Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Critical Analysis of the Costumes in 'Showgirls'

What in the name of all that's holy could I POSSIBLY write about 'Showgirls,' the best movie ever made about a hooker showgirl who All About Eves her way to the top in Vegas (amongst all the other movies about the exact same topic)? Well, I did a brief Google snoop, and I discovered a gaping hole (hahaahahah) in the lexicon: A Critical Analysis of the Costumes! Thank the Goddess of the Stardust that I have a recurring blawg topic about that very subject!

I would like to initially go on record as saying: Elizabeth Berkley is awesome. She writes books for girls to help them with their self-esteem, she has a sense of humor about herself, she has heterochromia which automatically makes her cool and, at 43, she looks amazing. Back in the day she was clearly trying to bust free from the 'Saved By the Bell' millstone around her neck, and fell prey to that old Hollywood siren song of "Hey honey, why don't you sit on this couch here right next to me, and if you let me finger-bang you I'll put you in my majah motion pictchah and make you a STAH." Yikes. I lay ALL blame of this movie on creepy impresario Paul Verhoven and revolting scribe Joe Eszterhas.

There isn't a whole lotta subtext going on with the costuming here - it's mostly a straight-up time capsule of mid-90s style and sheer unadulterated soft-core trash. I guess I could argue that the heavy use of animal prints means, uh, that everyone is, er, animalistic? Sure. The hair and makeup is also a critical factor in the overall, shall we say, design ethos. Now, all that doesn't mean a bunch of people didn't work really hard sewing rhinestones and shit onto pleather; it just means they probably did it while rolling their eyes a little. Ellen Mirojnick was the costume designer; girlfriend is the genius behind this classic:

YAAAS! Respeck.

In the opening of the film, Nomi Malone is dressed for business, the business being hitching her way to Vegas. Late-1980s fringed black leather jacket with silver conchos, stonewashed jeans circa 1995, black cowboy boots, and a floral collared shirt to show she's not such a bad girl (even though the tenor of the costume design is set here, because it's open and knotted Daisy Duke style, just like the tenor of the makeup design is also set here: heavy eye, insanely overdrawn MAC Stone cholita lipliner [brown lips were SO IN]). Simple jewelry, fake pink nails, handy switchblade. I would call this look Hemet Biker Chic.

Let's get a closeup of that lipliner, shall we?

I mean...somebody told her to lick her lips like that. And she did it. Sigh.

A dude clearly marked JOHN propositions her - pinky ring, shiny grey suit, lots of chains - and she gets mad, prompting this guy - the hero's journey Herald, really - to shout prophetically, "Sooner or later, you're gonna have to sell it!" This ultimately drives her into the arms of the Pathetic Sidekick, who is always carefully dressed for the role. When we first meet her, she's wearing an un-sexy high-necked black t-shirt tucked into stonewashed jeans (YES), and a gloriously hideous patchworked jean jacket which telegraphs in an instant to us that she Wants To Be A Fashion Designer. Everything about her screams 'Reliable Doormat!' Which is now her official new name.

Six weeks later and Nomi and Doormat are happily co-habitating in Doormat's trailer. As Doormat strips casually down to a rad black 90s thong-and-demi bra combo - she's hot, but we're not supposed to think she's as hot as Nomi - Nomi, in a cut-up fake Harley t-shirt and coochie cutters, does her nails. Close up on the harlequin nails:

They've gotten more aggressively trashy and drag-gy (is that a word?), because Nomi has assimilated, Borg-like, into the Vegas lifestyle, and that means crazy nails. But dayum, girl did those all by herself? She's an artiste! Why doesn't she open a salon, for crying out loud! But no, Nomi has a dream, and that dream does not involve potentially profiting off of a marketable business in a bull market. IT INVOLVES TITTAYS!! (which, incidentally, is also a marketable business, so I should shut my hole) Doormat gets Nomi to come to work with her - she's the costumer on a topless show - and tells Nomi to "wear that dress I made last week:"

...which turns out to be a modern classic on the order of this gown:

...or this gown:

I mean...I feel like I'm already in over my head. There are SO MANY EXQUISITE COSTUMES in this movie! Deep breath, deep breath.

