And then along came Marilyn Monroe. Her platinum hair and sexy image got a lot of attention in the 1950s and early '60s. But Monroe had to share the role of image-maker with a host of classic beauties who were also making an impression, including Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn.
"When I was in high school, we all wanted to look like Audrey Hepburn. When 'Charade' came out [in 1963] everyone wanted to own the little trench coat and look like her," Hanson said.
Although it seems like our concept of beauty changes radically from generation to generation, there are some consistent features, according to research done by Randy Thornhill, a biology professor at the University of New Mexico.
"People with symmetric faces are rated more attractive and always have been," Thornhill said.
In fact, research shows that when the left side of your face and the right side are well matched, people will find you attractive. Studies have also shown that babies prefer staring at the photos of symmetric faces than asymmetric ones. Along with symmetry, some evolutionary facial features are also key to the biology of beauty. Men prefer women with a small jaw, a small nose, large eyes and defined cheekbones. Among other things, females are looking for men with a strong jaw.
"The power of looks in social life has never changed from our evolutionary ancestors. If you look at cross cultures and traditional societies, you see the same sort of patterns. Attractive women get rewarded with more attractive husbands, husbands who are better providers," Thornhill said. Perhaps that explains Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
These days, of course, many people try to "fool" Mother Nature with a little help from modern medicine.
"The only way you can change the symmetry of your face is through plastic surgery. You can trick the brains of others," Thornhill said.
Regardless of the powerful draw of symmetry, one way societies' concept of beauty has evolved is in its acceptance of different races and ethnic backgrounds.
At the beginning of the 20th century, beauty icons were almost exclusively Caucasian women. But by the 1980s, the Somalian-born model Iman captured the attention of fashion designers.
By the 1990s, a "most beautiful" list wouldn't be complete without Salma Hayek and Halle Berry.
The power of pop culture also has spawned a whole new genre of nontraditional beauties who vaulted to prominence by the sheer power of their fame.
Madonna, for instance, has facial features that could almost be considered unattractive -- a strong nose, for instance -- and yet millions of women have tried to emulate her looks.
And the American Film Institute's Hanson points out that actress Molly Ringwald starred in some of the most popular movies of the '80s, "Sixteen Candles" and "Pretty in Pink," sporting her trademark short red hair and freckles.
"She was not a great beauty, but she was very, very, popular in the 1980s and her looks were very attainable. You didn't have to think, 'I have to be look like somebody who is so perfect,' " Hanson said.
Not unlike Kate Hudson today.