Barbra Streisand wore this exquisite Victorian period dressing gown as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! (1969). This costume appears at one hour and twenty-six minutes into the film, during the scene when Dolly sings Love Is Only Love in her New York City apartment. This song was first sung by Angela Lansbury in early versions of Mame near the end of Act 1. Since the show ran too long in out of town tryouts, the ballad and entire scene it was sung in were cut.
Several years later, Jerry Herman decided that the song would be a great fit for Streisand in Hello, Dolly! and it became one of the two new songs added to the score. The prologue of “Mrs. Horace Vandergelder” was added to help integrate the song into the film.
Hello, Dolly! had a great opening but nose-dived afterward. The film grossed $33.2 million at the box office in the U.S.A. and lost backers around $10 million. The soundtrack was also not as popular as anticipated, topping off at #49 on the billboard charts. Out of seven 1970 Academy Award nominations, three were won including Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Score Of A Musical Picture and Best Sound. Costumes for Hello, Dolly! were designed by Irene Sharaff (1910-1993). This was the fourth and last production that Irene would work with Barbra on. Sharaff also designed costumes for Barbra in Funny Girl (both the Broadway and film versions) and for the “A Happening In Central Park” concert. The pleated chiffon element of this dressing gown is very similar to the design of the iconic pink pleated cape which Barbra wore at A Happening In Central Park. Read about its Fortuny inspiration here.
Irene Sharaff is famous for her manipulation of color and historic detail. She costumed over 50 Broadway plays and musicals and received 8 Tony Award nominations, winning for The King and I. Additionally, she earned 15 Oscar nominations and won five. Shockingly the breathtaking costume design for Hello, Dolly! was not one of these wins.
Hello, Dolly! is set in New York City in 1890. During this period, upper class women relaxed at home in dressing gowns. These were worn around close family members and in the bedroom or around the home, but never when entertaining guests. They were ornate but comfortable and easily slipped over a corset, chemise or peti-coat. Some dressing gowns wrapped in a similar way to a modern robe but most typically featured a front button closure with a drawstring waist or were worn with the front open. In the 1890’s dressing gowns had evolved to have large full sleeves to reflect the current fashion trends as opposed to close fitting sleeves which had been in style twenty years prior.
This period dressing gown was constructed using two layers of peach chiffon. The under-layer has sleeves which fall just below the elbow and are trimmed with antique scalloped-edge beige lace. You can see these peek out very slightly during the scene. This same lace edges the entire underlayer.
The outer layer features accordion pleated chiffon with cascading flutter sleeves ending in a lettuce hem which touches just above the wrist. These are beautifully displayed when Barbra dramatically closes the window shutters in the scene.
Two-tiered beige lace forms a collar which circles the neckline and descends down the front of the robe on both sides. A green vine, sprouting delicate handcrafted fabric flowers in purple, mustard and pink trims the entire neckline. Gold metallic thread gives this detailing its shimmer.
Matching flowers rest in Barbra’s hair just above the brushed section.
Pleated chiffon drapes loosely to the floor, forming a small sweep train at the back with a lettuce hem. The boned corset worn beneath the dressing gown matched it perfectly, and continued its floral and lace detailing.
This costume, along with Barbra’s auburn hair complement the warm copper color scheme in this scene to perfection and transport us into Dolly’s world of Victorian fantasy.
This dressing gown sold at auction in 2004 for $3,100.00 including the buyer’s premium.