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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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The Unkindest Cut: A Short History of the Mullet
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Jerry Seinfeld wore it on primetime television for nine years. Brad Pitt thinks his career got off the ground because he wore one to his Thelma & Louise audition. Peter Dinklage’s high school photo went viral as a direct result of the bold choice.

For all of these men and millions of others, the mullet has had profound and lasting effects on their lives. Famously described as being “business in the front, party in the back” and sometimes referred to as a “squirrel pelt” or the “ape drape,” the short-front, long-backed hairstyle might be the most controversial cut in the history of grooming. What started it? And can anything kill it?

A man shows off his mullet
Peter Parks, AFP/Getty Images

Although it doesn’t have quite the same archaeological provenance as hieroglyphs or dinosaur bones, mullet historians believe there’s ample evidence to suggest that the hairstyle has been with mankind for centuries. Neanderthals may have favored it to keep hair out of their eyes and protect their necks from wind and rain. Greek statues dating back to the 6th century BCE sport the cut. Ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia and Syria rocked it.

Most of these populations embraced the cut for practical purposes: protection from the elements and visibility. But the direct lineage of the mullet to the modern day might be traceable from Native Americans, who often wore their hair short in front and kept it long in the back as a sign of their spiritual strength. The style was eventually appropriated by Western culture and made its way to settlements; colonial wigs, particularly George Washington’s, look a little mullet-esque.

The mullet remained dormant for much of the 20th century. Conformity led to sharp, practical cuts for men and traditional styles for women. That began to change in the 1960s, when counterculture movements expressed their anti-establishment leanings in their mode of dress. Long hair on guys became commonplace. In the 1970s, entertainers looking to appear even more audacious pushed their stage presence to extremes. For David Bowie, that meant a distinctive hairstyle that was cropped over the eyes and ears and left hanging in the back.

 David Bowie performs his final concert as Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Odeon, London on July 3, 1973
Express/Express/Getty Images

Bowie’s popularity drew fresh attention to the mullet, although it didn’t yet have a name. The arrival of MTV led to even more exposure, which soon migrated to other mediums. Richard Marx’s blow-dried variant led to George Clooney’s The Facts of Life sculpt. Patrick Swayze’s ‘do in 1989’s Road House deserved equal screen billing. Mel Gibson raced through three Lethal Weapon movies with a well-insulated neck. John Stamos consoled his widowed brother-in-law on Full House with an epic mullet. Richard Dean Anderson diffused bombs on MacGyver for years with the “Arkansas waterfall.” Some fads last months. The mullet seemed to be hanging on for the long term.

But public derision was brewing. The style began to be appropriated by a demographic fond of trucker hats and sandals. The death blow came when the Beastie Boys mocked the cut on their 1994 track “Mullet Head,” a song the Oxford English Dictionary credits with naming the fad. (A “mullet head” had long been an insult used to label someone lacking in common sense: Mark Twain used it in 1884’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.) Suddenly, mullet-wearers were objects of ridicule and scorn, their locks outdated. For 1998’s Lethal Weapon 4, Gibson lost his trademark cut. It was the end of an era.

A man shows off his mullet
Peter Parks, AFP/Getty Images

Like most things in fashion, that would not be the end of the mullet. The cut has made periodic resurgences over the years, with people adopting ironic takeoffs or making legitimate attempts to return the coonskin cap-like look to its former glory. In Moscow, young men suddenly began sporting the look in 2005, which became ground zero for a follicular virus. Some less flexible countries even became proactively anti-mullet: Iran banned it, among other Western styles, in 2010.

Hairstylists generally avoid the waves of attention the mullet can sometimes provoke. “It's for people who are slightly confused, who believe they like long hair but don't want the image that they associate with long hair," celebrity hairstylist Jose Eber told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. He declared it “nonsense.”

For others, the appeal is enduring. Kurri Kurri, a small mining town in Australia, just hosted its first “mullet festival,” a celebration of all things badly shorn. “We have so many mullets in town,” said co-organizer Sarah Bedford. “My father-in-law had one for 60 years.”

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One Small Leap: The Enduring Appeal of Mexican Jumping Beans
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In the fall of 1923, street vendors in Santa Barbara, California received an unexpected bit of attention regarding one of their more popular wares: The San Francisco Chronicle wrote about the sellers' “freakish little brown seeds” that “cavorted about to the edification and delight of children and grownups."

