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October 18, 2021

Babe Paley: Fashion Icon and One of the Most Elegant Women of All Time

Born 1915 as Barbara Cushing in Boston, Massachusetts, American socialite Babe Paley was known by the nickname “Babe” for most of her life. She was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1958. Her second husband was the founder of CBS, William S. Paley.

Portrait of young Babe Paley

In 1938, Paley began working as a fashion editor for Vogue in New York City. Her position at Vogue gave her access to designer clothes, often given in exchange for Paley’s high profile image. In 1941, Time magazine voted her the world’s second best dressed woman after Wallis Simpson and before Aimée de Heeren. She was also named to the best-dressed list in 1945 and 1946.

Upon her second marriage in 1947, Paley left her job at Vogue.

In addition to entertaining, Paley maintained her position on the best-dressed list fourteen times before being inducted into the Fashion Hall of Fame in 1958. She regularly bought entire haute couture collections from famed fashion houses like Givenchy and Valentino SpA. Her style influenced many women, but as Bill Blass once observed, “I never saw her not grab anyone's attention, the hair, the makeup, the crispness. You were never conscious of what she was wearing; you noticed Babe and nothing else.”

Her personal, unconventional style was enormously influential. She often mixed extravagant jewelry by Fulco di Verdura and Jean Schlumberger with costume pieces, and embraced letting her hair go gray instead of using dye.

A heavy smoker, Paley was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1974 and died in 1978, the day after her 63rd birthday. Long after her death, Paley remains iconic in the world of fashion and style. “Babe Paley had only one fault,” commented her one-time friend Truman Capote. “She was perfect. Otherwise, she was perfect.”

Take a look at these gorgeous photos to see fashion styles of Babe Paley from the 1930s to 1960s.

Barbara Cushing (aka Barbara Cushing Mortimer Paley; Babe Paley) wearing evening dress with shirred bodice, velvet jacket, and matching gloves by Talbot, photo by Cecil Beaton, 1937

Babe Paley is wearing a be-winged marten hat and jabot revers on a natural marten hat by John Frederics, photographed by Horst P. Horst, 1939

Babe Paley photographed by Horst P. Horst, 1940

Barbara Cushing, a.k.a. Babe Paley, is wearing a Balinese-inspired turban, 1940

Babe Paley wearing a contrasting wool suit with a yellow bag with green crochet details, photographed by John Rawlings, 1941

Mrs. Stanley Grafton Mortimer Jr (later Mrs. William "Babe" Paley), photo by George Platt Lynes, 1941

Barbara “Babe” Cushing Mortimer photographed by Clifford Coffin for American Vogue, 1942

Mrs. Stanley Mortimer (future Babe Paley) in suit by Gerald James for I.Magnin and hat by Lilly Daché with her bulldogs on the steps of their house in Washington Square, photo by John Rawlings, American Vogue, September 1942

Babe Paley standing with hand against a wall, and wearing a dark gray floor-length faille robe with black velvet lining and folded-back sealskin collar by Lelong, photographed by John Rawlings, circa 1946

Babe Paley, photo by Erwin Blumenfeld, Vogue, September 1946

Barbara "Babe" Cushing Mortimer Paley wearing fashion by Balmain, photo by Clifford Coffin, Paris, December 1946

Barbara "Babe" Cushing Mortimer Paley wearing suit by Digby Morton, photo by Clifford Coffin, London, August 1946

Barbara "Babe" Cushing Mortimer Paley, photo by John Rawlings, Vogue, February 1, 1946

Barbara "Babe" Paley in dress by Norman Norell, photo by Horst P. Horst, American Vogue, 1946

Barbara “Babe” Cushing Mortimer Paley, dress by Paquin, jewelry by Van Cleef & Arpels, photo by John Rawlings, Vogue, November 15, 1946

Mrs. Stanley Grafton Mortimer Jr. (Babe Paley - formerly Barbara Cushing) at her home in Hobe Sound, Florida, photo by Bert Morgan, 1947

Mrs. Stanley Mortimer, later known as Babe Paley, photo by Erwin Blumenfeld, Vogue, February 1947

Babe Paley in her bedroom at Kiluna Farm, Manhasset, New York, photographed by Frances McLaughlin-Gill, 1948

Mrs. William Paley (aka Babe Paley) in a light green wrap dress, photo by Serge Balkin, 1948

Mrs. William "Babe" Paley, photo by John Rawlings, Vogue, February 1, 1949

Mrs. William S. "Babe" Paley in azure silk chiffon gown made to order at Hattie Carnegie, photo by John Rawlings, Vogue, February 1, 1949

Babe Paley at her home, Kiluna Farm, in Manhasset, Long Island, photo by Alexander Liberman, circa 1950

Babe Paley at home in Long Island, photo by Alexander Liberman, circa 1950

Babe Paley, circa 1950s

51 Mrs. William S. Paley, photo by Richard Avedon, Harper's Bazaar, October 1951

Babe Paley at her Kiluna Farm home in Manhasset, Long Island, in a Mainbocher evening dress, photo by Norman Parkinson, Vogue, December 1, 1952

Mrs. William S. Paley (Babe) in pale blue tweed jacket over a navy-blue skirt by Mainbocher, photo by Irving Penn, Vogue, March 15, 1954

Mrs. William "Babe" Paley, photo by Richard Avedon, 1957

Babe Paley and William Paley at their cottage in Round Hill, Jamaica, photo by Slim Aarons, 1959

Babe Paley beside the pool at her cottage in Round Hill, Jamaica, photo by Slim Aarons, 1959

Babe Paley beside the pool at Round Hill, her villa in Jamaica, photo by Slim Aarons, 1959

Barbara "Babe" Paley is wearing Jean Schlumberger's "Starfish" brooch, Women's Wear Daily, July 10, 1963

Babe Paley in shirt and pants from Givenchy Boutique at her villa in the outskirts of Paris, photo by Henry Clarke, American Vogue, August 1965

Babe Paley with hair by Kenneth, make-up by Arthur for Revlon, photographed by Richard Avedon at his studio in New York for American Vogue, May 1, 1967




1 comment:

  1. Ironically, there are few photos of Babe smoking, during an era when cigarettes were commonly used as props for photos of non-smoking people!

    ReplyDelete



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