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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Dollymania: When Dolly the Sheep Created a '90s Media Sensation

Dolly the sheep at the National Museum of Scotland
Dolly the sheep at the National Museum of Scotland
Paul Hudson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It was Saturday, February 22, 1997, and British researchers Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell were expecting a final moment of calm before the results of their unprecedented scientific experiment were announced to the world.

The team had kept the breakthrough under wraps for seven months while they waited for their paper to be published in the prestigious journal Nature. Confidential press releases had gone out to journalists with the strict instruction not to leak the news before February 27.

But that night, the team was tipped off that journalist Robin McKie was going to break the story the very next day in the British newspaper The Observer.

Wilmut and Campbell raced to the lab at the Roslin Institute on Sunday morning as McKie's story hit the media like a thunderbolt. International news outlets had already started swarming at the institute for access to Wilmut and Campbell's creation: Dolly the sheep, the world's first mammal successfully cloned from a single adult cell. Shielded from the general public, she stuck her nose through the fence and munched calmly on the hay in her pen, unperturbed by the horde of news photographers. Dolly, a woolly, bleating scientific miracle, looked much like other sheep, but with a remarkable genetic difference.

By the end of that Sunday, February 23, nearly every major newspaper in the world carried headlines about Dolly the sheep.

A Long-Awaited Breakthrough

Born on July 5, 1996, Dolly was cloned by Wilmut and Campbell's team at the Roslin Institute, a part of the University of Edinburgh, and Scottish biotechnology company PPL Therapeutics. The scientists cloned Dolly by inserting DNA from a single sheep mammary gland cell into an egg of another sheep, and then implanting it into a surrogate mother sheep. Dolly thus had three mothers—one that provided the DNA from the cell, the second that provided the egg, and the third that carried the cloned embryo to term. Technically, though, Dolly was an exact genetic replica of only the sheep from which the cell was taken.

Following the announcement, the Roslin Institute received 3000 phone calls from around the world. Dolly's birth was heralded as one of the most important scientific advances of the decade.

But Dolly wasn't science's first attempt at cloning. Researchers had been exploring the intricacies of cloning for almost a century. In 1902, German embryologists Hans Spemann and Hilda Mangold, his student, successfully grew two salamanders from a single embryo split with a noose made up of a strand of hair. Since then, cloning experiments continued to become more sophisticated and nuanced. Several laboratory animal clones, including frogs and cows, were created before Dolly. But all of them had been cloned from embryos. Dolly was the first mammal to be cloned from a specialized adult cell.

Embryonic stem cells, which form right after fertilization, can turn into any kind of cell in the body. After they modify into specific types of cells, like neurons or blood cells, they're call specialized cells. Since the cell that gave rise to Dolly was already specialized for its role as a mammary gland cell, most scientists thought it would be impossible to clone anything from it but other mammary gland cells. Dolly proved them wrong. 

A Worldwide Reaction—And Controversy

Many scientists in the '90s were flabbergasted. Dolly’s advent showed that specialized cells could be used to create an exact replica of the animal they came from. “It means all science fiction is true,” biology professor Lee Silver of Princeton University told The New York Times in 1997.

The Washington Post reported that "Dolly, depending on which commentator you read, is the biggest story of the year, the decade, even the century. Wilmut has seen himself compared with Galileo, with Copernicus, with Einstein, and at least once with Dr. Frankenstein."

Scientists, lawmakers, and the public quickly imagined a future shaped by unethical human cloning. President Bill Clinton called for review of the bioethics of cloning and proposed legislation that would ban cloning meant ''for the purposes of creating a child” (it didn't pass). The World Health Organization concluded that human cloning was "ethically unacceptable and contrary to human integrity and morality" [PDF]. A Vatican newspaper editorial urged governments to bar human cloning, saying every human has "the right to be born in a human way and not in a laboratory."

Meanwhile, some scientists remained unconvinced about the authenticity of Wilmut and Campbell’s experiment. Norton Zinder, a molecular genetics professor at Rockefeller University, called the study published in Nature "a bad paper" because Dolly's genetic ancestry was not conclusive without testing her mitochondria—DNA that is passed down through mothers. That would have confirmed whether Dolly was the daughter of the sheep that gave birth to her. In The New York Times, Zinder called the Scottish pair's work ''just lousy science, incomplete science." But NIH director Harold Varmus told the Times that he had no doubt that Dolly was a clone of an adult sheep.

Dollymania!

Because she was cloned from a mammary gland cell, Dolly was named—dad joke alert—after buxom country music superstar Dolly Parton. (Parton didn’t mind the attribution.) Like her namesake, Dolly the sheep was a bona fide celebrity: She posed for magazines, including People; became the subject of books, journal articles, and editorials; had an opera written about her; starred in commercials; and served as a metaphor in an electoral campaign.

And that wasn't all: New York Times reporter Gina Kolata, one of the first journalists to give readers an in-depth look at Dolly, wrote Clone: The Road to Dolly, and the Path Ahead and contrasted the animal's creation with the archetypes in Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau. American composer Steve Reich was so affected by Dolly's story that he featured it in Three Tales, a video-opera exploring the dangers of technology.

The sheep also became an inadvertent political player when the Scottish National Party used her image on posters to suggest that candidates of other parties were all clones of one another. Appliance manufacturer Zanussi used her likeness for a poster with her name and the provocative caption "The Misappliance of Science" (the poster was later withdrawn after scientists complained). In fact, so widespread was the (mis)use of her name that her makers eventually trademarked it to stop the practice.

Dolly's Legacy

Following Dolly, many larger mammals were cloned, including horses and bulls. Roslin Biomed, set up by the Roslin Institute to focus on cloning technology, was later sold to the U.S.-based Geron Corporation, which combined cloning technology with stem cell research. But despite her popularity—and widespread fear— Dolly's birth didn't lead to an explosion in cloning: Human cloning was deemed too dangerous and unethical, while animal cloning was only minimally useful for agricultural purposes. The sheep's real legacy is considered to be the advancement in stem cell research.

Dolly’s existence showed it was possible to change one cell’s gene expression by swapping its nucleus for another. Stem cell biologist Shinya Yamanaka told Scientific American that Dolly’s cloning motivated him to successfully develop stem cells from adult cells. He later won a Nobel Prize for his results, called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) because they're artificially created and can have a variety of uses. They reduced the need for embryonic stem cells in research, and today, iPS cells form the basis for most stem cell research and therapies, including regenerative medicine.

Dolly had six offspring, and led a productive, sociable life with many human fans coming to visit her. In 2003, a veterinary examination showed that Dolly had a progressive lung disease, and she was put down. But four clones created from the same cell line in 2007 faced no such health issues and aged normally.

Dolly is still a spectacle, though, nearly 25 years after her creation: Her body was taxidermied and put on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.