Dressed to Impress: Costume


1975-79, Designer: Jean Louis, Gift of Roberta Olden

For her nightclub revue from 1975-79, Rogers asked award-winning Hollywood designer Jean Louis to design a costume inspired by her iconic blue feather dress from the 1935 film Top Hat, a gown as legendary for its feathers as for its glamourRogers wore the following light pink feather gown for her nightclub revival of “The Continental” from “The Gay Divorcee” with Fred Astaire in 1934. ​

When it came time to design an original gown for the 1935 film Top Hat, Ginger Rogers told designer Bernard Newman that she wanted something in the kind of blue found in a Monet painting. “It’s funny to be discussing color when you’re making a black-and-white film, Rogers confessed, “but the tone had to be harmonious.” The resulting gown was exactly as Rogers had envisioned, complete with $1,500 worth of ostrich feathers. A popular trim for evening dress of the thirties, the ostrich feathers of Rogers’ gown were lengthened, more than likely by knotting the individual filaments together to make the feathers fluid and less fluffy.

Fred Astaire, her dance partner for the film, recalled how he had seen a sketch of the original feather dress prior to rehearsal and thought it looked nice. However, upon filming, he recalled how “feathers started to fly as if a chicken had been attacked by a coyote. I had never seen so many feathers in my life. It was like a snowstorm. I had feathers in my eyes, my ears, my mouth, all over the front of my suit…” The dress was a problem, according to Astaire. Rogers, however, fought to keep the now-iconic costume. “I was determined to wear this dress, come hell or high water,” she wrote in her autobiography. She believed it added to the smoothness and elegance Astaire had envisioned for the dance, and she wasn’t going to budge. ​

“Feathers – I hate feathers.
And I hate them so I can hardly speak.
And I never find the happiness I seek.
With those chicken feathers dancing cheek to cheek.”

– Fred Astaire and Hermes Pan, “Cheek to Cheek” Parody, Fred Astaire: An Autobiography 1995​

Watch Rogers’s nightclub revue performance adorned in this pink feather gown as she sings “The Continental!