Bettie Page: a bangs-up style

Corcoran is a Times staff writer.

Change isn’t always good, and Bettie Page, the legendary pinup star who died Thursday at 85, understood that. She never tried to reinvent her style or change that tune, and her signature look has resonated for decades. Those blunt, thick bangs in the shape of an upside down horseshoe, arched brows and upturned cherry-red lips are still as recognizable as her name. She was soft, sensuous curves from head to toe, and the eye could rove her entire form without bumping up against an angle.

No doubt, Page’s ease with her sexuality is part of her ongoing appeal. She made bondage look as innocent as baking a Betty Crocker bundt cake. And it was the dichotomy of her image -- a cocktail of naughty and naivete, housewife and harlot -- that made her an icon. “She’s two women in one: the angel and the devil,” says Tatyana Khomyakova, who opened the Bettie Page Boutique in Las Vegas’ Planet Hollywood in March 2007. The ex-model from St. Petersburg, Russia, sells ‘50s-style dresses and accessories that she designs. She named her boutique after the pinup, she says, because she felt that even now, young people are drawn to Page’s subversive image. “They like her because she’s not as obvious or popular as Marilyn Monroe. And she’s a bad girl.”

Much like Monroe, who died at 36, Page wanted to be remembered as a vital beauty. In her last two decades, she did not care to be photographed. She didn’t want the record to skip on her flaws and the tune to play differently. And it’s that very tune that women still access today, more than 50 years after she made waves as a Playboy model in 1955.

Burlesque star Dita Von Teese has named Page as a style mentor. Myriad websites offer tips on how to get Bettie Page’s bangs -- pop stars like Christina Aguilera and Katy Perry have been spotted lately with similar short forehead fringe. Recently, Leighton Meester of “Gossip Girl” wore a Bettie Page-inspired dress from Khomyakova’s line on the show and the fashion blogs went crazy.


Though Page made her image easy to access, she didn’t always appreciate imitation. Von Teese recently met Page, who sized her up with a sniff. “She looked me up and down and said, ‘You’re an attractive girl,’ ” Von Teese has recounted, “but a poor Bettie Page mimic.”

Perhaps our modern-day style icons could learn a thing or two from Page. Stars today are so stingy and fickle with their style. They flit from coif to coif and go from curvy to gaunt in a flash. I, for one, appreciate a woman who sticks by her signature look: Katharine Hepburn, whose trademark fondness for trousers and blouses ripened and aged along with her. That other Hepburn, Audrey, who never wavered from her capri pants, flats and gamin style. And sweet, transgressive Bettie in her bangs.