Former Nude Dresser Talks About the Artistry on the Strip; Book Out This August
Arguably the most unusual amid a host of highly specialized theater occupations on the Las Vegas Strip is the job of nude dresser. Most people think I am joking when I tell them I spent 20 years dressing nudes.
In fact, I get a standard response: "Ha ha, that must be the easiest job in the world." Nothing could be further from the truth. Dressing nudes for "feather shows," the classic productions featuring legions of showgirls hosted by the big hotel-casinos, required dedication and know-how, not to mention strength.
Here's the lowdown on the skill, standards, and stamina it took to dress a nude.
Surprise! Nudes Aren't Naked
Although their torsos and breasts look bare, the dancers wear full showgirl regalia. As dressers, we were in charge of maintaining and fitting all the flocculent headdresses and rhinestone-studded costumes. Maintenance is no minor task. After two nightly performances, the backstage areas were littered with feathers and rhinestones awaiting reattachment.
Nudes Are Strong
At "Jubilee" and other such shows, showgirls needed the strength of Samson to perform in costumes weighing as much as fifty pounds and six-foot-tall headdresses of equal width. They also had to lug all the rhinestones, plumage, and heavy metal armature up and down the three flights of stairs leading to stage level. Dressers need this strength as well, to move everything from storage to the quick-change area.
Nude Dressing is a Fashion Job to Be Proud of
Every nude dresser took pride in her profession. We worked with enormous costumes: the fabulous "backpacks" with wingspans of over seven feet and the towering lamé headpieces crafted into fantastic shapes and encrusted with rhinestones. I have repaired floor-length capes made of golden tamarin monkey fur. I have dusted a stuffed partridge posed on a green satin chapeau, and replaced osprey feathers decorating a velvet hat the width of a hula hoop. I've mended fanciful hats a yard tall and equally wide, and sewn two-inch crystals onto endless trains of white organdy. My colleagues and I took pride in keeping everything pristine and opening-night perfect.
Nude Dressers Can't Be Bothered by Bare Bodies
Not everyone-not even every trained wardrobe professional-is cut out to dress nudes. Once I worked with a woman who told me that since she spent each night "eyeball to nipple," she found it difficult to know where to look. Hah, I thought, she should simply look at the costumes. But then I remembered my own first show. As a native of Las Vegas, I knew if the word "topless" appeared on the job listing, odds were good that nipples would appear on stage. G-strings, however, caught me totally unprepared. Oh my Gawd, I thought as forty pairs of bare butt cheeks stampeded onstage right in front of me, heading onstage. Those kids ain't wearing any undie pants! I quickly became accustomed to mending rhinestone-studded G-strings along with all the other costume pieces.
The big feather shows have now gone the way of Elvis and the Rat Pack. It is possible that renewed interest in classic Las Vegas entertainment will bring new showgirl extravaganzas back to the Strip, and nude dressers will once again attach rhinestones, fluff exotic furs, and repair elaborate headdresses for dancers on the stages of Las Vegas. In the meantime, many of the costumes have been preserved, and I can still visit them whenever there's a showgirl exhibition. The displays always bring back fond memories-along with a nostalgic urge to inspect and adjust.
H.G. McKinnis is a Las Vegas native and former nude dresser for production shows on the Las Vegas Strip. Her debut novel A Justified Bitch: A Las Vegas Mystery will release on August 8, 2017.