Slim Keith – style icon different and unique



Individuality was what set Slim Keith apart from her contemporaries, but it was her polish, her healthy good looks, her understated sexy chic look which culminated in her unique style.

Photograph by John Engstead 1945

Here is an easy elegance.   These images reflect a woman who is intelligent and confident in dressing to suit herself and not the dictates of fashion.   While those around her dressed in the latest vogue, Slim adapted trends to suit herself.  She possessed the essence of style. She oozed ‘cool’ decades ahead of Kate Moss or Olivia Palermo.


Photograph by John Engstead 1945

The only thing out of date in these shots is her cigarette and yet these photos hark back to the mid 1940s!  This is primordial cool with impact!  Photoshop the cigarette out of the picture and she could be the next cover for ‘Marie Claire’. Note the lack of pretence! She is not trying to prove anything – simply ‘calling it’ as it is.  It’s her innate confidence that conveys her striking beauty.  We can only look on in awe.

Born Nancy Gross in California in 1917, at age 17 she met the 1930s screen idol, William Powell , who knick named her Slim, and propelled her into the Hollywood orbit of dashing men such as David Niven and Cary Grant. But it was not a career in movies that she craved, rather her desire to be where the action was.

Slim Photo

Photograph by Man Ray

Soon she came to the attention of film director, Howard Hawks and although 22 years her senior they were married.   Of the marriage she wrote:   ‘He was exactly the package I wanted.  The career, the house, the four cars, the yacht – this was the life for me. ’ In keeping with her style, this is open honesty.  After seeing Lauren Bacall’s photograph in Harper’s Bazaar’, Slim recommended to Howard Hawks he cast Bacall opposite Humphrey Bogart in To have and Have Not. Slim became the inspiration for that character.  Even the famous lines:  ‘You know how to whistle, don’t you?  Just put your lips together and blow’ were Slim’s own.

Although her status brought a life of parties and premiers, Slim was happiest pursuing an outdoorsy athletic life, running her homestead and farm, horse riding, skeet shooting and fishing.

slim Keith

Hunting with Ernest Hemingway 1941

Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

Her marriage to Howard ended in divorce and she went on to two further marriages. She once said of her track record:  ‘Ten years, that was usually my run’.  The remark has the same candidness that dominated her style.

In 1945 Slim was featured four times in Harper’s Bazaar.  Named as one of the best dressed women in the world, her personal style was celebrated as the ‘California girl’.  She insisted on being photographed entirely as herself.  No illusions.  No pretence.  Her favourite pieces were her everyday clothes, suede jackets, denim jeans, work shirts, loafers and socks.


Photograph by John Engstead 1945

Of herself she wrote:   “It was about good looks, brains, taste, and style. . . . The only ingredient I brought to this recipe was the recognition that, while you have to be natural, you also have to be different. . . . In my day, different meant not having your hair done in a pompadour and adorning it with a snood, or not trying to hide your intelligence behind a sea of frills. I somehow knew there was a glut in that market. I opted for a scrubbed-clean, polished look. I thought it was more important to have an intelligence that showed, a humour that never failed, and a healthy interest in men.”

She definitely nailed it. Slim eclipsed ‘different’ to become unique!