Dame Joanna Lumley's incredible fashion and beauty evolution

Is there an actor on earth more beloved than Dame Joanna Lumley?

The veteran star, who celebrates her 76th birthday on 1 May, is a true treasure. She is adored as much for her on-screen performances – including the incomparable Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous – and silky voice, as she is for her activism and philanthropic efforts.

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Not only has she enjoyed showbiz success with a career that has spanned seven decades, the model-turned-actor has achieved both sex symbol and fashion icon status.

Here we look back at how Dame Joanna Lumley’s style has evolved throughout the years.

1960s: model in the making

Richard Johnson and Joanna Lumley attend the premiere of The Devil's Brigade
Dame Joanna attending a movie premiere in 1968. (PA)

Born in India in 1946, Dame Joanna moved to England as a child and attended boarding school. Having been rejected by the famous RADA drama school, she had no formal acting training and began her career as a model, working for three years, most notably with fashion photographer Brian Duffy.

At the age of 23, Dame Joanna lucked out with her first big screen role, appearing briefly in Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969.

A natural brunette, Dame Joanna wore her enviably thick locks long and flowing during the ’60s, before embracing more voluminous hair styles.

Read: Joanna Lumley on comedy, ageing and meeting the Queen

1970s: Avengers angel

Joanna Lumley, who plays Purdey, Patrick MacNee, who plays John Steed, and Gareth Hunt, who plays Mike Gambit, pictured during filming at Pinewood Studios
Dame Joanna with her Avengers co-stars in 1976 (PA)

Dame Joanna’s breakthrough television role came in 1976 with The New Avengers, playing Purdey, a former ballerina-turned-spy.

Undergoing a radical transformation for the role, the actor was given a glossy, super-short bowl cut (that still somehow looked sexy), lots of ’70s-style black eyeliner and a wardrobe of glamorous outfits.

Joanna Lumley, who plays Sapphire in the TV series Sapphire and Steel, arriving at the Odeon Leicester Square in London for the Royal Charity premiere of the film ‘Yanks'
Dame Joanna at a film premiere in 1979. (PA)

Dame Joanna embraced the look in real life, cutting her hair even shorter at the end of the decade, though her own personal style was somewhat more demure than Purdey’s.

1980s: silver screen siren

Indian-born actress Joanna Lumley, 38, in a scene from the seventh film of the Pink Panther series ‘Curse of the Pink Panther', in which she plays the mysterious Countess Chandra
Dame Joanna in the The Curse Of The Pink Panther. (PA)

As her film career progressed, Dame Joanna underwent another major transformation to play Countess Chandra in Curse Of The Pink Panther in 1983.

Donning a series of glitzy ruffled and feathered gowns, the actor’s dark brown hair was styled in tousled curls.

(l-r) Richard Todd, Sir Geraint Evans, Joanna Lumley, Derren Nesbett, Roy Dotrice and Gordon Jackson outside 10 Downing Street, where they handed in a letter expressing their sadness at the closure of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. The company has been performing the works of Gilbert and Sullivan for 106 years.
Dame Joanna outside 10 Downing Street in 1982. (PA)

In the 1980s, Dame Joanna started to become involved in activism, appearing at a Friends of the Earth rally and visiting 10 Downing Street to present a letter protesting the closure of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company.

1990s: absolutely iconic

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Dame Joanna’s most famous role came at the age of 45, playing the hilariously catty Patsy Stone in iconic comedy series Absolutely Fabulous, which began in 1992.

Nominated four times for the best comedy performance BAFTA, Dame Joanna took home the award in 1995.

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A fan of the ‘more is more’ look, champagne-swilling Patsy loved big bouffant hair, lashings of red lipstick, trendy tailoring and lots of bling.

Joanna lumley at Buckingham Palace in London after receiving her OBE from the Queen
Dame Joanna at Buckingham Palace in London after receiving her OBE from the Queen. (John Stillwell/PA)

It looks as though the comedy character rubbed off on Dame Joanna, as she started wearing designer skirt suits and statement jewellery off-screen too, albeit in a significantly more subtle way than her TV counterpart.

Read: How to look like Patsy

2000s: red carpet star

Joanna Lumley arrives for the British Academy Television Awards 2008
Dame Joanna arrives for the British Academy Television Awards 2008. (Yui Mok/PA)

By now a regular on the red carpet, Dame Joanna continued to impress with her outfits well into her 60s.

Usually opting for flowing or floral gowns, she often embraced bohemian prints and patterns that recalled her childhood in India.

Joanna Lumley arrives for the Daily Mirror's Pride of Britain awards 2009
Dame Joanna arrives for the Daily Mirror‘s Pride of Britain awards 2009. (Ian West/PA)

Transitioning from the bright blonde of the ’90s, Dame Joanna chose a softer, champagne hue for her hair, which was shoulder-length, with a flattering centre-parted fringe.

Now: timeless beauty

Claudia Winkleman (left) and Joanna Lumley attending the 2019 BAFTA Film Gala
Claudia Winkleman (left) and Joanna Lumley attending the 2019 BAFTA Film Gala. (Ian West/PA)

Still as glamorous as ever, it’s hard to believe that Dame Joanna is now a septuagenarian. The actor said in an interview last year, while isolating at home in London due to the pandemic, that she’s scared she won’t be able to leave the house if she looks too old.

Read: Joanna Lumley takes on Cuba

“So I keep dyeing my hair yellow,” she said, explaining that walking up and down the stairs shows that “even if I’m old, I’m still fine”.

Joanna Lumley with the Fellow Award in the press room at the Virgin TV British Academy Television Awards 2017
Joanna Lumley with the Fellow Award in the press room at the Virgin TV British Academy Television Awards 2017. (Ian West/PA)

Whatever she’s doing, it’s clearly working. Stylish and stunning at 75, Dame Joanna is giving starlets half her age a run for their money on the red carpet.

Written by Katie Wright

Fashion and beauty editor at the Press Association.

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