The Belle Of 14th Street Victorian Breakaway Gown

Barbra Streisand wore this Victorian inspired, breakaway costume in The Belle Of 14th Street (1967). This gown was worn for Barbra’s big entrance in the show, though she is briefly seen in a short clip prior as a young boy in the audience in a vibrant green velvet Little Lord Fountleroy suit. (read about it here). 

This segment of the show was dubbed “The Belle Of 14th Street, An Unforgettable Forget-Me-Not.” In this bit, Barbra sang the song Alice Blue Gown which was written by Joseph McCarthy and Harry Tierney. The song was inspired by Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s signature blue gown and was first performed in the 1919 Broadway musical Irene by Edith Day.

Other artists to record the song have included Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Martha Wainwright, Glenn Miller and more. 

Alice Roosevelt Longworth

The lyrics of this song talk about a woman who has worn her favorite blue gown so many times that it was  “no more.” In a quite literal and humorous take on these lyrics Barbra decided to turn this number into a burlesque style striptease, with pieces of her costume being pulled off at various times by clear wire. This segment was shot without a live audience, whose reaction shots were spliced in later. This included shots of a young boy who was so excited by the striptease that his horrified mother escorts him out of the theatre in disgust. 

Regarding the filming of this number, a 1967 article by Business Week noted that “The most trying moment came during her striptease, in which stagehands pulled off Barbra’s “breakaway” dress by wires a section at a time, leaving her clad in a lavender, satin corset. The elaborately hooked-together gown didn’t fall apart correctly until 5 a.m. Halfway through that night, director Joe Layton tossed himself down in a control room chair and announced; “I’m going to a sanitarium, I had to be crazy to do the Tempest and a breakaway dress in the same show.” 

Barbra’s Victorian gown was a collaborative design between herself and Fred Voelpel. The style is consistent with gowns from the Belle Époque period (1890-1914) when it would have made a suitable afternoon gown. Colorful pastel gowns such as this one would have been worn in the Spring and Summer months. Barbra’s hairstyle is also accurate to this period when women wore their hair with center parts, often with voluminous false hair pieces adorned in floral decorations. 

A Victorian afternoon gown

A lyric from the song Alice Blue Gown is “I once had a gown, it was almost new, Oh, the daintiest thing, it was sweet Alice blue, with little forget-me-nots placed here and there”, so this costume appropriately featured many bunches of forget-me-nots in pale purple and blue. 

This look deconstructed beginning with the corsage on Barbra’s right wrist being pulled off, followed by the left side flower bunch and the right side princess sleeve deflating. Next, the top layer of the left sleeve was removed and shielded by a dramatic parasol opening, the skirt falls to the floor. Next, the outer layer of the bodice pops off and Barbra carefully rotates the floral parasol forward where the fabric is ripped away leaving only the wire frame trimmed in lavender ribbon. The way the costume pieced apart and back together was impressive and although it was tedious and difficult to get right onscreen, the end result looked flawless. 

A high speed version of the breakaway

The top layer of this bodice was made from light blue chiffon with sheer ivory flocked dotted Swiss fabric. This is beautifully pin tucked in a V-shape following the lines of the basque corset beneath. Oversized princess sleeves feature scalloped edge lace trim, which also circles the neckline. A thin lavender ribbon also edges the neckline.

Below the bodice is a gathered lavender sash. The removable skirt was made from pale blue chiffon and attached to the rest of the costume with snaps and featured a back seam velcro closure.

The gown with a lavender chocker which was not worn for the final filming.

Silk ribbon featuring delicate purple and green floral motifs run vertically down the skirt’s front and back. Each ribbon ends tied into bunches of forget-me-nots. There is a scalloped hem through the sides and back of the skirt. A lavender under-layer of the skirt is trimmed in ivory lace.

Once these pieces were removed, a lavender basque waist satin corset was revealed which contained pale blue piping vertically down the front and back. There is a concealed zipper, hook and eye closure. 

A self attached light blue, gathered chiffon sash with dense purple fringe and a back bow was also revealed. Completing this look were a pair of pale lavender tights, short gloves and Victorian lace up boots. This remaining outfit was consistent with Victorian era burlesque dancer costumes. 

This costume was featured as the original key art for the DVD. It was auctioned in 2004 (minus the sleeved outer bodice layer) and sold for $750.00