Fashionable 1940s Socialites

Fashionable 1940s Socialites

Babe Paley

Barbara Cushing Mortimer Paley was born in Massachusetts in 1915. She and her sisters were known as “The Fabulous Cushing Sisters” after they all married into prominent America families like the Astors, Roosevelts, Mortimer’s and Whitneys.

 Shot by Cecil Beaton in 1937

In 1938, Babe began working as a fashion editor for Vogue. She was married in 1940 wearing a Mabel McIlvain-Downs wedding dress.  

In 1941, Time magazine voted her the world’s second best dressed woman after Wallis Simpson. She was also named in the best dressed lists of ’45 and ’46. 

She married for the second time in 1947, to CBS president William S. Paley, and left her job at Vogue. She and her husband lived at the St.Regis hotel in New York. 

By 1958, she had been named on the best dressed list 14 times and was then inducted into the Fashion Hall of Fame. She regularly bought entire haute couture collections from the likes of Givenchy and Valentino. 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." 

Their social circle included Truman Capote and Slim Keith. They threw some of the most elaborate parties of the 1960s. Paley famously dropped Capote as a friend in the 70s when he published excerpts of his much-touted work in progress, Answered Prayers, a tell-all of New York's elite.

Her fashion sense was highly influential. She famously started the trend for tying scarves to handbags. 

She planned her own funeral before she died from lung cancer in 1978. She also created a file system for how her belongings would be allotted to family and friends after her death. 

She has been portrayed in many films and series’ including Life of the Party (1998), Capote (2005), Infamous (2006) and Halston (2021). 

She is also depicted in the novels The Love Machine (1969) and The Swans of Fifth Avenue (2016). 

She will be portrayed by Naomi Watts in the upcoming season 2 of the FX series Feud. 

Doris Duke 

Doris was born in New York in 1912, the daughter of tobacco and hydroelectric tycoon James Buchanan Duke. Upon his death in 1925, she inherited up to $100 million which is more than $1.5 billion in today’s money. 

She was known for her tall stature at 6 feet tall. She used her wealth to travel and pursue the arts. 

During WWII, she worked as a foreign correspondent and after the war she wrote for Harper’s Bazaar. 

Her former home in Hawaii is now the ‘Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design’ populated by her extensive art collection. 

Doris was involved in the death of Eduardo Tirella, who had been in Doris’ employ. It is suggested that Doris deliberately ran him over with her car when he told her of his intention to quit and move to Hollywood. It is suggested that she then used her money to cover it up. 

She was briefly married twice in the Forties. 

Her social circle included Jackie Kennedy, Halston and Andy Warhol. 

She died in 1993, leaving her fortune to charities. 

Lauren Bacall portrayed her in the 1999 miniseries ‘Too Rich:The Secret Life of Doris Duke’. Susan Sarandon also played her in 2007’s ‘Bernard and Doris’. 

The Newport Restoration Foundation (founded by Duke) now owns Rough Point Museum-Doris’ former home in Rhode Island, originally built for Frederick William Vanderbilt during The Gilded Age. The museum holds a collection of her wardrobe containing big names like Dior, Balenciaga, McCardell and Madame Grès as well as many lesser known designers like Dimitri Kritsas and Tina Leser. Also in the collection are many examples of traditional dress from her travels around the globe, especially from Southeast Asia. There are 20 pairs of shoes from Indian designer Taj Tajerie, who incidentally created all the shoes worn in the TV series I Dream of Jeannie!

Princess Natalia Paley

Countess Natalia Pavlovna Von Hohenfelsen (a title bestowed to Natalia’s mother by the king of Bavaria) was born in France in 1905, daughter to a Russian Grand Duke. In 1914, the family returned to Russia and Natalia and her mother were given a new title, Princess Paley, in 1915. They stayed in Russia after the fall of the monarchy. Her male family members were executed before she escaped with her sister and mother to Finland, and later Sweden and France, where they remained in exile. 

Her mother was well connected with the fashion world, having been a loyal customer of Worth for years. She hosted fashion charity events to aid Russian refugees. Nathalia worked for a short time as a model with the house of Yteb. Her half sister Maria opened the house Kitmir. 

Coco Chanel introduced her to fashion designer Lucien Lelong when she was 21. He employed her at his atelier and she married him in 1927 after he divorced his first wife. Lelong’s reputation grew with the help of Natalia, who was known her beauty and style. She became the face of the house. She was a sought-after model and a prominent socialite in Paris. Her image appeared in every fashion magazine including Vogue, photographed by Cecil Beaton, Edward Steichen, Horst P. Horst and other great photographers of the day. 

Natalia began affairs with the great dancer Serge Lifar and artist Jean Cocteau.


She turned to acting in the 1930s, starring in films such as The Private Life of Don Juan and Sylvia Scarlett, but her career never took off. 

She moved to New York in 1935, divorced Lelong in 1937, and married theatre director Jack Willson the same year.

She became an American citizen in 1941 and worked in public relations as a promotor/spokesperson for the house of Mainbocher in the 40s. She was a well known socialite and well established in the fashion world during these years, noted for her glamour. Her friends included the designer Valentina Sanina and Marlene Dietrich. 

Lelong died in 1958 and Wilson died in 1961, after which she became more and more reclusive. She passed away in 1981, having been absent from society for the best part of 20 years. She was only 76. Her biography was written by Jean Noel Liaut and published in 1996. 

She is mentioned in the book ‘Beauty in Exile: The Artists, Models, and Nobility who Fled the Russian Revolution and Influenced the World of Fashion’, written by Russian fashion historian Alexandre Vassiliev and published in 2000. She is featured in the final chapter ‘Russian Beauties of the 1930s & 1940s’. 

Carrie Munn

Caroline M. Neunder was born in Buffalo NY in 1898. She began her career as a showgirl on Broadway before briefly moving into costume design. She opened a dress shop in New York City in 1920 for a short time and published a book on etiquette in 1922. She married Orson Munn, the editor of the Scientific American Magazine, in 1924. She was a society leader, always appearing well turned out in the finest fashions. 

She opened another shop on Madison Avenue in 1941. During WWII, she offered American-made suits, separates dresses and couture gowns. She hosted parties at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel to showcase her designs to socialites and celebrities, often modelling her designs herself. A reporter said of her Fall 1952 collection "Every bodice is moulded close to the figure with a tiny waist. Do not expect limp sheaths or shirtwaist types from this designer”. 


She was named on the international Best Dressed List four times between 1947 and 1953.

She died in 1984. Carrie never received any formal training in fashion but today her designs are held at museums such as The Henry Ford Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

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