You can see some of the spectacular dresses worn by Hollywood star Ginger Rogers and hear how her garments influence modern designers at a special program coming up next week. Ginger, who was born in Independence, frequently defied society norms. 

You can get a sneek peek at a stunning collection of dresses and costumes worn by the legendary dancer and actress Ginger Rogers on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, during the History on Elm noon series, presented by the State Historical Society of Missouri  (SHSMO) at the Center for Missouri Studies, 605 Elm St., Columbia. 

Recently, a collection of costumes and clothing worn by Ginger was donated to the Missouri Historic Costume and Textile Collection at the University of Missouri. A larger display will open March 2nd at SHSMO in the art gallery there, but you can hear Nicole Johnston, the curator of the Missouri Historic Costume and Textile Collection, and MU graduate student Mackenzie Miller on January 9. They will bring a few of the costumes and discuss how the garments influence modern designers. You may learn about microphone pockets as well as one dress Fred Astaire did not initially like because its feathers flew all over the set.

Nicole particularly loves Ginger’s feathered garments. “They have so much movement and are so dynamic and lively, poarticularly a peach coat/dress ensemble.”

By Danita Allen Wood

Nicole adds, “I was particularly impressed when learning of Ginger’s work ethic throughout her sixty-year career. Ginger was a “triple-threat” with the ability to act, dance and sing. The past expectation that performers like Ginger would need to do all three at once, and do them all well,  is an expectation we don’t necessarily have these days for our performers beyond those who appear in contemporary musicals or in theater.”

Nicole says she was also impressed with Ginger’s stamina and agility. One of her beaded gowns from the 1930s weighed over 25 pounds. Her Hello, Dolly! dress, which will be on display and shown during the History on Elm presentation, is extremely heavy due to elaborate beadwork, embroidery. and heavy fabric. And she performed twice a night for two years in this dress!

Joan Stack, Curator of Art Collections at SHSHMO, writes in an upcoming Missouri Life magazine article (March/April 2024), “As a dancer, she was keenly aware that costumes could complement her movements, and she often worked with designers to create outfits that reflected her personality.” 

The noon series speakers will also share some of Ginger’s history. She was born at Independence and lived with her grandmother in Kansas City before moving to Texas. She frequently defied society norms during her career.  Though often remembered for her stylish full-length gowns, Ginger also frequently danced in trousers allowing her the freedom to perform complex dance moves.  

In fact, one of the surprising things Beth Pike, the assistant director of Communications and Education Outreach, learned was just how much Ginger helped popularize slacks for women. “She liked those with wide legs so they would swing when she moved,” Pike says. 

Rogers had already made 20 films by the time she met Fred Astaire, and together, they became a legendary dancing duo. A Bob Thaves cartoon in his Frank and Ernest series immortalized Ginger with the saying, “Sue he was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did, backwards and in high heels.” Ginger completed more than 70 films and also acted on Broadway in her career.

The full exhibition opens at SHSMO March 2 and runs through August 31, 2024, so you have plenty of time to see it. 

For hundreds more events, visit Missouri Life’s Event Calendar.