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22 Glamorous Facts About Glamour Shots

Has any photo service delighted pop culture more than Glamour Shots? Merely mentioning the phrase conjures images of purple eyeshadow, satin gloves, feathered accessories and ‘dos—not to mention enough airbrushing to make a dolphin jean jacket jealous. And yet, what do we really know about the Oklahoma City-based company that haunts our backlit dreams? Not nearly as much as we want to. mental_floss went behind the lens to get the full picture of the classic ‘90s business: Lights, camera, sequins! 

1. IT WAS FOUNDED BY A FRAT PARTY PHOTOGRAPHER.

Glamour Shots as we know it opened its first store in Dallas in 1988. But the company’s origins go back to the 1960s, when enterprising University of Oklahoma student Jack Counts, Jr. began snapping away at fraternity parties, selling shots he trademarked as Party Pics. Fast forward a couple of decades to a vacation in Hawaii, where the former marketing major spied a photo studio run by women that churned out glamorous and affordable portraits. He said aloha to a new idea: a studio that gave women makeovers and their very own fashion shoot—with on-the-spot proofs. 

2. THE CHAIN ALMOST DIDN'T MAKE IT TO THE '90S ...

A revolution can take time. Though Counts Jr. opened his second store in Houston in October 1988, Glamour Shots nearly folded months later. As he explained in 1991, “This was a new endeavor for us … The first six or eight months were difficult. We lost money and came close to closing.”

3. ... BUT THEN, ITS POPULARITY EXPLODED.

Once out of the woods, Glamour Shots reached for the stars. In its first three years, according to a 1991 article in The Oklahoman, its revenue grew from less than $250,000 a year to almost $7 million. A slew of imitators soon followed, going by names like Hollywood Portrait Studios, Elegant Images, Inc., Incredibly You, Fantasy Photography, Pizzazz Photography, Passion Photography, Head Shots, Cover Shots, Your Best Shot, and Freeze Frame. 

The number of Glamour Shots stores peaked at 380 in 1995, including shops in Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. Alaska was the only U.S. state to never see its own store.

4. GLAMOUR SHOTS' INSTANT TECHNIQUE WAS A MODERN WONDER.

Those insta proofs were everything. Counts Jr. designed a process that allowed customers to view their portraits on the spot, order portraits, and walk away with their 16 poses from the day on a black and white contact sheet. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution breathlessly explained in 1990, “It typically takes a traditional studio several days to show customers proofs of their pictures. But in Glamour Shots, a video camera captures a ‘still image’ at the same moment the camera takes a picture. The image can be displayed instantly on a monitor in the store.” 

5. TONYA HARDING WAS A HUGE FAN.

The permed one was a frequent customer. “Tonya Harding has been to the Clackamas Town Center store six or seven times,” the manager of a Washington state shop dished to a reporter for The Columbian in 1995. “Tonya usually goes for a pretty natural look. And she looks very, very good.’” There have been no confirmed reports of rival Nancy Kerrigan sitting down for a session. 

6. SOMEWHERE IN THE WORLD, THERE IS A SET OF ROSEANNE BARR GLAMOUR SHOTS.

According to a May 1993 Dallas Morning News article that refers to her as Roseanne Arnold, Roseanne Barr had by that time posed for the mall chain’s cameras. Perhaps her portraits were a gift for then-hubby, Tom Arnold? The comedian was in good company, of course. The same article claims that “crown princesses of Saudi Arabia have done it”—spending $12,000 in one day at the Prestonwood studio in Plano, Texas. 

7. THOSE STUDDED JACKETS WERE VERY STRATEGIC.

When sitting down for a session, women (or men, though at most, they made up approximately 5 percent of clients) could pick from six categories of dress, according to a 1995 consultant’s guide, as reported by the Hartford Courant: “1. Spontaneous; 2. ‘Can't wait to be touched;’ 3. Tailored; 4. Elegant; 5. Bold; and 6. Other. Please describe.” 

8. ENSEMBLES WERE A PARTY-ON-THE-TOP KIND OF THING.

Before sitting in front of the camera, clients kept their own duds on from the waist down and slipped into a black tube top. From there, they could change into their four different looks quickly and modestly—and wait to be clamped or Velcroed in. Most items of clothing were slit in the back to make them one-size-fits-all. As one Peoria (Illinois) Journal Star journalist noted in 1993, “The illusion is pretty apparent when you're waiting for your turn to be photographed. Patrons wander about, glamorously attired from the waist up, and wearing jeans, hiking boots, sweats or whatever they came in in from the waist down.” And those black-tie looks? Compliments of a bolt of fabric or a shimmering scarf wrapped around clients’ torsos to give the illusion of evening gowns. 

