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God bless the style: how Billie Holiday made glamour revolutionary

With Lee Daniels’ film The United States Vs Billie Holiday out this week, the jazz star’s signatures – gowns, gloves and gardenias – are being reasses

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With Lee Daniels’ film The United States Vs Billie Holiday out this week, the jazz star’s signatures – gowns, gloves and gardenias – are being reassessed. Could they be seen as a radical act?

For her comeback concert at Carnegie Hall in March 1948, after 10 months in jail, Billie Holiday wore a long gown, gloves and that trademark gardenia. She was, as always, every inch the star. From those gowns on stage, to fur coats, ponytails and diamanté sunglasses offstage, Holiday oozed mid-century glamour.

Lee Daniels’ The United States Vs Billie Holiday is released this month. The film, starring Andra Day, focuses on Holiday at the height of her fame in the late 40s and early 50s when she was targeted by the FBI, after she started singing Strange Fruit, a protest song about lynching in the south. Seen by the agency as a troublemaker when she refused to stop singing what was seen as a controversial song, the FBI recruited Jimmy Fletcher, a rare Black agent, to bust Holiday – a known heroin user – for drug offences. Daniels’ film, using Johann Hari’s 2015 book Chasing the Scream as its basis, tells the story of that time. And style is part of that story.

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