“Whatever she wore, she wore in a way you would never forget.” ~ Oscar de la Renta
I vaguely remember hearing her name, but I had no idea that there was such a Babe in American fashion history. Barbara “Babe” Paley (1915-1978) was a fashion influencer and true style icon; I began reading about her and her two sisters Minnie and Betsey Cushing in the book, “The Sisters,” by David Grafton. And then the flood gates of my mind opened and I couldn’t know enough about this statuesque socialite and much-loved personality. Born to wealth and prominence as the daughter of a Boston neurosurgeon, Babe and her two older sisters (under the guidance of their socially ambitious mother) made marrying- well their careers and gained further popularity in high society circles. It was here that Babe Paley with her striking good looks, bone structure, and model figure, entered the stratosphere of high style and became universally admired for her fashion sense.
Vogue once said that Babe Paley had a “special talent for wearing clothes.” She certainly was a trendsetter. Her style was simple, elegant, and crisp; Babe favored pearls, twin sets, pantsuits, skirts and silk scarves. In fact, it is said that after taking her scarf and tying it around her handbag she sparked a fashion trend that is still seen today. Much like Coco Chanel she understood the art of accessorizing and mixing costume jewelry with genuine pieces. And when her hair started to gray she let it gray naturally – a gorgeous gray color – and made another fashion statement. And her signature? Her luminous skin paired with a bright red lip.
As a young woman, before her first marriage to Staney Grafton Mortimer, Jr., Babe worked successfully as a fashion editor at Vogue, where she was quite the rage and developed a great circle of friends. She loved the glamorous world of fashion from the start and it was a love that would last a lifetime. She eventually divorced Mortimer and would leave Vogue just after she married founder of CBS and one of the most powerful men in America, William S. Paley. It was a marriage, apparently, that came with its highs and lows and sadly, Babe died young at age 63. I wonder what would have happened if her career in fashion might have had a chance to flourish? Ah, but Babe Paley lived in a time and of an era. Yet no matter what, she created her own distinctive stamp. What a Babe!