Now we're backstage at 'Goddess,' heretofore after referred to as THE SHOW (as in 'on with the,' which is actually a fucking line of dialogue in this movie), absolutely swimming in sequins. The dance captain runs around hollering in a purple crushed velvet mock turtleneck leotard, a black vest and black high-waisted leggings GHGHGHGGG while everyone else puts on their stage costumes:  janky wigs, rectangles of gold lame strategically draped over parts, and crushed organza button-down shirts. Doormat's fixing a costume on the fly, and we know She Means Bizniz because she's wearing goddamned floral rayon overalls and a pair of Lisa Loeb granny glasses on a chain around her neck. You know who else Means Bizniz? Cristal Connors, that's who, the fucking STAH of THE SHOW:

Now, you might argue, "That ain't a costume! It's just a thong and tittays!" Well, you would be uneducated in the art of costuming, then. That thong is completely encrusted in embroidery and crystals! Those tittays have little stick-on crystals on them! I feel badly for you, that you don't think this is a costume. Her postgame robe, virginal white as a nun's wimple, is pretty awesome too:

The dude photobombing the shot seems stunned by this magnificence as well. So much maribou! So much Swarovski, from her eyelids to her hair to the applique randomly applied to the middle of her cheek! Werk, gurl.

Here we also meet entertainment director Zack, who, probably not coincidentally, wears a wide-shouldered suit and sports the side bangs like another famous 90s Zack:

I ruined it for you, right? I'm a ruiner. After some tomfoolery where Nomi gets rowdy in the club, kicks a dude in the junk, and ends up in jail for the night, we move on to the goods: Nomi's workplace, Cheetah's (aka Cheetah's, which of course is a real club in Vegas). Cheetah's is populated solely by strippers with Hearts of Gold (TM The 80s): Might-be-pregnant Stripper, Down-home Stripper, Innocent Stripper, Mother Hen Stripper, etc etc. The only strippers missing from this all-star lineup are He'll Call Stripper and Ice Castles Stripper!? They are all ruled by an Evil Pimp, played deliciously by actor and jazz singer Robert Davi, who wears a leopard-print waistcoat and the same jacket Nomi was wearing in the first shot of the movie, probably because it looks kind of slutty no matter who's wearing it.

The Innocent Stripper - who, incidentally, got her own sequel, the unfortunately-named 'Penny's From Heaven' - looks like she borrowed something from the Doc in 'Road House,' who is the Queen of Unaware-of-her-Sexuality costumes! A denim vest and a blue-and-white candy-striped A-line? Christ, all Tuesday. The other strippers are all on their costume game: purple crushed velvet ruched cocktail dress with a honking mechanism that exposes the tittays, black-and-purple satin robe with a real ball python, black string bikini with pink fringe and pink fringed opera gloves. By comparison, Nomi's costume is kind of meh:

At least she's found time to change her nails: tiger stripes, excellent.

So Zack and Cristal show up. He's wearing sunglasses, a sparkly black blazer and a black mock turtleneck like a douchey undercover cop, and Cristal, for lack of a better description, is wearing a 90s version of this:

Is this because we're meant to think she's some kind of stripping robot like Zhora from 'Blade Runner,' bent on dominating Nomi? YES IT IS! And Nomi knows it, because when she comes out to do her dance, she does this to subliminally tell Robot Cristal that she LOOOOOOVES metal:

I like that through all of Nomi's adventures she seems to be wearing a lucky St. Christopher medal on a bead chain. Dedication to her faith! Good thing Cristal's wearing HER lucky diamond horseshoe ring (and a coke ring! So 70s), because she gets to watch Nomi grind one out on her boyfriend.

