STYLE
04/19/2013 04:53 pm ET

Bettie Page Style Evolution: The Fifties Pinup That Still Fascinates And Inspires (PHOTOS)

A style icon isn't always born from the worlds of fashion or film. Sometimes, she comes from industries not known for their sartorial prowess... or for having much in the way of clothing to begin with. What we're getting at is the adult industry. While today, society is more or less used to a certain amount of flesh on display (whether this is for better or worse is your call), back in the '50s it would be hard to imagine Bettie Page's influence going beyond the readership of her pinup photos.

Though Page held a bachelor of arts degree in education from Peabody College, her teaching career was short-lived, as she once told an interviewer "I couldn't control the students, especially the boys."

Well, then.

Following a divorce in 1947, Page moved to New York City to become an actress. Though she had dabbled in (clothed) modeling, her sights were set on the silver screen. A chance encounter with an amateur photographer in 1950 would introduce her to the world of pinup modeling -- and her career quickly took off. Looking back on photos from the era (which are relatively tame by modern standards), you can see that she was a good model, clothed or not. Her poses always read as natural and her expression was never forced. Page excelled at the believable, innocent smile that made even the most severe bondage gear seem as natural as, say, a summer dress. "God created us naked," she said to her biographer Karen Essex, when explaining her comfort level with nude or near-nude modeling.

The lack of inhibition is key to any style icon. Nude or not, if you can't be comfortable in your own skin, how will you be comfortable in any garment? At every point in her life, Page knew exactly who she was, what worked for her and what didn't. Seemingly overnight -- and at the height of her success -- she decided to leave modeling behind. When Page was done, she was done.

The decades that followed were bumpy, to say the least. But that's not what this "style evolution" is intended to focus on. Instead, let's look at the icon at her best and try to understand why she became a household name, especially in the past two or three decades. Was it her raven hair, which continues to inspire women to snip their bangs? Was it her unapologetic sex appeal? Or was it all about the attitude conveyed in her photos -- the aforementioned innocent smile coupled with unabashed confidence?

What do you say? Check out the slideshow below and share your thoughts. And just think: Bettie Page would have been 90 on April 22.

Bettie Page's Style

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