Those “freakish” seeds were (and still are) known as Mexican jumping beans. Part novelty item and part entomology lesson, they’ve been a staple of street vendors, carnival workers, and comic book ads for nearly a century, thanks to their somewhat inexplicable agility. Some early theories posited that the beans moved because of electrostatic charging, or because of tiny gas explosions inside—but in reality, it was a larva living in the bean. In Santa Barbara, the local Humane Society was concerned that the tiny caterpillar was somehow suffering in the heat; a police sergeant confiscated several of the seeds and took them home to investigate.

THE BEAN MYTH

In truth, the bean is not really a bean at all but a seed pod. In the spring, adult moths deposit their eggs into the flower of the yerba de flecha (Sebastiana pavoniana) shrub, which is native to the mountains of northwestern Mexico. The hatched larvae nestle into the plant's seed pods, which fall off the tree, taking the larvae inside with them.

Each larva is quite content to remain in its little biosphere until it enters its pupal stage and eventually bores a hole to continue life as a moth. (But only when it’s good and ready: If the pod develops a hole before then, the caterpillar will repair it using natural webbing it makes.) The pod is porous and the larvae can eat the interior for nourishment. Metabolic water creates moisture for the larva, but it never needs to pee. Essentially, it's the ultimate in downsized efficiency living.

A Mexican jumping bean store display
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When it's in the pod, the larva isn’t exactly dormant: It twists and contorts itself to create encapsulated movement, almost like the snap of a rubber band. When it moves, so does the pod. No one is exactly sure why they do this, though some believe it's to keep the pod from settling on a hot surface (as high temperatures can be deadly to the insect).

The larva will keep up this activity for six to eight weeks. If a pod appears lifeless and rattles when shaken, it’s probably dead. If it lives, it will go dormant in winter before creating an escape hatch in the spring and flying off to begin life as a moth.

CHEAP THRILLS

It’s hard to know who exactly first decided to begin hawking the “beans” for amusement purposes, though some credit an enterprising man named Joaquin Hernandez with popularizing them in novelty shops in the 1940s. Later, in the 1960s, Joy Clement of Chaparral Novelties noticed the beans after her husband, a candy wholesaler, brought them home from a business trip. Though she was initially confounded by their appeal, Clement agreed to distribute the pods and watched them grow into a significant success: Between 1962 and 1994, Chaparral shipped 3 to 5 million of them each year, and saw the bean transition from sidewalk dealers to major chains like KB Toys.

“There's not much you can buy at a retail store that can give you this kind of satisfaction for under a buck," one bean dealer told the Los Angeles Times in 1994. "It's one of the last of the low-end entertainments available in the world.”

Interest in the beans seems to come in waves, though that can sometimes depend on the weather in Mexico. The jumping bean's unusual insect-crop hybrid stature means that farmers in Álamos, Sonora—where the pod is harvested and remains the area's major export—rely heavily on ideal conditions. Lowered rainfall can result in lower yields. Álamos typically handles more than 20,000 liters of the pods annually. In 2005, thanks to unfavorable weather, it was just a few hundred.

BEAN PANIC

There have been other issues with marketing hermetic caterpillars for novelty purposes. A UPS driver once grew nervous that he was transporting a rattlesnake thanks to a shipment of particularly active pods. Bomb squads have been called in on at least two occasions because the noise prompted airport workers to believe a ticking explosive device was in their midst. And then there was the Humane Society, which remained dubious the beans were an ethical plaything. (Since the caterpillars repair breaches to the pod, the reasoning is that it seems like they want to be in there, though no one can say whether the insects enjoy being handled or stuffed into pockets.)

You can still find the beans today, including via online retailers. They’re harmless and buying them as "toys" is probably not harmful to the caterpillar inside, though the standard disclaimer warning owners not to eat the beans remains. The police sergeant in Santa Barbara found that out the hard way: After taking his nightly prescription pill, he felt an odd sensation and went to the hospital. After physicians pumped his stomach, they noted that he had accidentally consumed a jumping bean. In his digestive tract, it was leaping to get out.

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