Dovima was born Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba in 1927 in New York City. The half-Polish, half-Irish daughter of Stanley Juba, she was raised in Jackson Heights, Queens.
Dovima was discovered while waiting for a friend outside of a Manhattan Automat (although there are conflicting stories about the location). A woman approached to ask if she had ever modeled. The woman worked for Vogue and took her to the offices on the spot for some test shots.
The next day she did a shoot with Irving Penn. She was an overnight success and soon was the highest paid model in the business.