10 Supermodels of the 1950s

Did you know that Uma Thurman’s mum was one of the most popular models in the 1950s? The Fifties was a great time for models. For the first time they became superstars in their own right. Apart from ‘the big three’ (Suzy Parker, Dovima and Jean Patchett), there were lots of other models who really made their name in this decade. Here are my favourites:

1. Suzy Parker

Suzy Parker as Little Red Riding Hood

Suzy Parker was one of the very top models of the 1950s and is perhaps most famous for being the face of Revlon. She was the first model to earn $100,000 per year. 

2. Dovima


Born Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba (the name Dovima is a combination of all of those names), she was spotted by a New York street by the editor of Vogue.  She was allegedly the most highly paid model of the 1950s and was in demand for her aristocratic sophisticated style.

3. Jean Patchett

Jean Patchett 1950s model

Jean Patchett Photography by Erwin Blumenfeld 1950

Famous for her beauty spot and remote aloof style, Jean Patchett modelled throughout the late 40s, 50s and 60s appearing on over 40 magazine covers.

4. Ann St Marie

1960s model Anne St Marie

Anne St. Marie had the perfect elegant look required for 1950s and was married to Vogue and Harpers Bazaar photographer Tom Palumbo.

5. Dorian Leigh

Dorian Leigh

Dorian Leigh was the older sister of Suzy Parker (above), and despite only being 5’5″ tall was one of the first supermodels.  Her full name was Dorian Leigh Parker, but her parents didn’t think modelling was a respectable profession so she only used her first two names. Perhaps they had got used to the idea by the time younger sister Suzy Parker went into modelling!

6. Carmen Dell’Orefice

Carmen Dell'Orefice

Carmen Dell’Orefice has enjoyed a modelling career since the 1950s and is still modelling today. She is known for being the world’s oldest fashion model aged 82 (she still looks amazing!)

7. Lisa Fonssagrives


Lisa Fonssagrives was a Swedish model who married photographers Ferdinand Fonssagrives and Irving Penn. She was a top model both in Europe and America and she appeared on magazine covers throughout the 30s, 40s and 1950s.

8. Mary Jane Russell

Mary Jane Russell in Vogue 1957

Mary Jane Russell was an American model wo worked throughout the 50s and 60s. She featured on many Vogue and Harpers Bazaar covers and was often photographed by Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Irving Penn.

9. Sunny Harnett

Sunny Harnett

Sunny Harnett was an American model from Brooklyn who was one of Richard Avedon’s favourite models and who also appeared in the movie Funny Face.

10. Nena von Schlebrugge

Nena Von Schlebrugge for the International Silk Association

Nena von Schlebrugge was a Swedish model during the 1950s who also did some acting. She is Uma Thurman’s mum – you can really see the resemblance can’t you?

Image source and copyright: Source , source,  source , source, source, source and copyright: Some rights reserved by dovima_is_devine_II
Source and copyright: Some rights reserved by and used with kind permission from myvintagevogue
Source and copyright: This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Toni Frissell. This applies worldwide.
Photo of Jean Patchett and Suzy Parker used with kind permission from JeanPatchett.com

26 thoughts on “10 Supermodels of the 1950s

  1. Helene

    Nice feature, some of them look quite ‘mature’ don’t they compared to today’s super models.

    Could do with a sink erator myself,

    always slopping 5 a day debris down my cocktail dress, so funny. Helene@revivalvintage x

    • Andrea Derujinsky

      That was a long time ago. These women began the revolution and it took time.One of the first women of color to land a cover was China China Machado, followed by Beverly Ann Johnson who was born in 1952, when these women were modeling and setting the tone for women to come who would also break barriers. Prior to these models most covers were illustrated. We’ve come a long way and are forging forward.

    • billiebishop

      Years ago, I talked to a retired photograph. Technology was not the same way back then and he explained me that features of black people (babies included) were hard to capture on camera. And yes, I guess people were more racists too.

        • Ashley DiLiberto

          I see Patsy is a low class idiot with little brain matter between her ears.
          She’s EXACTLY the type of person who ruined our once great country; don’t like the way the world is now? Thank her personally….

      • Mary Duffy-Guerrero

        I think that is odd. I owned an agency started in the 70’s, using smart cameras from 50’s, and the gorgeous details of clothing with great lighting,so why not a human being of any color?

    • mary Duffy

      Modeling itself, as a real profession, was created by the Fords, from the late 40’s on,and I believe the 1st black model of fame was Beverly Johnson in the 70’s- after which, there were many. I owned the 1st agency for Plus Women and was always looking for talent of evey color. BY THE 70’S AND 80’S , THE FASHION INDUSTRY HAD AWOKEN TO OUR INFINITE VARIETY IN THE US.

  2. Gregg Nystrom

    Nice list of your ten favorites! I love the 1950s, and being a fan of film and fashion, as well as a published paper doll artist, I’ve paid homage to many of these ladies through my paper doll artwork.

  3. Linda Nolan

    The reason that they look more “mature” than today’s models is back then, men were grownups, they were ADULTS, not little boys who just got older and wanted to go out with high school girls their entire lives. That’s why the models today are so incredibly young. Back then, a man wanted a WOMAN on his arm, not a child. What a sad statement about this society and what it has become.

    • Marc Leslie Kagan

      You hit the nail right on its head. Another problem is that everybody is so sliced and diced and nobody wants to be distinctive anymore everybody is so homogenized today. The film stars had a quality that audiences could identify with like: Bette Davis had her eyes, Barbara Stanwyck was tough but vulnerable, Like you say its truly sad that society has evolved but in reality we have devolved.

  4. helen

    China Machado: modeled for Givenchy , Christian Dior and Balenciaga, she was the highest-paid runway model in Europe, earning $1,000 a day when she was working for Givenchy.
    Helen Williams: Helen Williams ,the first black female model to break into the fashion mainstream. c.1950’s

  5. elmowinnie

    I was born in the early 50s. I loved to look at Vogue in junior H.S. and High School, but I couldn’t relate to the models entirely because I am African American and I was n my mid- or late twenties before I saw more women of color in advertisements and TV. I wanted to be a model, but it wasn’t possible and yet in my late thirties and early forties I was approached and ask me if I were interested in becoming a model. I ended up getting married and working in the business world and the federal government and i just retired last July. I still love fashion, and try to dress well and look young.

  6. Wendy L. Sumpter

    My grandma was on the cover of Vogue …. American & British (they used the same picture 1951 &52) She was on countless other covers from 51-54 .If it weren’t for her shotgun marriage (she got pregnant with my Uncle) and her career lasting a little longer she would’ve definitely been on here. It’s sad that they use to use her as their “ethnic” looking model. Her roommate in New York was Tippi Hendren of “The Birds & “Marnie”Alfred Hitchcock fame and grandmother to Dakota Johnson &Mother to Melanie Griffith…small world!