9. GLAMOUR SHOTS MAKEUP ARTISTS WERE AMONG THE FIRST TO DISCOVER CONTOURING. 

Ahead of its time again! Makeup artists were instructed to “do what we call contouring” one pro told the Houston Chronicle in 1993. Many others echoed the sentiment in article after article, using the same word to describe the technique in which they highlighted clients’ cheekbones, chins, noses, and brow bones while darkening the lower line of the jaw to create the illusion of an oval face. You’re welcome, Kim. 

10. THERE WAS “NO SUCH THING AS TOO MUCH HAIR.”

That’s what one stylist told a client who was shadowed by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1993. And while one store manager claimed the chain allowed for geographical variations in ‘dos so that not everyone had to sport the higher-the-hair-the-closer-to-God look, another pro revealed she blasted through three or four industrial sized bottles of hairspray per week! 

11. THE FOUNDATION WAS STRONG.

The thick, theatrical base that was slathered on customers from hairline to shoulders absorbed light and covered everything. As one makeup artist shared in 1993, “Everybody says, ‘Gosh, where can I buy some of that?’” But everyday use was not the best idea, she added: “This stuff just doesn't let your skin breathe, and you would crack. If you have any kind of heat, you will melt.” 

High school girls who tried to “scam” their local Glamour Shots into doing their prom makeup for the low price of a sitting sans prints—apparently a big concern in 1992—would live to pay the price. As the manager of a St. Louis-area store revealed to a newspaper reporter that year, “We are aware this happens once in awhile, but there's nothing we can do about it… We use theatrical makeup… It's not meant to be worn on the street. It's too heavy. It cakes and comes off big-time. If the girls get hot, their faces will look like Niagara Falls.”

12. PEOPLE DROPPED SERIOUS CASH ON THE EXPERIENCE.

A manager of the store in Buffalo, New York’s Boulevard Mall estimated in 1994 that most customers spent “between $200 and $300.” With inflation, that’s the equivalent of about $340 to $500 today.

13. REAL ESTATE AGENTS LOVED IT. 

While modern professional humans are hip to the craze of professional photography sittings, the very idea of such fakery rattled 1990s-era proletariats. Among the first to adopt the practice were real estate agents. A 1993 Fort Worth Star-Telegram article proclaimed that “the biggest believers seem to be real estate agents, whose highly polished faces are popping up on lawn signs and house listings.” The piece went on to relay a tale in which three Century 21 agents ran into five employees from a rival real estate company at the same mall on the same day at the same Glamour Shots studio. No wrinkles, no mercy.

14. IN 1996, THE STUDIO RAN A NATIONAL BAYWATCH MODELING CONTEST. 

“One lucky winner… will appear in a Baywatch episode or montage,” the contest copy read. Will the winner please reveal herself or himself? The internet needs you.

15. THE COMPANY STILL EXISTS ...

Eventually, the little Oklahoma City-based chain that could, well, couldn’t. In 1994, the chain hit about $100 million in sales—and remained at that mark through 1996, according to The Wall Street Journal. Tragically, greater Buffalo, New York lost all three of its shops on the same day in August 1996. By 2001, the number of stores nationwide dropped to 93 by Entrepreneur magazine’s count. 

Although there have been rumblings over the years that the mall favorite had shuttered, their Marketing Director Alison Counts (yes, related to the company's founder) tells mental_floss that Glamour Shots “is experiencing an uptick.” One reason: They’re moving out of malls, where they had been suffering in recent times. “Now we’ve come back with a model that’s typically in strip centers,” where leases are shorter and less expensive. Today, the company’s website notes there are approximately 40 locations. 

Another modern day success factor: boudoir photography. At first, the chain was adamant that they not do bedroom pics. “We're not doing boudoir photography,” Counts Jr. told Tulsa World in 1990, adding, “Boudoir is more Playboy-ish. We just do head and shoulder shots. This is wholesome fun.” Flash forward to 2016, and Alison Counts says, “Boudoir is huge ... We take a lot of photos just for empowerment.”

