Photographer: Slim Aarons/Getty Images
Photographer: Slim Aarons/Getty Images

The Slim Aarons Guide to Dressing Down in Style

Jeans. T-shirts. Running shoes. Those were the three items of clothing that postwar society photographer Slim Aarons refused to shoot, even though most of his work was of the international jet set at play. The result of this policy is a 50-year record of casual dressing with class.

Slim Aarons started his professional photography career after World War II, at the dawn of commercial air travel and the birth of the jet set. Over the next half-century, he photographed titans of business, Austrian princesses, society decorators, heiresses, dukes, actresses such as Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich, ranchers, race car drivers, big game hunters, philanthropists, opera singers, socialites like C.Z. Guest, and political royalty ranging from Jackie Kennedy to the Duchess of Windsor.

The photographer who documented the breadth of postwar high society had a number of rules that, he felt, gave him this kind of access. In a book set to arrive on what would have been Aarons's 100th birthday, his longtime assistant Laura Hawk recounts his mantra: "No assistants, no props, no stylists, no lights, no problems." The photographer's rules for Hawk herself were no less strict: "No heavy suitcases, no tennis rackets, no hairdresser appointments, no minibar tabs, no shopping, no dry cleaning, no days off, no boyfriends, no sightseeing, and for God's sake—no cameras."

There were three pieces of clothing, Hawk writes, that Aarons steadfastly refused to photograph: Jeans, T-shirts, and running shoes, a rule that seems almost unthinkable today, in a world that seems to lurch from suits to sweatpants, with nothing in between. In this way, though, he was an idealist, documenting what he felt this world of leisure should look like. "I don't do fashion," he famously said. "I take photos of people in their own clothes and that becomes fashion." Here are 10 examples. 

Poolside Semi-Formal
Poolside Semi-Formal

This outtake from a shoot Aarons held at the Kaufmann Desert House in 1970 is the site of perhaps Aarons's most famous photograph. Here, a group of friends gather at the Richard Neutra-designed home of Palm Springs socialite and real estate expert Nelda Linsk (in yellow) and her art-dealer husband Joseph.

Photographer: Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Cutoff Casual
Cutoff Casual

Dolores von Furstenberg Guinness, a style icon like her mother, Gloria Guinness, pairs navy blue and lime green outside the Hotel Cala di Volpe on the Costa Smeralda, Sardinia, in 1965.

Photographer: Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Apres-Ski Comfort
Apres-Ski Comfort

Located west of Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada, Squaw Valley lays claim to being the pioneer ski region in the United States. These skiers are relaxing with a winter warmer on top of KT-22 in 1961. 

Photographer: Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Dressed Up for Bed
Dressed Up for Bed

In this 1984 photograph, Donna Stefanella Vanni Calvello di San Vincenzo lounges in a gilded, wood-carved room called the Hall of Mirrors. The room, one of many in the Palermo, Sicily-based family residence of Palazzo Gangi, had been a focal point of Sicilian Belle Epoque society.

Photographer: Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Minimalist Chic
Minimalist Chic

Two young women in 1972 take in a poolside game of backgammon at Villa Nirvana, the home of Oscar Obregón, who frequently entertained the rich and famous at his home in Las Brisas, Acapulco, Mexico.

Photographer: Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Travel Togs

Patsy Pulitzer, Vogue model and socialite, boards a seaplane at the Everglades Flying Service in Palm Beach, Fla., circa 1955. The daughter of Herbert "Tony" Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World, and granddaughter of Joseph Pulitzer, she epitomized a look that embraced the great outdoors.  

Photographer: Slim Aarons/Getty Images 

Travel Togs
Andalusian Elegance
Andalusian Elegance

Moorish villa El Venero, owned by Hector and Chico de Ayala, lies to the west of the Spanish city of Marbella, with the Sierra Blanca foothills in the background. 

Photographer: Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Pajamas, Cuffed and Popped
Pajamas, Cuffed and Popped

Swiss actress Ursula Andress, here photographed in Rome around 1955, began her career as a model before making the leap to Hollywood. She was catapulted to worldwide fame as the first Bond girl in Dr. No

Photographer: Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Vibrant Prints
Vibrant Prints

Painter and sculptor Wendy Vanderbilt Lehman, here photographed at her Palm Beach home in 1964, never studied art formally, but as the grandniece of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, her artistic "genes were strong," writes Hawk. 

Photographer: Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Laid-Back Stripes

Austrian actress Mara Lane was born Dorothy Bolton and appeared in more than 30 movies from 1951 to 1965. Aarons took this photograph at the Sands Hotel from the top of a Las Vegas ladder truck in 1954.

Photographer: Slim Aarons/Getty Images 

Laid-Back Stripes
Slim Aarons: Women
Slim Aarons: Women

The fifth volume in Abrams' Slim Aarons collection ($85; abramsbooks.com) explores the central subject of the photographer's career: the extraordinary women who inhabited the upper echelons of society, fashion, and Hollywood from the late 1940s through the 1980s.

Photographer: Slim Aarons/Getty Images 

Slim Aarons: Women

By Laura Hawk

Published by Abrams