the gold lame dress she wore in Paris. However, Eva dressed quite well in Italy and Spain too. In Spain, Eva was welcomed as though she were a queen and visiting royalty, and given a dress from each of the provinces of that country. Señora Franco is said to have made her a gift of a mantilla, which Eva wore to a bullfight. The vain bullfighter that day is said to have tried to bring all attention to him, but it was an exercise in futility, since all had come to see Eva. In Italy, Eva dressed a bit more simply, being warned to be on her guard since the Italians were not as welcoming to her. In several of these photos she wears a black and white polka dot dress, a look not flattering to her.
When she returned from Europe, her style became much more simple, but she never lost her love of jewels or perfume. It's said Eva liked to mix perfumes from France to create her own custom scents. As she became more passionate about her work, her outfit was often a simple dress suit, a Peronist medallion of stone, and her hair pulled back into a chignon. The chignon was created almost by accident when Eva had had Paco styling her hair and the ends were singed after a bad cut. Since she did not have time to redo them, Paco braided her hair and pulled it back into the signature look, which she wore from 1948 until her death.
When Eva was dying, her elegance faded away. One of the last photos of her shows her on her couch not long before her death. Her chignon is gone and a badly tressed, too thin braid is in its place. While dying, Eva is often said to have cried to her maids "If God would give me back my health, I would never wear my jewels again. Only a blouse and a skirt." It is said she donated many of her jewels and perfumes to the poor of Argentina. Sadly, when Peron was overthrown, Eva's will was abolished, and these outfits were displayed in museums as symbols of Peronist decadency, instead of going to those who Eva desired to have. But Eva's style was part of her legend and remains so. Viva la memoria de Evita!