Barbara “Babe” Paley didn’t just wear clothes—she transformed them, sold you on them and made them seem almost profound. As the impeccably dressed wife of CBS founder William S. Paley—and a Vogue editor—Babe’s style was ready for prime time and worthy of constant renewal. Not only was she a great beauty, but there was something ethereal and incredibly chic about her. She had great personal style and wonderful taste when it came to decorating/designing her houses. She never had to make the grand statement, rather understatement—always the best statement of all.
The woman blithely mixed pricey items with costume jewelry, bravely helped make pantsuits acceptable as the height of class and, most famously, happened to tie her scarf around her handbag in an impulsive touch that ended up sparking a phenomenon when she was photographed with the item in front of La Grenouille. And she’d only done so because it was warm out and she didn’t want the scarf around her neck!
She didn’t stick to any one designer or motif—that’s why no matter what she wore, it read as Babe Paley’s style and no one else’s. Truman Capote considered the woman a “swan” and famously said of her, “Babe Paley had only one fault—she was perfect. Otherwise, she was perfect.” But when he knifed her in the soignée back by revealing her husband’s indiscretions to the world in Answered Prayers (an excerpt of which was published in Esquire in 1975), Babe became perfectly furious.