The Entourage Effect

Both men and women seem to recognize that a valuable fashion accessory can be the company of an attractive, well-attired member of the opposite sex. And if one item of arm candy helps proclaim one’s attractiveness, what about the effect of a bevy of them? 

Musical theater has long understood and exploited this notion. In the 1957 film Les Girls Gene Kelly works with a troupe of 3 beautiful dancers. In the 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy James Cagney sings for a bevy of 16 belles wearing matching costumes. (See image number 22.) And in the same film Fay Templeton is admired by 8 nattily attired men. (See image number 37.)

Costuming one's bevy of admirers in matching outfits helps mark them as your entourage. In a 2005 Salzburg production of Verdi’s La Traviata, Anna Netrebko,  in a red dress, is surrounded by a large chorus, all of whom wear black suits. If you look closely you can see that many of those wearing suits are women, which only adds to the implication that she is attractive to all.

Epowellbm38 This image from Broadway Melody of 1938 suggests even greater sexual ambiguity. Thirty-two men in black top hat and tails kneel in admiration of Eleanor Powell, who is dressed in masculine, gray-blue top hat and tails. She stands in a feet-planted, legs-apart stance that body language experts call a crotch display. It is common stance for tough guys, but is seldom used by women (except superheroes). Of the 32 women whose eyes admire her, half already seem to have swooned, their dresses forming a lovely pattern. (See a superb large scan of this image here.)

Such over-the-top images almost parody themselves. By the time music videos came around, the entourage effect was ripe for post-modern reworking. In Robert Palmer’s  Addicted to Love video his band consists of five women who seem made up to resemble the stylized prints of Patrick Nagel. Clad in provocative versions of the simple black dress, these women wear neutral expressions. This leaves the tie-clad Palmer as the only person free to show facial emotion, his sexual attractiveness firmly established by his glamorous band.

Shania Twain parodied these images with her Man! I Feel Like a Woman! video. Her male band is strangely clad. Wearing what appears to be latex from the waist down, their upper bodies are showcased in thin stretch fabric. Better matched facially even than the women in Palmer’s video, they all wear swim goggles atop their forehead, perhaps a reference to a particular image of Nagel’s. The men seem to be stoic soldiers of glamour who know and accept their role as accessories. For brief periods they even disappear from the video. (And be sure to note Twain's stance.)

[Click to see YouTube video.]

Twain begins the video wearing a top hat and long black dress that suggests a tuxedo. By the video’s end she has stripped down to long black gloves, thigh-high boots, and a black corset. This costume has enough dominatrix overtones to reinforce her commanding role in this group, and, like Palmer, she is the only one allowed to show facial emotion.

As a stage device the entourage effect can seem part of an entertaining fantasy. But perpetuated over time in real life (à la Hugh Hefner surrounded by living Barbie Dolls), it can devolve into a caricature that becomes unflattering to everyone involved.