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Outfit No. 1 – that Lana Turner ’50s pink polka dot swing dress


The first outfit Miss Tracy wears during The Legend of Georgia McBride is a vintage 1950s pink polka dot swing dress with matching jacket that’s a homage to Lana Turner.


The Legend of Georgia McBride opens in a drab, run-down dive in a small town in the Florida Panhandle. The bar isn’t doing well, so Eddie, the club’s owner, decides to bring in a B-level drag show to replace the struggling Elvis impersonator that’s been his sole entertainer for quite some time. Nepotism is at play. The drag queen, you see, is his cousin. She goes by the stage name of Miss Tracy Mills.

By the time the audience first meets Miss Tracy, they’ve already formed an attachment to the young man who’s being replaced. Casey is young, good-looking, and an endearingly sympathetic character. He’s down on his luck, on the verge of being evicted, and he’s just learned that his wife is pregnant. It would be so easy for the audience to dislike, even hate, Miss Tracy. But that is not at all what playwright Matthew Lopez, director Brett Marston or actor Clayton Brown want the audience to feel when they first meet Miss Tracy. To the contrary, it’s important to the story and to the character for Miss Tracy to win over the audience from the instant she walks on stage.

Marston and Brown use a clever theatrical ploy to elicit the reaction they want. Both understand that color is a powerful communication tool. While psychologists debate what, if any, effect a particular color may have on people, they pretty much uniformly agree that the absence of color can be disquieting, even enervating. With this in mind, Marston and his crew intentionally kept the set and all the costumes up to the point of Miss Tracy’s entrance plain and restrained. Eddie’s emcee outfit is comprised exclusively of bland earth tones. Casey is dressed in a white Elvis impersonator jumpsuit. His wife, Jo, wears a mauve top and well-worn white pajama bottoms with faded pink and yellow polka dots. At the club, the backstage walls consist of unfinished gray cinder block whose monotony is broken only by a metallic gray breaker box and some aluminum conduit. The wood floor is a nondescript tan.

“In the playwright’s own words, Miss Tracy arrives in this shithole dive club that the set designers made as gray and drab as possible. So I went for contrast,” Clay explains. “Hot pink was a great contrast to the drab background, and I matched it with a strawberry blond wig.” Not to mention pink pumps, matching earrings and shiny hot pink gloves.


The Dress

And the dress he chose was a sassy vintage pink-and- thalo-green polka dot ‘50s swing dress with matching coat and gloves that might have been worn by the likes of Lana Turner, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe or Grace Kelly. It features an impossibly narrow waist and poofy skirt. Modern celebs who rock this retro style include Katy Perry, Adele and Zooey Deschanel.

“Drag queens like the look because it’s so feminine and easy to move in, and when I found the fabric, it was like sipping a mint julep.”


How Clay Made It

Clay made the swing dress and jacket from scratch from a pattern that he adapted for use in connection with the distinctive characteristics of Miss Tracy’s body. As was the case with each of the other 15 outfits that Miss Tracy wears over the course of the play, the fabric for the swing dress and coat needed to be rugged and stain resistant because of the rough treatment it would receive and the make-up that would undoubtedly smudge it in the course of the quick costume change preceding the ensuing scene. In this particular case, the material is polyester – the opposite of the silk or chiffon from which swing dresses and jackets were traditionally made in the 1950s.

“But, of course, it doesn’t breathe, so no help to the actor,” Clay qualifies. “But I was interested in the look as opposed to comfort. Comfort has nothing to do with drag.”

Clay didn’t want to “sock the audience in the jaw with the pink polka dots right from the beginning,” so he covered the dress with a shiny hot pink jacket which gave him the opportunity to create a “reveal.”

“And I had enough fabric to line the coat with the dress fabric,” Clay hastens to add. “So when I open the coat, there’s this wall of polka dots – hot pink, pale pink and green with the white background.”

By dint of his art education, training and background coupled with his years of experience doing make-up for Chanel, every component of Miss Tracy’s seminal outfit is color coordinated. The heels, lipstick and earrings match the darker, hot pink polka dots in the dress and lining of the swing jacket; the thalo green polka dots accentuate the brilliance of her contact-lens-enhanced hazel green eyes.

Like the Lady with an Ermine, Girl with Pearl Earring, The Reader or Lady in an Armchair, everything about Miss Tracy Mills in her Lana Turner homage ‘50s swing dress and jacket blends together perfectly as an ensemble and within the context of the play itself.

June 22, 2019.



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