16. AND YOU CAN OPEN YOUR OWN GLAMOUR SHOTS!

Yes, much like Subway or Dunkin Donuts, Glamour Shots is a franchise. To open one, you need a bit of marketing savvy and approximately $218,420 to $264,950. Photography skills are a plus, Alison Counts says, but not required: “Most of the successful franchise owners have maybe never been photographers. They’re good promoters.” And the ‘90s behemoth will help out with a marketing plan. One tip: Offer cross promotions with dentists, orthodontists, and weight loss centers: “Anything where there’s been a recent big change,” Counts says.

17. THE COMPANY ONCE SUED HANNAH MONTANA. 

In 2008, the case Glamour Shots Licensing Inc. v. The Walt Disney Co. et al. was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. Their complaint? Candies called “Disney Glamour Shots Candy” with a photo of Miley Cyrus’ Hannah Montana character on them violated their trademark. The Oklahoma-based company apparently didn’t mind, though, when the 2004 cult classic Napoleon Dynamite included a storyline about a character with a door-to-door business called Glamour Shots by Deb. Speaking of …

18. GEORGE COSTANZA DID NOT HAVE THE SAME GLAM GIRLFRIEND AS NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. 


Despite an online rumor, the photo George Costanza flashed to woo beautiful women in an episode of Seinfeld after his fiancee died is not the same image that Napoleon Dynamite’s titular character claims is his long-distance girlfriend. In a scene from the 2004 flick, Napoleon hands the wallet-sized pic to Pedro, saying, “You know, my old girlfriend from Oklahoma was gonna fly out here for the dance, but she couldn’t cuz she’s doing some modeling right now.” When Pedro says “wow,” Napoleon explains, “Yeah I took her to the mall to get some Glamour Shots for her birthday one year.” 

The photo of Napoleon’s “girlfriend” is featured on the left. George Costanza’s “fiancee”—from Season 8’s classic episode “Bizarro Jerry”—is on the right.

19. THERE'S STILL A COMPANY-WIDE PHOTOGRAPHER'S GUIDE THAT SUGGESTS POSES. 

Historically, that explains all of this

20. GLAMOUR SHOTS IS MOST POPULAR IN TWO PARTICULAR REGIONS OF THE U.S. 

“Any part of Texas is huge. All of the Texas stores do very well,” says Alison Counts, adding that the Northeast isn’t far behind. “The stores in New Jersey do very, very well.” 

21. THE '90S-TASTIC WARDROBES ARE OUT ... 

Gone are the days of sorting through the studio’s racks to find just the right suede jacket or bedazzled blouse. Around 2000, the model switched to BYO clothes—which some customers think is a shame. “We still get people who want [the old look]!” says Alison Counts. The practice of stocking the stores went kaput mostly because changing up looks was a huge expense. Now the stores suggest the type of clothing to bring for the looks a customer chooses. 

To note: Somewhere, there’s a graveyard of glitz. One store manager told the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader in 1999 that at one point during the phase-out, her studio was storing 200 to 300 sequined jackets from the ‘80s. 

22. ... BUT PROPS STILL EXIST!

Now, suggested looks, including hair and makeup, change seasonally—as do the props. Yes, props. Spring 2016 is heavy on flower tiaras. And rainbow-hued hair is making an appearance, too. Just ask for the Kylie. “You see the Jenners and the Kardashians getting into different colored hair,” Alison Counts explains. “We have some stuff with pink wigs—a lot of pretty, vibrant color.” But don’t expect giant star clip-ons or extravagant boas. “First of all, the feathers made a giant mess,” she explains. “The boas were dropped much earlier than ‘99, 2000 … but they just iconically stayed in people’s minds.”

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Photo Illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. All images, iStock
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The Pom-Pom Hit: When Texas Was Struck By a Cheerleader Mom's Murder Plot
Photo Illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. All images, iStock
Photo Illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. All images, iStock

On a January morning in 1991, Wanda Holloway was faced with a decision: Realizing that she couldn't afford two murders, the 36-year-old married mother of two had to decide whether to order the killing of her rival, Verna Heath, or Verna’s 13-year-old daughter, Amber.

It was a toss-up as to who presented the bigger problem to Holloway. Amber was an eighth-grader who had the talent and poise to consistently knock out Holloway’s daughter, Shanna, from a spot on their school’s cheerleading squad in Channelview, Texas; yet Verna was the one who pushed Amber, getting her into gymnastics and even being so bold as to let Amber try out for the junior high cheerleading squad before she had even formally enrolled in school.

