Jeri Mae James Breathes New Life Into Old Hollywood Glamour

Yes, she looks a lot like Marilyn Monroe ... but there’s so much more to this TikTok sensation.

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While Old Hollywood sounds like a star-crossed, impossibly lush world of the distant past, the iconic fashion moments and glamorous makeup looks (more often than not inspired by the undying starlet, Marilyn Monroe) are undoubtedly timeless. From today’s red carpet appearances to vintage muses of the moment, that truly special time in Hollywood’s history seems to somehow confidently reign on, no matter how much time has passed — which is nearly a century, if you can believe it.

But what is it about that specific place in time and moment in our history that allows for such a deeply-felt connection? Why do so many still long to experience, or embody, Old Hollywood’s allure?

Perhaps, those with a particularly romantic side find themselves ever-captivated by those intoxicatingly airy lines, dripping from the ruby red lips of silver screen beauties (made all the more dramatic by black and white film) — or maybe, it’s simply a longing for a sense of mystery that seems all but lost on today’s social media platforms.

Here, modern romantic, vintage enthusiast, and who many call TikTok’s Marilyn Monroe lookalike — Jeri Mae James — candidly shares her story with Bustle, and sheds light on the fascination with Old Hollywood.

My Conversation With Jeri Mae James

I first stumbled upon James when scrolling through TikTok — and despite there being quite a few Marilyn lookalikes on the platform, I truly took a double-take with her. As an MM-lover, who has collected and read nearly all of the published works available on the star (including her unfinished autobiography, My Story), I recognized so many mannerisms and quirky tendencies within her. And beyond obvious blue eyes and sun-drenched blonde hair akin to Monroe — she seemed to radiate a familiarly sensual confidence, all while capturing the kindness and innocence of an ingénue.

Some within her comment section go so far as to describe her as an uncanny reincarnation of Monroe. James shares with me: “That is terribly flattering! I think in part it comes from social media's pension for hyperbole, and also people’s knowledge of Old Hollywood coming down to a handful of names and faces. Personally, I would never claim to be a reincarnation of anyone — let alone thee Marilyn Monroe. How does one ever live up to someone who really became the essence of Hollywood in its Golden Age?”

The Hollywood resident goes on to articulate a sentiment so widely shared: “Like many people, I feel connected to Marilyn for her humanity. I think part of her everlasting appeal, apart from her artistic contribution, is that she makes many of us feel represented.”

For me, this sense of feeling represented by Marilyn happened early on in my life, I’d say in middle or high school, when early 2000s fashion trends seemed to only cater to those who were much thinner than myself (ahem ... low-rise denim). I thought — if the sexiest woman in our history could exist without the flattest tummy, then so could I. At such a difficult age for many, that truth gave me strength. Both James and I agree that this experience is widely shared, though for her, more deeply as it relates to her childhood: “There were many difficult years for me in my youth, especially when it came to my sexuality, relationships with men, feelings of abandonment, and my desire to be an actress. [Marilyn’s] experiences do resonate with me. I wish more people knew how strong she was — how at the pinnacle of her career, she really gambled on herself to break barriers. That is what I really look to her for most — a reminder that betting on yourself is worth the struggle.”

I asked James how she first discovered the world of vintage beauty and Old Hollywood glamour — to which she replied with an interesting distinction between the two terms: “It is worth noting that beauty and glamour are different. Beauty [can be described as] your natural attractiveness, to be determined by ones own tastes, and is more or less genetic luck or smooth makeup application. Glamour is a created air of oomph, which makes it much more attainable to people who may feel like the beauty standard is excluding them. [In other words], glamour gives you power [by way of] creation and artistry.” Much like Norma Jean’s creation of the glamorous character Marilyn Monroe, her iconic look wasn’t entirely a result of natural beauty, but had a lot to do with added elements, like near-white blonde hair, perfectly painted red lips, and an expertly sculpted and blushed complexion.

“I wish more people knew how strong she was — how at the pinnacle of her career, she really gambled on herself to break barriers. That is what I really look to her for most — a reminder that betting on yourself is worth the struggle.”

She carries on to describe her introduction to the sparkling world of Old Hollywood: “I saw my first vintage film at age 11 or 12. I was so enamored by the beauty of not only the performers — but of the costumes, the color-grading (thank you technicolor), and the melodic romantic scores. It was my own Dorothy in Oz moment. I suppose that is truly when I knew I wanted to be an actor. I thought, if only I could I get inside the screen somehow and live in this magical, colorful world.”

Though the creation of TikToks flexes her acting prowess and satiates her artistic vision in short formats, James expresses: “I am very eager to start getting my screenplays out there, and [I’m] hoping to produce and create my own world of movies, films, and pictures. [Ultimately], I would like to contribute to the film industry and share my unique knowledge and perspective.”

And while we patiently wait for James to breathe new life into the beloved world of Old Hollywood, she does have some thoughts on how anyone can embrace vintage glamour in their own lives: “Little things like romanticizing everyday activities, putting on a jazz record while you cook, throwing on a cute hat when you go to the farmer’s market ... Take time to do [what we now consider] ‘old school’ — like reading a physical copy of a book, or handwriting a letter to your friend. Doing things that really connect you to the present moment, [while enjoying] opulence [like makeup and clothes] makes life more fun, and I think we need that in the modern world.”

Speaking of makeup — I’ve been all but dying to take a look inside her vintage-inspired makeup bag, and perhaps pick up on a tip or two she’s learned along the way.

“I believe using a lip brush makes the whole thing more manageable and helps control pigment best — plus, you use less product. Also, I never go without lip gloss, but if you can't stand the stuff, a little highlighter applied with a fine brush on your lips makes them appear moisturized and glossy (without any stickiness). [That being said], don’t be afraid to play around — there is something so magnetic about people who find what looks best on them instead of following the crowd.”

And with a timeless tip that I’m sure many have heard throughout their lives, but bears repeating: “Just be sure to always take makeup off before bed. Cold creams or makeup removing lotion is the best for me personally. I also love a warmed up, damp washcloth to sooth my eyes after a [long] day of wearing makeup.”

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