Since the 1920s, Hollywood has involved its major talent in the production of movie musicals, many of which showcased the beautiful showgirls that gave the films their sugar and spice. Legendary costume designers like Adrian, Edith Head, Orry-Kelly, Travis Banton, Helen Rose, Walter Plunkett, and William Travilla all designed numerous stunning showgirl costumes, not to mention Bob Mackie. Super stars have played showgirl roles - or those of the lead singers and dancers that made up the movie. A young and beautiful Lana Turner is shown above in Ziegfeld Girl, 1941, in a showgirl costume designed by Adrian. Adrian liked to use star decorations in his costumes, symbolic of their rising star or falling star qualities.
Adrian designed the most outrageous showgirl costumes ever seen on film. MGM payed tribute to Ziegfeld in a series of films, and Adrian was inspired by and ultimately outdid the showman in costumes such as these fromThe Great Ziegfeld, 1936. This costume is named Silver Pheasant, and is worn by Clarissa Sherry in the film. It is made from 52 dozen pheasant tails, each one silvered and studded with sequins. The wings have a spread of 10 feet. Hand-ground crystals hang from the flaring bodice and the showgirl wears silver lame tights.
Showgirl Diane Cook wears another outrageous Adrian costume from The Great Ziegfeld. The costume reportedly cost $3000 to produce in 1936.
Costume designers Orry-Kelly and Milo Anderson were also designing eye-catching costumes at Warner Brothers in the 1930s. The films didn't emphasize the big costumes of MGM, but the snappy music and unique choreography of Busby Berkely played up the role of the showgirls. Above is a shot of the chorines, led by Ruby Keeler at right, during a rehearsal scene from 42nd Street.