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

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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

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