Well, Nomi feels crappy about that, so Doormat offers to take her shopping after fashion design class. They are wearing a solid 90s power pack: hat, orange wraparound top with belted, shredded jeans and engineer boots; purple workout top over hot pink bra, coochie cutters and those black cowboy boots. They might as well be skipping while a Sophie B. Hawkins song plays on the soundtrack. O WAIT THEY ARE SKIPPING. The girls skip right over to the Forum for the now-classic 'Pretty Woman' (not really, but it's the best I can do) scene at Versace, where Nomi buys the boringest off-the-rack dress in the store:

Everyone loves to fixate on the whole 'Versayse' line later, but I prefer to puzzle over why she would want THIS dress. It's basically a boxy, tight minidress with hideous Versace gold buttons all over it like a tufted ottoman. Is it because it's meant to show how classy she is, on the inside? Because, sorry, girl, but this is not a classy dress. This is a classy dress:

I'm glad Nomi got herself that dress in preparation for the big time, coz girlfriend has an audition at THE SHOW. When she comes on stage, though, she realizes she's outclassed by all the other dancers who showed up in WAY better dancewear than her dreary jazz pants and red wraparound top. We've got gold gladiatrix bikinis, pink lame hot pants, and black sheer corsets; Nomi can't compete! So what does our resourceful Pollyanna do? Girl whips off the pants and top and jams on some more makeup in the world's quickest costume change because She Means Bizniz! When Cristal shows up - in a gunmetal-grey metallic outfit with a concho hip belt (remember, SHE IS A ROBOT) (also, I had one of those belts and loved it, can someone bring those back?), the outraged dancers have to take off their tops. THE SHOW is topless, after all, and they seem to have forgotten that they aren't auditioning for the Bolshoi. Cristal loves this. Nomi, who, in a previous scene, was basically scissoring with the Innocent Stripper on-stage, doesn't. She's so upset that she needs the dude she kicked in the junk earlier (who's become her buddy) to cheer her up, which, in this movie, means she gives him a lapdance!

I like that, in this scene, all the frippery of the showgirl costumes has been exchanged for Real Dance Wear (TM this movie) because they are doing some Real Choreography: jazz shoes, old-school black dance pants with effin' suspenders, black flared jazz pants, and that red wrap top like Real Dancers wear to rehearse in. Eat it, Ailey! Despite the fact that I'm fairly sure Real Dancers don't stick their fingers in other Real Dancers while they're dancing to see if they're on their periods, I still believe these two are good at what they do because jazz shoes. The costumes tell me so!

Back at the trailer park, Doormat - in a fucking purple tie-dyed outfit - is sewing some leopard print fabric some old how (I'm going to use my clinical powers of deduction to state for the record that this is foreshadowing, as the outfit Animal Nomi wears later to revenge Doormat's rape is leopard print) when she gets to deliver the news to Nomi that she's going to be in THE SHOW. Nomi tells her pimp boss - suitably garbed in a predatory tiger print shirt - that's she's never coming back to Cheetah's. This saddens the Mother Hen Stripper, who plaintively observes, "Goddammit! You're the only one who gets my tits poppin' right." It always comes down to the costumes, doesn't it?

Nomi's moving on up. Garbed in her TJ Maxx-looking Versace, she goes to meet her new bosses, one of whom is wearing a green mock turtleneck and a fucking cardigan, perhaps because he was late to get fitted that day and this was his punishment. The dance captain, Gaye - she of the infamous "I chipped my tooth on a Quaalude" line - is looking like She Means Bizniz in a striped leotard and a vest. She gets even more Down to Bizniz later, in all black, when Nomi shows up to rehearsal in a violently purple low-cut wrap top, shiny turquoise leggings and gold ballroom heels.


Nomi storms around on stage for her first performance like an enraged giraffe in her janky wig and gold lame. She's GOT this. Doormat is so proud of her! She's made it to the big time, so she doesn't need Real Dancing, or any of that shit from the past. In fact, she's ready for a little one-on-one with Cristal, who shows up the next day (or whenever) to "work on her turns with her." Is THAT what they call it? Cristal is wearing her best costume yet: black felt cowgirl hat with a silver hatband, champagne organza lame shirt open over a black bra (yes), crazy studded drop-sleeved cropped leather jacket, that concho belt over dance pants and, I believe, black cowboy boots.

