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.”

Super Bowl: When Tie-In Novelty Cereals Ruled the 1980s

Louise McLaren, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Louise McLaren, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The tidal wave of merchandising following the release of Star Wars in 1977 was a fundamental transformation in how pop culture could be monetized. Thousands of items, ranging from clothing to toys, were produced from dozens of licensees. Fans could wake up on Darth Vader bedsheets, brush their teeth with a Yoda toothbrush, and slip on a Chewbacca backpack before catching the school bus.

The lone exception to that escapist morning routine? Breakfast cereal. It wasn’t until 1984—seven years after the original Star Wars hit theaters—that fans could purchase C-3POs, a puffed-wheat breakfast concoction that featured the golden droid on boxes. The delay was the result of changing tastes in the realm of product licensing. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the major cereal companies figured out that people wanted to literally consume their entertainment.

 

Cereals have long relied on colorful characters as a way of marketing their wares. Tony the Tiger was introduced by Kellogg’s in 1951 and quickly became the solo mascot for Frosted Flakes after cohorts Katy the Kangaroo, Newt the Gnu, and Elmo the Elephant fell by the wayside. Store aisles were soon stocked with boxes bearing Toucan Sam (Fruit Loops); Snap, Crackle, and Pop (Rice Krispies); and the dubiously ranked Cap’n Crunch.

As the decades wore on, the characters became intergenerational, able to appeal to kids and adults who remembered them from their youth. But it was also hard to muscle in on the market with so many of those mascots dominating shelf space. It wasn’t until the 1980s that cereal makers took notice of census reports hinting at a growing population of kids under the age of 9 and began plotting ways to appeal to tiny, outstretched hands at grocery stores. Their solution was existing brand recognition. Why spend time and effort creating a new cereal mascot when they could effectively lease one with a built-in fan base?

General Mills, then and now one of the leading cereal manufacturers, owned toy company Kenner. Kenner, in turn, had a licensing deal with American Greetings, owners of the popular Strawberry Shortcake property. In September 1982, General Mills debuted a Strawberry Shortcake cereal, the first to be based on a licensed fictional character. To the great satisfaction of General Mills executives, it was a major success. Shortcake fans devoured it.

Quickly, General Mills pursued an E.T. cereal, based on the smash 1982 movie. Arriving in 1984, the company believed a sequel—which never materialized—would keep it flying off shelves. A Pac-Man cereal followed. When neither product managed to reach Shortcake-level success, General Mills stopped pursuing licenses in 1985. But that was hardly the end of tie-in corn puffs.

Ralston Purina, a conglomerate that counted both breakfast cereal and dog food among its offerings, was faced with only minimal market share when compared to the “Big Two” titans: General Mills and Kellogg’s. Because launching a brand-new cereal was such an expensive proposition—marketing costs could grow to $40 million during the first year alone—it made more sense for Ralston to capitalize on existing properties, where their expenditure might only be $10 to $12 million. Their first attempt was a sugary riff on Cabbage Patch Kids. Released in 1985—at the point in Cabbage Patch mania where adults were getting into physical altercations over the dolls—it sold well, and Ralston seemed to have found its niche.

 

The next few years would see a number of Ralston products hit stores. Cereals based on Donkey Kong, Spider-Man, Gremlins, Rainbow Brite, Barbie, Hot Wheels, and Batman made what would otherwise be generic cereals palatable to a youth demographic and had novelty beyond the brand associations. The company’s Nintendo Cereal System in 1989 had one box with two different bags of multi-colored cereal. Others, like Batman, came with super-sized prizes like a coin bank that was shrink-wrapped to the box. Never mind that many of the concoctions were almost identical—the Spider-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cereal had pieces resembling Ralston’s Chex cereal relabeled “spider webs” or “ninja nets.” Fans of the properties ate it up.

Owing to their status as a tie-in product, these cereals had one fatal flaw: They typically sold well for just 14 to 18 months, whereas Tony the Tiger could keep moving flakes for decades. But by the time one cereal began to decline, another was ready to take its place. If Ralston’s Jetsons grew stale on shelves, Bill and Ted's Excellent Cereal was ready to go. The company found its most enduring tie-in with its marshmallow-stuffed Ghostbusters cereal, which remained a bestseller for an incredible five years running. (Propped up by an animated series and a 1989 sequel, it kept the property visible. C-3POs, in contrast, suffered from a lack of any new Star Wars movies after 1983.)

Not everyone could make the premise work. Quaker’s Mr. T cereal bombed. Ralston’s own Prince of Thieves cereal, an attempt to capitalize on 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves movie, was victimized by contractual limitations. Star Kevin Costner refused to appear on the box, diminishing the association.

 

Ralston continued the tie-ins into the 1990s, with the Family Matters-endorsed Urkel-Os joining cereals based on The Addams Family, Batman Returns, and others, usually paying a 3 to 5 percent royalty on each box sold to the licensors. While it made Ralston profitable, it also made them appealing for a buyout. To cement their status as cereal king, General Mills wound up buying Ralston in 1996 for $570 million. The deal largely put an end to the licensing promotions.

