Today, the phrase “Las Vegas fashion” elicits thoughts of a grand shopping spree featuring Gucci, Prada, Ferragamo or Yves Saint Laurent. But before the Strip became a high-end retail destination, those words evoked thoughts of rhinestones, feathers, sequined jumpsuits and over-the-top artisanship.
In celebration of the latter, Vegas Style, an exhibit at the Nevada State Museum at the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd., gives visitors a glimpse of the branding and history of our city’s fashion throughout the decades.
Under the direction of Deirdre Clemente, associate director of the UNLV public history program, exhibit co-curators Alex Hutchings and Alison Bazylisnki assembled a 10-station, 16-mannequin collection of vintage Vegas apparel, relics and photographs loaned by area museums and private collectors. Researched, curated and installed by students of UNLV’s Public History graduate program, the exhibition revives authentic outfits such as a royal-blue suit worn by Liberace, the onstage apparel of legendary Las Vegas comic headliner Shecky Greene, the garb of the original King and Queen from Excalibur’s Tournament of Kings and one of the Flying Elvis’ jumpsuits, complete with parachute.
The exhibit is open daily beginning Nov. 17 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
All of the items for the 6-month exhibit have been borrowed from individual collectors and area museums such as the Clark Country Museum, Nevada State Museum, the Liberace Museum, the Junior League’s Morelli House and the Las Vegas News Bureau. “We’ve come to discover that a lot of the costumes in Las Vegas are housed in people’s homes,” Clemente says. “We had talked about scaring people out of the woodwork from this show: ‘Hey, I have a hat that Sammy Davis threw into the audience and I caught in 1977.’ That’s the kind of stuff that we’re hoping it will do—bring things that are rotting in people’s closets into a museum.” Check out a selection from the exhibit below.
Ranchers, cowboys and the men who built Hoover Dam (known at the time as Boulder Dam) ran the scene before Bugsy came to town, so the exhibit begins with a look at Old Vegas’ glamorous interpretation of Western wear. The collection includes an intricately beaded suit made by Rex Bell’s Western Store on Fremont Street in the 1950s for the singing quartet the Westerners, as well as an ornately embroidered cowboy shirt worn by the 19th governor of Nevada, Vail Pittman.
All in the Detail
“We don’t really know too much about it except that it was a show costume, and it’s one [someone] walked off with when the show closed. So no one’s going to cop to it,” Clemente says of her favorite dress in the exhibit. “It speaks to all those nameless people who had that amazing, incredible skill set and made these pieces. Who are these people?” She hopes that through awareness of the exhibit some mystery artisans will come forward.
A Living Legend
Comedian Shecky Greene helped Hutchings understand how his garments were worn and the human element behind the wardrobe. “His whole thing was he came in neat and by the end of his show he was disheveled,” Clemente says. “With a lot of the other suits, we have to make them as prim and proper as possible, but with Shecky it’s throw-the-tie-off-mess-him-up a little bit,” Hutchings says.
Spectators en Vogue
Showgirls in headdresses were not the only night owls sporting glitz in the heyday of iconic Vegas shows in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The section called “Spectators” highlights the rhinestone-studded evening gowns and elegant, paisley caftans that women wore to the theater. “Dressing up was, in itself, a performance,” exhibit co-curator Hutchings says.