Beyond the fossils, stuffed wildlife and pioneer exhibits at the Nevada State Museum is a towering fuchsia wall with alcoves displaying the boas, G-strings, headdresses and whatnot worn by Las Vegas’ showgirls past.
Shimmering and spectacular, it captures the essence of the town’s glamorous, kitsch musical revues with such accuracy that nobody could be blamed for forgetting about the boys. After all, it’s always the showgirl who gets the limelight.
But after spending more than a decade in storage, the museum’s male costumes are finally taking a turn on display in the small exhibit Showboys: Men’s Costumes of Jubilee!
“We never talk about the boys,” says the museum’s volunteer curator of costume and textiles Karan Feder, looking at the early 20th-century-style outfits worn in the show’s Titanic-themed number. “They’re always in the background, like props.”
These are from opening night,” she says, pointing to the stretchy wool gabardine costumes (a singing waiter, a tuxedoed ambassador and two pier singers). “They’re original and were worn for 19 years. They’re beautifully well made. They have to be to survive.”
One pier singer’s dazzling purple jacket and matching pants with white piping that defines the edges, pockets and collars, is smile worthy in its Lawrence Welk/Coco Chanel-meets-Brady Bunch-meets-Vegas flair. The same can be said for the other pier singer’s sea foam-green costume, which, like others, was designed by Pete Menefee and donated to the museum by Bally’s in 2000. Feder says there are only four in the collection.
With their spats and white gloves, the costumes round out the magic of the Parisian-themed musical revue era that dominated Las Vegas for decades, before showrooms gave way to Cirque productions and noted resident headliners. It’s a memorable chapter in Las Vegas history that deserves the museum limelight, and perhaps someday, a museum of its own.