Bow’s first brush with film followed the 1921 Fame and Fortune contest, for which she won an evening gown and a silver trophy. Bow was promised a film role, but nothing came of it. Bow’s father encouraged her to frequent the studios looking for work, where bit parts and small roles became bigger and the critics began to take notice. Variety highly rated Bow’s performance in Grit(1924) commenting, “Clara Bow lingers in the eye, long after the picture has gone.” Bow’s roles embodied the bold, free spirited, carefree jazz baby, fusing her rebellious ways with sultry glances as she flirted with the camera.
The studio system capitalized on the actress’ popularity with 58 films in 11 years. Her expressive body language and wide emotive eyes made Bow a perfect commodity for the silent film era; however, the ‘It’ girl’s jump to talkies did not go as smoothly as her rise to stardom. Bow once confessed to her disdain for the talkies stating, “They’re stiff and limiting. You lose a lot of your cuteness, because there’s no chance for action, and action is the most important thing to me.”
Though Bow had a tumultuous personal life, her popularity endured while adoring fans rushed to copy her style. Scarfs saw a surge in popularity as Bow wore them tied around her hair or draped around her neck, paired with loose drop waist dresses or sweaters worn with accordion pleat midi skirts. Kohl and henna also experience the same benefits as sales tripled when a magazine reported Bow’s favored product to achieve her favourite red hue. Fans could even order their own Clara Bow Cloche hat through mail order. Bow is also said to be one of the inspirations for Max Fleischer’s Betty Boop cartoon. Bow’s influence continues today as many of the actress’s on-screen mannerisms have been captured in the portrayal of Peppy Miller in 2012’s Oscar winning picture, The Artist.