Killing Amber would guarantee Shanna a berth to cheerleading stardom. But there was a problem: Holloway's ex-brother-in-law, Terry Harper—whom she enlisted to help her carry out her plan—said the man he knew who would accept the assignment wanted $5000 to kill a minor. Bumping off Verna would be a comparatively reasonable $2500.

In a perfect world, $7500 would get rid of them both, but Holloway simply didn’t have the money. So she decided it would be Verna. In addition to being cheaper, she figured Amber would be so devastated by her mother’s death that she couldn’t possibly get through cheerleader tryouts that March.

On January 28th, after dropping Shanna off at church, Wanda met with Harper to give him her diamond earrings as a down payment. Within a matter of days, she would make national headlines as the mother who would do anything for her daughter. Even if it meant life in prison.

 
 

A suburb of Houston, Holloway's hometown of Channelview, Texas sits in a state where football fields are considered holy ground and small town players are revered for their athletic prowess. Boys were expected to suit up if they wanted social status; girls could obtain a measure of popularity along the sidelines as cheerleaders. In both cases, the fitness and discipline required could help provide a foundation for a transition out of adolescence.

As a young woman, Wanda Holloway wanted to join that clique. Her father, a conservative Baptist, vetoed the idea. The costumes were too revealing, he said, too sexualized. Reporters would later seize on this detail and use it to craft a kind of super-villain origin story for Holloway—a woman who was determined to see her own daughter succeed where she hadn’t.

Holloway remained in Channelview and, in 1972, married railroad warehouse employee Tony Harper. They had two children: Shane in 1973 and Shanna in 1977. She divorced Harper in 1980, remarrying twice and retaining custody of the kids.

As Shanna grew older and grade school activities increased, Holloway was determined that her daughter would enjoy some of the opportunities her own father had denied her. She urged Shanna to try out for the seventh-grade cheerleading squad; though Shanna didn’t feel as passionately about the team as her mother did, she tried her best but didn’t make the cut as three girls were vying for two open slots. It was apparently vexing to Holloway that one of the girls who made the team didn’t even attend Alice Johnson Junior High during tryouts: She was still transitioning from a private school. That student was Amber Heath.

Amber and Shanna had purportedly been friends, even having sleepovers at each other’s homes. But Holloway perceived both Amber and her ambitious mother, Verna, as obstacles to Shanna’s progress in cheerleading. Verna had printed flyers and handed out candy during that seventh-grade coup. The next year, Holloway decided to make an offensive move and passed out rulers and pencils that urged Shanna’s classmates to vote her into the squad: “Vote for Shanna Harper for Cheerleader.”

The vice principal intervened, saying such campaigning was against school rules. (Verna's flyers had somehow skirted any penalty.) When Holloway ignored him, parents of other cheerleader candidates—Verna included—held a meeting and voted to disqualify Shanna from being in the running. Shanna was now 0-2, and Verna had made it personal.

As tryouts loomed for ninth grade in 1991, Holloway decided she couldn’t take any more chances with the Heaths. She approached Terry Harper, her first husband’s brother, the one man she knew with some slightly delinquent criminal tendencies. Harper had been arrested a few times on misdemeanor charges. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, he didn’t travel in the kinds of circles where he might know any hitmen. But Holloway seemed convinced that Harper had the connections to make Verna and Amber go away.

Harper would later tell police that he brushed off Holloway’s solicitations but she was persistent. Realizing she was serious, he went to the sheriff’s department, where officers expressed the same initial skepticism. Murder-for-hires didn’t happen in Channelview. When Harper insisted, they wired him with a microphone so he could continue his dialogue with Holloway.

In six separate recorded conversations, Harper found Holloway hard to pin down when it came to an explicit admission of her desire to have Verna murdered.

“You want her dead?” Harper asked.

“I don’t care what you do with her,” Holloway replied. “You can keep her in Cuba for 15 years. I want her gone.”

Semantics aside, Holloway’s intent was clear. Days after she handed over her down payment to Harper for the (fictional) assassin, police arrested Holloway for solicitation of capital murder. Investigators would later remark that Holloway seemed unfazed by the charge.

