Anatomy of a Showgirl

By Hilary Williams

This history and spirit of the Las Vegas showgirl, though simplistic, fascinates local and visitor alike. The idea of the showgirl was built to entice and entrance. Growing up with the city has inextricably linked showgirls with the Strip, historically being involved with their development from the start. This link influenced both city and showgirl for the past 80 years.

Las Vegas showgirls first enter the Las Vegas scene in the 1930’s, before the Strip was even created. They were part of acts designed to draw and keep gamblers in early casinos, so unlike the most of the shows available on the Strip today, these shows were free!  But like any newcomer, showgirls were looking for a home. That home came in 1941 when the Strip was founded. Showgirls then took the city by storm gaining popularity and recognition through the 1950’s. In an effort to stay ahead of the competition, shows became more spectacular and more shocking. In 1957 showgirls started appearing topless (PBS), and shows spent thousands of dollars on the productions with more and more elaborate costumes (Jubilee). It all paid off. Showgirls reached their height of popularity in the 1960’s, but as the risqué became more accepted, Las Vegas lost its glamour. The 1990’s reinvented Las Vegas, and as a result, the showgirl made a big comeback not only as a performance, but also as an icon (PBS).

Showgirls have a long history, but their look has generally stayed the same. The early image of a showgirl came from strict guidelines set by the first producers. For example, Jack Entratter, producer of the Copa Girls “had a formula for his girls: 5’4” in height; 116 lbs. Bust 32-34, waist 24, hips 34. Face—small features, the American girl look, oval rather than round face. Hair—usually black. (Copa)” His competitor, Donn Arden at the Nightclub had a similar formula. He demanded “not only a tall, long-legged balletic beauty (minimum height of 5’8”) but also expert dance technique (Copa).”  Always, the main focus was on the look.

Costumes emphasized the showgirls’ natural look. Producers spent thousands of dollars up to 1000 costumes. Donn Arden willingly spent $1800 apiece for “a showgirl’s basic bikini-and-bra costume (Jubilee).” The costumes and girls are covered with feathers, sequins, and rhinestones all topped off with a headpieces weighing up to 35 pounds (VEGAS).

Today, Jubilee! is one of the last genuine showgirl shows on the Strip. Almost every show but the Saturday 7:30pm show is topless. The show offers everything these showgirls are known for, from the similar look to the elaborate costumes to the dancing ability. The girls can be seen in costume all over the strip. They are happy to take picture with fans and accept tips, which they surreptitiously hide away in their long gloves.

Sexy, flashy and over-the-top, showgirls embody everything that makes Las Vegas. The city’s most recognizable icon rises and falls with the city’s reputation, but the link between the two can never be broken.

Sources:

Jack entratter and the copa girls. (n.d.). In UNLV Libraries Digital Collections. Retrieved April 24, 2012, from http://digital.library.unlv.edu/collections/showgirls/jack-entratter-and-copa-girls

Jubilee!. (n.d.). In UNLV Libraries Digital Collections. Retrieved April 24, 2012, from http://digital.library.unlv.edu/collections/showgirls/jubilee

McKenzie, K. (n.d.). Jubilee!. In Vegas.com. Retrieved April 24, 2012, from http://www.vegas.com/shows/adult/jubilee-las-vegas/#show_review

The entertainers. (2005, July 11). In PBS. Retrieved April 24, 2012, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/lasvegas/peopleevents/p_entertainers.html

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