Next year, Sports Illustrated will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Swimsuit Issue. While the suit styles have certainly evolved—what remains is that the woman who appears on the cover becomes an overnight supermodel.
It’s fun to see how society’s version of sexiness has changed over the years, so every Friday until the anniversary issue is released, we will be taking a look back at each SI Swimsuit cover to see where the models are now, and why these covers have become iconic pieces of fashion photography.
In 1963, Babette March put on a white leather bikini in Cozumel and the rest was history. She not only shocked readers with this unexpected cover, but this photo is also credited with recognizing the bikini as a legitimate part of women’s apparel—and not just something to swim in. The funny this is—she was not a fan of the suit. “It got horribly heavy and soggy,” Babette told SI in 1989. “I hated that bikini. I couldn’t wait to get out of it.”
Arriving in this then-untouched area of Mexico, Babette, a photographer, and a small group of assistants stayed at a tiny hotel near the Mexican Air Force base. There was no entourage of hairdressers, makeup artists, or stylists—so when the lighting was just right, Babette was expected to “act” like she was naturally having fun in the water.
In a way, it was the “unproduced” aspect of this shot that made it so appealing to both male and female readers. Babette, who was represented by FORD Models, quickly became one of the highest paid models (earning $85K a year) after the issue was released on Jan. 20, 1964.
After modeling, Babette turned her interests toward nature, moving to Montreal to run a farm before relocating to Oregon where she still lives with her husband. She is a painter and displays her work in a gallery that she owns, and acts as the chef in a Bed & Breakfast owned by her and her husband. She may lead a simpler life than in the days of modeling, but never shies away from posing alongside her SI Swimsuit Issue with pride.