Out on bail, she told Shanna what she was facing: a potential verdict of life in prison. Although Shanna knew her mother wanted desperately to see her on the team—much more than Shanna herself cared to—she had no idea the rivalry with Verna had escalated to potential homicide. And despite the wishes of her biological father, Shanna remained at Alice Johnson High, avoiding eye contact with Amber Heath practically every day.

 
 

Holloway was arraigned in February 1991, and pled not guilty. Her defense was that the plot had been cooked up by her ex-husband, Tony Harper, and his brother in order for Tony to secure custody of their kids. Her desire to see Verna “gone,” she argued, was simply a joke.

The jury wasn’t laughing. In September 1991, it took them just two and a half hours to find Holloway guilty and sentence her to 15 years in prison—“poetic justice,” as one juror later put it, for wishing Verna would be exiled to Cuba for the same length of time.

Poetic or not, Holloway didn’t do 15 years—or even 15 months. She was granted a new trial in November of that year and the verdict was overturned on appeal in 1996 after it was discovered one of the jurors had been on probation for a drug possession charge and shouldn’t have been serving. Rather than fund another trial, Harris County prosecutors allowed Holloway a plea bargain where she received 10 years but ultimately served only six months in a work camp pulling weeds before being released on probation.

The last time a journalist caught up with Shanna was in 2012, when the then-34-year-old teacher discussed raising her own two children and having an infamous mother with a reporter from People. Living in Humble, Texas, she said she still saw Wanda on a regular basis, although the two rarely discussed the murder plot. Shanna asked about it back in 2010. Holloway called the entire incident a “mistake” and said that she was “sorry.”

When Wanda's future as a free woman was still up in the air, Alice Johnson High went ahead with cheerleader tryouts on March 22, 1991. Amber appeared and made the cut. Shanna did not. She was too distraught to show up.

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GunsNRosesVEVO via YouTube
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When 'November Rain' Excited, Confused Rock Fans
GunsNRosesVEVO via YouTube
GunsNRosesVEVO via YouTube

Slash had no idea what it was about. Axl Rose insisted it be based on a short story. At roughly nine minutes, it stretched the patience of MTV’s viewers. For these reasons—or maybe in spite of them—the music video for the Guns N’ Roses hit “November Rain” remains one of the most infamous, impenetrable rock operas of all time.

“November Rain” was a single from the group’s Use Your Illusion I album. Released in 1991, it broke into the Billboard top 10 and immediately entered music trivia lore as the longest song to make that list. Rose had started writing it in 1983, with an original running time of more than 20 minutes.

For the video, which was released in February of 1992, the group hired director Andy Morahan, who had supervised two previous G N' R efforts: Don’t Cry and You Could Be Mine. Rose also enlisted friend and writer Del James to allow them to loosely adapt one of his short stories, “Without You,” about a singer haunted by the death of his girlfriend. Model Stephanie Seymour, Rose’s girlfriend at the time, played the bride.

The crew respected the band’s wishes for an increasingly epic approach to their videos by going on location to shoot a wedding ceremony between Rose and Seymour at a makeshift church in a New Mexico desert—fabricating it cost $150,000—and arranging for a concert shoot with 1500 extras; Slash’s guitar solo was covered with swooping helicopter shots.

Speaking with authors Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks, Morahan described the indulgent nature of the era: “You’ve got five cameras, cranes, helicopter, this big crew.” He recalled one observer asking him, “Is this the whole video? ‘No, it’s about 27 seconds of it.’” (The video cost a then-record $1.5 million.)

Though Seymour’s character appears to be elated at the reception, the video implies she commits suicide shortly after.  


The couple in happier times.

GunsNRoses VEVO via YouTube

Or not. No one really seems to know what happened. “To tell you the truth, I have no idea," Slash told The Huffington Post in 2014. It was a concept. The song itself is pretty self-explanatory, but the video is so complex ... I knew there was a wedding in there somewhere and I was not into the concept of the wedding." Morahan said he has "no idea" why Seymour was shot in a casket with half her face obscured by a mirror.

While the spot wasn’t heaped with MTV Video Music Awards praise (though it did win one, for Best Cinematography, and earn a nomination for Best Art Direction), it has aged well. By the end of 1992, viewers had voted it their favorite video of the year. Morahan, James, and Rose were even asked to collaborate on an episode of HBO’s Tales From the Crypt.

That didn’t come to pass. But even today, November Rain stands as one of the most-played music videos of the 20th century on YouTube, with more than 940 million views. Watch it enough, and maybe it’ll begin to make sense.

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