Cartoons: Hat Humor

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Woman wears her new hat in bed so her husband would notice it.
“I just thought I’d wear it until you noticed it.”
Treceno
November 15, 1952

 

Man wears his wife's new wide brimmed hat as to protect his face as he paints the ceiling.
“It’s the first time Henry’s like one of my hats.”
John Dempsey
October 31, 1953

 

Woman passes by someone on the street who's wearing the same hat she's wearing, just upside down.
Al Kaufman
October 18, 1952

 

Woman presents her new hat to her husband.
“Now, promise not to laugh when I tell you how much I paid for it.”
Chon Day
April 16, 1952

 

Young boy drops a rock on a man passing underneath his window; the rock is bounced back by the man's large top hat, hitting the boy.
Jack Markow
February 3, 1945

 

Woman tries on a hat made out of folded newspaper in a department store.
“That’s the most inexpensive hat we’ve had in stock for a long time!”
Tom Henderson
February 3, 1945

 

Woman tries on a hat so large her head slips through the brim.
“Perhaps we should try a slightly smaller size.”
Ned Hilton
January 23, 1954

 

Woman arrives at a party, only to find everyone is wearing the same hat she's wearing.
“Come in, Marge, but prepare yourself for a horrible shock!”
Janurary 16, 1954

 

Man throws cards into his wife's new hat as she walks in asking if it has been delivered.
“Did they deliver it yet?”
Bob Barnes
December 5, 1953

 

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Sneaker Madness

Gucci, the luxury-goods maker, last year began selling a line of sneakers that come pre-smudged. That’s right, filthy from the get-go. For a pair of these, Gucci will gladly accept your $870.

What’s that, you say? You’d like something a little more obnoxious? Okay, hand over $1,590 and Gooch will attach a strand of crystals to those scruffy shoes. Happy now?

Conventional aesthetic standards barely apply in the hypercompetitive world of “kicks” — which is, ya know, the street parlance. Each week’s most lust-worthy new models invariably sell out in a flash. Some go on to become collectibles. The sneakersphere after-market is not unlike the liveliness observed in the fenced-jewelry game. Except that top sneakers often fetch way more cash.

Fact: The American footwear market is on a tear, expected to reach an astonishing $320 billion annually within four years, according to Zion Market Research. Where’s all that growth coming from? You guessed it.

For the way we Americans live today, sneakers are the perfect fit: comfortable, casual, endlessly customizable. To be clear, they are more about fashion — sometimes freaky fashion — than performance.

“Sneakers can help us stand out or blend in,” writes Nicholas Smith in his new book Kicks: The Great American Story of Sneakers. “Every sneaker we wear says something about us in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways.”

The other day I spotted a pair of high-top sneakers that featured a pattern of dainty pink flowers — and these were for men. I also noticed some folks wearing bold kicks to a funeral. (Okay, this was in L.A., but still.)  The point is that sneakers have evolved from predictably boring footwear into functional art. They’ve found soul.

A pair of super-rare ’70s-era Nikes sold for a record $437,500 at auction earlier this year.

Expect to lay out hundreds of dollars for a popular model. A pair of super-rare ’70s-era Nikes sold for a record $437,500 at auction earlier this year.

That’s batty. But let’s be honest, the luxe fashion industry bathes in batty. And as much as I’m a rational guy, brimming with ordinariness, I choose — much to my own surprise — to celebrate a world in which the old-timey Converse brand no longer rules the sneaker roost. Here is everyone’s socially acceptable opportunity to express their inner crazy.

Most sneakers — men’s and women’s — fall into clear categories: The popular urban look favors a chunky sole and, often, vibrant slashes of color; the much-ridiculed dad shoe is more of a walker and generally fails to light up the scoreboard, but it has its adherents; and, finally, the homages.  Examples among this last: beer-themed sneakers, models that honor the ’60s, and even — I swear this is true — a new bizarro pair that pays respects to the French croissant.

When the editor of Sneaker Freaker wrote in an early issue of the magazine that “Sneakers can be seen by non-believers as a flippant concern,” he worried that his budding hobby might not have legs. He needn’t have. The trend is so powerful that a respected publication recently ran a story headlined “Why Sneaker Culture Should be Taught in Schools.”