Today, there’s nostalgia for these edible gimmicks. Funko, the company behind the Pop! vinyl figures, maintains a line of themed cereals based on Pac-Man and less obvious properties like The Golden Girls. Unopened boxes of Batman cereal pop up on eBay from time to time. Some cereal loyalists even try to replicate the flavors, mixing Lucky Charms and Crispix to mimic the distinctively chalky taste of Spider-Man cereal. But for the most part, the industry has fallen back on the same standbys that were popular 70 years ago.

As one brand executive put it: Kellogg’s doesn’t need the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when they’ve got Corn Flakes.

Overall Charm: Remembering Hasbro's My Buddy Doll

Kendrick Shackleford, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Kendrick Shackleford, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If your toy company's boy-oriented doll doesn’t set the world on fire, you might take comfort in the fact it partially inspired a series of slasher movies. That was the case for My Buddy, an oversized doll first introduced by Hasbro in 1985 that failed to make waves on store shelves but informed the creation of the carrot-topped spree killer doll Chucky in writer Don Mancini and director Tom Holland’s 1988 film Child’s Play.

In 1985, toy stores were stocked to the brim with some of the most indelible properties of the decade. Coleco’s Cabbage Patch Kids were a bona fide phenomenon, ringing up $540 million in sales the year prior. Masters of the Universe was Mattel’s hit, with both the action figures and ancillary products doubling the take of the Cabbage people.

Then there was My Buddy, which seemed to straddle the gender lines the other major toy companies had drawn. The Cabbage Patch dolls were highly desirable among young girls; boys gravitated toward the veiny, sword-wielding characters of the He-Man franchise. In marketing My Buddy, Hasbro hoped to pioneer a new toy category: a doll line for boys.

The idea was not totally alien to the market. As far back as the early 20th century, boys played with dolls regardless of whether the toys were marketed specifically toward them or not. The difference was that the dolls were often depicting adult men and women. As time went on and manufacturers began focusing on dolls resembling infants, interest on the part of young male consumers began to trail off.

Hasbro reversed that trend in 1964 with the introduction of G.I. Joe, a line of 12-inch, fabric-outfit military figures intended to do for boys what Mattel’s Barbie had done for the female demographic. Though Joe would go on to inhabit smaller, molded plastic sculpts in the 1980s, the idea of boys playing with plush toys was still of interest. With My Buddy, Hasbro banked on the doll’s heft—at an imposing 23 inches, it was a fair bit larger than the Cabbage Patch line—to ensnare juvenile consumers.

My Buddy was intended to be a companion for boys perceived as more active than girls, canvassing neighborhoods on Big Wheels, clutching My Buddy as they climbed into tree houses, and possibly making him an inadvertent object in a game of touch football. Clad in durable overalls, My Buddy seemed designed for extended trips through dirty terrain.

“My Buddy is positioned as macho,” Hasbro's senior vice president of marketing Stephen Schwartz told The Boston Globe in 1985. “It’s soft macho, but it’s still macho. We show them climbing up trees, riding their bikes. We didn’t position it like a girl doll, soft and sweet.”

Excited by the potential, Hasbro backed My Buddy with an effective ad campaign led by an infectious song:

Unlike other toys with complex personal narratives, My Buddy possessed no agency. He was simply there to accompany his human on adventures. Hasbro’s intent was easily discerned through ad copy: “A little boy’s special friend! Rough and tough, yet soft and cuddly.”

Amid a competitive toy year, the $25 My Buddy fared well in 1985. While Cabbage Patch Kids remained a goliath, Hasbro had four of the top 10 bestselling toys on the market: Transformers, G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, and My Buddy, which ranked eighth on the list.

That success would not last. If boys did not find fault with playing with dolls, some adults did, expressing puzzlement that My Buddy would hold appeal for the blood-and-guts dominion of the boys toys market. Los Angeles Times columnist Bevis Hillier called My Buddy “an unprepossessing creature who also has overalls and freckles but has managed to get his cap on the right way round. With his big, goggling eyes, he is half winsome, half bruiser.” Hillier went on to express doubt that a boy would find the prospect of dressing the doll in his own retired baby clothes enticing.

My Buddy and his various offshoots—there was a Kid Sister—hung on for a few years before disappearing from shelves. The doll market for boys was mostly relegated to Wrestling Buddies, a line of WWE-themed stuffed companions that encouraged boys to drop elbows and grapple them to the floor. My Buddy, with his largely pacifistic persona, invited no such confrontations. Despite Hasbro’s hopes, My Buddy failed to signal a breakdown in gender-specific toys. Mattel’s She-Ra line, an action figure spin-off of He-Man targeted toward girls, failed to take off. My Pet Monster, a plush toy for boys, came and went.

Hasbro subsidiary Playskool continued manufacturing My Buddy into the 1990s. Today, the overall-clad figure is mostly remembered as a model for the murderous Chucky, the doll villain at the center of the Child's Play franchise.

While it never gained iconic status beyond being a horror movie influence, My Buddy did offer a bit of foreshadowing in how toy companies market to consumers based on gender. In 2017, the first male American Girl doll, Logan, was released. Not long after, Mattel ran ads depicting boys playing with a Barbie Dream House and girls with Hot Wheels. My Buddy may not have been a raging success, but its attempts to deconstruct some of the persistent stereotypes in the toy world were ahead of their time.

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