And her coke ring. Sorry, I forgot about her coke ring. It's great for the muscles, even though, if you're a ROBOT, you don't have muscles.

During lunch at the Forum, Cristal admires Nomi's tittays - in a protracted conversation which sounds kind of like a transcript from a cut-rate phone sex line - which are displayed as usual in that elegant combo of pink wrap top and fuschia bra. This outfit provides Cristal the opportunity to yank the top off of Nomi's shoulder so she can give her a tittay-squeeze while they're supposed to be "working on her turns." Because this makes Nomi feel like a hooker, rather than a stripper, it sets up a cinematographic segue into a scene where Nomi gets prostituted out to some businessmen. Audrey Hepburn only WISHED she'd worn the hooker version of the famous Paco Rabanne link dress, accessorized with a silver lame trench coat, while dancing on a boat!

Next up is THE SHOW's first revenge moment, when Evil Meter-Reader Fucker Dancer takes out Nasty Pizza Delivery Fucker Dancer by throwing some beads on stage so her partner slips and drops her. The costumes here are some kind of bewildering Britney Spears-ish 'Toxic' bodysuit worn with sequined circle skirts, while Cristal wears a nice churchy bridal veil. I'm getting a real dreamy vibe, a la:

It's time for Nomi to take action. In order to backstab properly, she has to dress the part, so she's wearing an innocent 90s floral slip dress and black cowboy boots, staple of many a Delia's catalog. She has a brief, meaningful interlude with her former boss, who, while wearing a sharp double-breasted with a tiger striped tie, muses, "It must be hard not having anyone come on you." Oh, just you wait! It's on to Zack's place, where she immediately loses the outfit and participates vigorously in one of the most infamous sex scenes ever. This, of course, lands her an audition to be Cristal's understudy, pissing everyone off: Quaalude Gaye, sporting a studded vest; Evil Meter-Reader Fucker Dancer, in a white t-shirt and black sleeveless romper; and Robot Cristal herself, wearing this:

You're right! You ARE too old for that whorey look!

Nomi goes to visit Real Dancer to see his own choreographed piece, in her last introspective scene (stop laughing, pay attention) before Shit Gets Real. I'm going to show you what this looked like in the filmmaker's minds, instead of what it actually looked like:


When Nomi gets sidelined by Cristal's machinations, they duke it out during THE SHOW's metaphoric rapey master/slave scene. Calling back to Nomi's Hemet Biker Chic style, everyone's in budget black vinyl dominatrix costumes, thigh-highs, and black bobbed wigs, while Cristal's accessorized with more Swarovskis glued on her tittays.

Nomi gets SO MAD that she All About Eves by pushing Cristal down the stairs. Evil Meter-Reader Fucker Dancer's got Nomi's back - bitches gotta cover one another - so everyone except Doormat believes Nomi didn't do it. It's Nomi's time to shine, motherfuckers!

She does this in the most incomprehensible costume in the whole movie, a blue lame mini with a cropped jacket:

That, my friends, might be the most wretched photo I've ever put on this blawg. Or, this one might be:

How does she not topple over from the weight of those false eyelashes and the mantle of foundation she's got on!? So Nomi sets Doormat up with her dream boo, famous rock star and rapist Andrew Carver. We know he's famous because he shops at Johnny Depp R Us:

After poor Doormat gets gang raped in the movie's umpteenth Not Necessary scene, Nomi's chickens come home to roost when Zack calls her out for being a whore. She's got nuthin to lose, right? IT'S TIME FOR ANIMAL NOMI TO BE LET OUT OF THE CAGE! Begin revenge montage, no description necessary:

After Nomi and Cristal slurp each other's lipstick off in their tender farewell scene, Nomi ghosts outta town, donning Cristal's signature black felt cowgirl hat and champagne lame. A girl hitching on the 15 with her shirt open that far can only be going one place: Los Angeles!

The fact that Elizabeth Berkley doesn't jerk awake sweating and screaming every night of her life from this is testament to her fortitude. I award the costumes (and hair/makeup) of this landmark the following:

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