Allow me to improv, as Style Fetish considers just a few of my favorite ways from the past that TV and sketch comedians have used fashion and how certain pieces have become iconic comic-wear.
Comedy and fashion both hit my radar in the ’70s. Nowadays, I still love the recent past for its now-vintage clothing and styles. Millennials, I am of a certain age and many of my references are old in an O.G. way – there is not much anymore that is truly new. These shows and comedians may be people you have never heard of but maybe should. They were pioneers of modern comedy and what they did with humor and style is still relevant today.
These ladies were brave and went for the laugh when sultry sexiness was more expected. They forsook beauty and sex appeal for humor and goofiness and changed the perspective of why women were on TV.
When Carol Burnett spoofed “Gone With the Wind,” she wore designer Bob Mackie’s gorgeous but wacky version of Scarlett’s drapery dress, complete with curtain rod. What brave and delicious comedic tension was pioneered back in the ’70s by Burnett. Her fabulous wardrobe helped. How fun and freeing for a fancy fashion designer like Mackie to design a satirical costume gown based on a iconic, recycled fabric dress. Seeing Burnett’s goofy, elastic face deliver hilarious monologues and impressions while in sequins, chiffon and ostrich feather gowns showed a young me that glamour and humor weren’t mutually exclusive, and the ability to be wacky gave a rarer sort of beauty and style.
Joan Rivers’ modus operandi was roast-y public improv, putting red carpet celebrities on the spot for years. Holding this position was somewhat unique, mocking beloved celebrities to their faces, unscripted and on-camera while they wore very expensive formalwear, all preceding the now too-common and wimpy anonymous Internet snark-athons. I am so glad yet still amazed that someone let her do this, as Joan was obnoxiously funny and pissed everyone off. Among all that designer couture, the world’s most beautifully designed gowns on gorgeous people, Joan knew and brayed loudly that there was something ridiculous about it. This felt revolutionary at the time; celebrities had yet to humiliate themselves on Twitter and reality television. But would we have expected any less from a woman who co-wrote and starred in a play about the mother of Lenny Bruce?! (Sorry, Millennials, yet another thing to Google. Good thing you have a phone for a hand.)
The uniform of Funny
A few iconic pieces that got stereotyped for comedy back in the day and still can’t shake the implication ...
The tux tee.
I stock these when I can at Sideshow; they’re satisfying. The whole garment is a campy joke about fashion, formalwear and comfort and at this point in time translate as retro ’70s/’80s. The tux tee comes off as almost elegant next to the tacky tees emblazoned with an eye-rolling quasi-joke or pithy phrase (looking scornfully at you, awful “What On Earth” catalog, have some dignity!)
In the era of shag carpeting and remoteless TVs, suspenders were a thing, very much a general accessory trend. But in my mind, every comedian still wears a pair of suspenders.
The rainbow suspenders with doo-dads and flair that Robin Williams wore as Mork are now iconic, long after his last “Na-Noo.” I owned a pair and rocked them hard in grade school and I am as excited now when a pair shows up at Sideshow.
Gallagher in his high-waisted jeans, suspenders and striped tee, smashing watermelons (this and much more was considered funny before the Web made us jaded). I saw a woman dressed exactly in this outfit a few years ago, she had no idea who Gallagher was (probably best she didn’t) but it looked amazing on her.
Two dudes (not one) in black suits
Akroyd and Belushi took the duo-in-black-suits away from Mormon missionaries forever and into the land of the iconic comedy outfit (although the Blues Brothers were also on a mission from God). Their double suits, fedoras and Wayfarer shades mean hilarious hijinx and the added bonus of good Chicago blues music.
Heather Narwid owns Sideshow, a vintage and modern clothing store in Durango. Sideshow re-opens Thursday at a new location at 208 County Road 250, where they will be for next 1,000 years.