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.”