The ultimate validation may have been bestowed by a company that’s begun marketing so-called Shoe Condoms to obsessive sneakerheads. Waterproof. $10.99 per pair. Seems totally prudent to me.

In the last issue, Cable Neuhaus wrote about handwritten letters.

Featured image: Shutterstock.

Dressing a 1940s Broadway Musical

The 1940s were a financial low point for Broadway. The rise of the cinema, and subsequently television, provided a cheaper outlet for people seeking escapist entertainment, and the expensive production costs of Broadway shows paired with dwindling viewership led to closure (and conversion to movie houses) of many theaters. By the late 1940s it was necessary to call a meeting of theater unions and discuss the future of the industry.

Despite financial concerns, the 1940s also provided some iconic Broadway musicals, which could be seen for less than $5. Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town debuted in 1944, and Carousel opened in 1945 to critical and audience acclaim. Cole Porter provided the lyrics for the comedic musical Kiss Me Kate, which opened in 1948. In 1946 Ethel Merman starred as the titular Annie in the hit show Annie Get Your Gun. And of course there was 1944’s Oklahoma!, Rogers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration.

With shrinking profits, sacrifices had to be made in some areas, but costuming wasn’t one of them. The gingham shirts and calico frocks of Oklahoma! may have looked simple, but the musical’s costume budget – in 1944 – was $75,000. Where did the clothes come from, and why did they cost so much?

In 1944, The Saturday Evening Post published “How to Dress a Broadway Musical” in which writer Maurice Zolotow claimed, “lavish costumes pay off at the box office.”  Zolotow described the Brooks Costume Rental Company, which at the time was one of the largest manufacturers of Broadway and circus costumes. Brooks offered an extensive collection of ready-made costumes for rent (everything from hula skirts to nun’s habits) to schools, community theaters, and off-Broadway houses. But their real calling was making custom costumes for Broadway productions, employing 250 costume makers who could create 20 new costumes a day.

Women sewing clothes for a musical.
The Brooks Company’s sewing department in 1944. (Richard Beattie)

The stars and designers of Broadway would come in for three fittings of each costume to make sure that the garments not only fit perfectly but also fulfilled the designer’s vision. The creation process was so painstaking because the costumes had to be up to task:

A theatrical costume must be made of the best and strongest material, it must be tailored perfectly, it must fit onto a body like a tight, wet bathing suit. It must be made to stand intense punishment, as the character goes through her performance eight times a week. It must stand an intense dry-cleaning once or twice a month. A society woman who has an evening gown made for her may wear the dress six times a year. But the similarly gorgeous evening gowns worn in, say, One Touch of Venus, are worn—and worn to the hilt— every night and twice on matinee days.

This thorough treatment led to hefty costume bills of around $75,000 for a show like Oklahoma!, or about $1 million in today’s dollars. (Circuses were even more expensive, costing upwards of $300,000.)

In those days, costume production for any given show happened within one building. The designer provided the sketches to the manufacturers, who then not only put the design to fabric but created the necessary accessories and wigs. William Ivey Long, a nine-time Tony award winning costume designer who has outfitted The Producers, Hairspray, Cinderella, and dozens of other shows, claims, “Back then there were several big costume shops that would deliver everything from soup to nuts.” Indeed, Brooks also provided “gloves, hats, shoes, sashes, scarves, petticoats, sweaters, berets, stockings.”

In the 75 years since Zolotow explored the Brooks company, many things have changed. Today, instead of bringing a design to one large costume house, Long shops around. He brings his pieces to different specialists and works hard to get the best work at the best price. Where “one-stop-shops” previously dominated the costume scene, modern manufacturers specialize in one aspect of costume. And budgets for modern productions are smaller. While it can cost around $300,000 to outfit a show, that’s only half of the budget for 1944’s Oklahoma! when adjusted for inflation.

