Watching Jennifer Lopez and Shakira perform their high powered dance numbers at the Super Bowl Half-Time Show I was struck by two things.
First: Wow! For a forty-three-year-old and a fifty-year-old, their bodies were the finely conditioned bodies of dancers half their age, and their energy and stamina was equal to none!
I guess age really is just a number. You go, girls!
Secondly, with all that wild movement, I’m sure glad that stretchy fabric was invented. These dancers needed materials that moved with them, not against them.
That was a lesson I learned early in my costume design career. Even though spandex was invented in 1959, it was slow to come into everyday use. (Spandex is actually an anagram of the word “expands.) It wasn’t until 1962 that DuPont started it’s full-scale manufacture.
Spandex was first used in ladies’ undergarments such as corsets and girdles, but it wasn’t until the rock bands embraced the fabric in the 1970s because it stayed tight-fitting that fashion took notice.
I had worn stretchy leotards and tights in my early dance career in the mid-’60s, but the quality and stretch were limited.
I first noticed spandex jeans on Olivia Newton-John in the movie Grease in 1978 and had used a pair on Raquel Welch soon after for her nightclub act.
But when I was given the opportunity to design some costumes for the Ann-Margret dancers for a production number to “Workin’ at the Car Wash,” I was not happy with the fabrics available. I wanted the costumes to be jumpsuits, reminiscent of coveralls worn by the workers at car washes, and all I could find available was a fairly thick fabric that ski pants were made of. It stretched a bit, but only in one direction.
With my experience as a dancer but with minimal experience as a costume designer, I thought the stretch should go sideways, so when the dancers were breathing heavily from their exertion, their chests would have room to expand. Little did I anticipate that they would be leaping about in a fairly athletic manner!
I got a call (in Los Angeles) from producer Roger Smith from Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, where Ann-Margret and her dancers were performing, saying the jumpsuits were all splitting at the waist. The wardrobe mistress had been doing her best to stitch them up nightly, but the situation was getting desperate. I was horrified and embarrassed!
I offered to jump on a plane and come up to Las Vegas and inspect the problem and repair them myself. Oh my – what a mess! The stitching and re-stitching had worked it’s way into the fabric due to the sweat and strain and was almost impossible to remove. It took me all day to do so. However, I was able to insert a 4-inch band of thin lycra that would stretch enough to let the boys dance to their fullest. That was a mistake I never made again! Now spandex is on the primary edge of fashion for both men and women. Superheroes and heroines wear it, athletes wear it, and there are barely any fashion garments that don’t have an element of it.
Certainly, dancers are grateful that their leotards and costumes will now stretch with them!