The decade of the 1950s had its problems, but it had great clothes. And even people with little money dressed well.
Most certainly took more care in how they presented themselves than people do today. This is beautifully evident in Broadway’s Memphis, showcased on The 64th Annual Tony Awards on CBS Sunday, June 13.
Montego Glover plays Felicia, a young woman in segregated Tennessee with aspirations of stardom.
“Felicia is that foundation of glamour, what glamour started out being, the real kind.” says Montego, who earned a Tony nod for the role. “It’s as much about the way clothes are worn as it is about the carriage – of the clothing and the body and confidence.
“It so happens that the pieces are extraordinary,” she continues. “(Costumer) Paul Tazewell is a genius and has given me exquisite clothing to wear. It is so right for the period, for her arc specifically, and so detailed with her circumstance, her feelings, her textures. So I find that I am supported and c
arried by the clothes. They inspire me as an actress to honor them.”
Felicia sings at her brother’s basement blues club, yet she looks as if she could be a Las Vegas headliner.
“It was that period when women looked like women and walked like women,” Glover says. “This girl would have spent her time watching Lena Horne or Sarah Vaughan or Eartha Kitt, and wanting to be like them and be as confident and driven and beautiful as they were.”
Felicia wears dresses that would cost plenty at vintage shops, but Tazewell created new frocks because 60-year-old fabric wouldn’t hold up to the rigors of eight performances a week.
To get the look, Tazewell pored over Montgomery Ward and Spiegel catalogs from the period. He looked at Hollywood stars of the era, and he turned homeward.
“I looked at pictures of my grandparents and aunts,” he says. “They still pull it together. And a woman like Felicia, she is sensual and sexy because she is young and has the voice and knows how to work what she has. That was very important – to project a very confident woman.”
Everyone wore hats, which came from Cheap Jacks and JJ Hat Center, and Lynne Mackey created originals for “Memphis.” They also wore gloves, and these were custom-made from La Crasia.
The overall style, Glover says, is “such a celebration of femininity and womanhood. Women were still fighting for equal rights, to be treated like the powerful creatures we are. It is a thrill every single night to put on those beautiful pieces and live in that time.”