In addition, the technological changes to theater have necessitated a change in costume design. “As we speak lighting is changing,” Long explains. The prevalence of LED lighting in theaters casts a blue tint onto the actors, requiring an alteration in the color of their clothes. Long noticed that costumes taken on tour into theaters that have not made the switch to LED lighting looked different than in their original performances and did not provide the same effect.

Today, the large costume houses no longer exist. Costume companies continue to rent out retired Broadway costumes to smaller-scale productions, yet these rental companies do not have nearly the dominance of years past. The Brooks company itself went through several sales, eventually becoming Dodgers Costumes, which closed its doors for good in 2015.

Broadway itself has experienced a surge of popularity in recent years. Despite rising ticket prices, 2019 marks the sixth record-breaking year for attendance in a row. Elevated tourism, recognizable show titles, longer show-runs and run-away hits like Hamilton keep people coming back for more. After all, despite changes in production or ticket prices, the show must go on.

First page of the article, "How to Dress a Broadway Show" by Maurice Zolotow. This links to the full article in the archive.
Read “How to Dress a Broadway Show” from the June 24, 1944, issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Photograph by Richard Beattie

The Most Extravagant Showman of the Midwest

Wladziu Valentino Liberace had no shortage of costly possessions: sparkling Rolls Royces, Belle Époque-era pianos, marble-columned bathrooms. But when Oprah Winfrey interviewed the grand pianist in 1986, he spoke candidly: “The most important and valuable thing in one’s life is your health, and if you have that you’re a rich person.” Six weeks later, Liberace passed away. Today, he would be 100 years old.

As a performer, Liberace made a living by pushing the boundaries of his own extravagance. Crowd-pleasing renditions of classical, ragtime, and pop favorites filled his concerts, but his persona — aloof, campy, and self-deprecating — shined through his rhinestone capes and stole the show. In the 1950s, he became one of the most popular personalities on television in his syndicated The Liberace Show wearing tuxedoes and speaking amiably into the camera. By the ’70s, he was donning 200-pound capes made of chinchilla and spouting lines like, “Sometimes people will ask me how it feels to be famous. I usually tell them it beats obscurity all to hell!”

This magazine covered “Mr. Showmanship” in 1978 in a profile called “All That Glitters.” Liberace’s curious choice to play classics alongside pop and nostalgia tunes all started one night at a concert in his home state of Wisconsin: “At the end of a performance in LaCrosse, he asked his audience for requests. Someone yelled out for the ‘Three Little Fishies.’ With a dignified flip of his coattails, Liberace sat down and rendered a string of ‘Little Fishies’ done in the style of the great masters.” His ability to weave high and low brow performance proved to be a hit, especially in the Midwest. Over the years, Liberace turned up the flamboyance, his diamond- and pearl-studded costumes reflecting his real-life fixation with luxury.

“The Franz Liszt of Las Vegas” insisted he “laughed all the way to the bank!” when he wasn’t received well — which was often. Critics, journalists, and comedians got creative poking at the pianist and his unconventional displays of music and manhood. Writing in The New Republic in 1984, Edward Rothstein attempted to analyze Liberace’s popularity: “The music, too, is just an image: no ‘real’ Beethoven or Liszt or Chopin is played. What is heard instead is a stylized reference to this music … Liberace’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ is meant to invoke the great and distant Beethoven, but in a way that defers to the sentimental meanings that have accumulated around classical music for the popular listener.”

Claims that Liberace wasn’t “the marrying type” abounded, both in late night jokes and newspaper stories. What seemed obvious to so many — that he was gay — was vehemently denied by the performer. His cute, eccentric persona completed a fantasy for his dedicated fanbase of maternal Midwesterners, and he could scarcely afford to lose that with a big scandal.

When Liberace appeared on Oprah’s show, it was his last interview. It was Christmastime, his favorite season, when he could lavish gifts on his friends and throw exorbitant parties. Unbeknownst to her audience or any viewers, he had been infected with the HIV virus. She asked him what he would like people to know about him, and he said, “People don’t know me as a private person. They don’t know what makes me tick when I’m not onstage, and I love being a human being.”

 

Read “All That Glitters” by Holly Miller from the December 1978, issue of the Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured Image: Shutterstock