Don Loper-From Ballroom Dancer To Fashion Designer

Fashion designer Don Loper with mannequins of his Hollywood clients- including Esther Williams and Ella Fitzgerald.

Fashion designer Don Loper with mannequins of his Hollywood clients- including Esther Williams and Ella Fitzgerald.

Ohio native Don Loper started off in show business as a ballroom dancer- and a darn good one! In the 1930’s he and his partner, Maxine Barrat, started off on Broadway and eventually became one of the most respected dance teams of their time. He designed Barrat’s clothes on and off the stage. Loper was even paired up with his good friend Ginger Rogers for a dance in the 1944 musical “Lady in the Dark”.

Fashion designer Don Loper and his ballroom dance partner Maxine Barrat.

Fashion designer Don Loper and his ballroom dance partner Maxine Barrat.

Dancer, choreographer, producer, director, costume and set designer – why not do it all? But Loper eventually focused his talents on designing clothing. He dressed many of Hollywood’s leading ladies including Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, and Lana Turner. His lavish gowns oozed old hollywood glamour.

Below is a photo of Marilyn Monroe modelling a blue chiffon evening gown designed by Don Loper in 1951.

Marilyn Monroe in a Don Loper gown . 1951

Marilyn Monroe in a Don Loper gown in 1951.

One of Loper’s most well-known performances is the 1955 “The Fashion Show” episode of I Love Lucy – in which he played himself. The episode involves a very sunburned Lucy in a very scratchy tweed suit along with some beautiful Don Loper originals modeled by real-life wives of famous stars of the 50s including Mrs. Dean  Martin and Mrs. William Holden.

Don Loper and his designs in the 1955 episode 'The Fashion Show' of I Love Lucy.

Don Loper and his designs in the 1955 episode ‘The Fashion Show’ of I Love Lucy.

Loper’s designs were feminine and elegant, but simple. He believed simplicity was key to being well dressed. ” If I go to a dance and scream ‘Gad, what a botch of a dress! Eek! It’s Zsa Zsa.’ Then I have failed. You must notice the woman first, the dress second, ” Loper said in a 1956 interview for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Back in 1956, actress and singer Edie Adams wore a beautiful sequined evening gown designed by Don Loper.  She liked it so much she had him make an exact replica in black! It is also rumored that this gown was the inspiration for the iconic “Barbie” mermaid dress.  One of my all time favorite dresses for my Barbie doll!

Edie Adams in Don Loper 1950s lace Mermaid Gown

Edie Adams in Don Loper 1950s lace mermaid Gown

 

Loper was one designer who sure had range – his creations appealed to Hollywood’s finest and the girl next door. His ready-to-wear line was just as successful (and much more affordable)  and included nurses uniforms and neckties.  Recently we had the good fortune of acquiring  a 1950’s Don Loper winter coat in a beautiful cream wool/angora/silk blend – complete with dolman/batwing sleeves.

Vintage Don Loper 1950s Winter Coat

 

You can also catch some of Loper’s designs on the silver screen in the films Rancho Notorious (1952), Not as a Stranger (1955) and The Big Combo (1955).

Have a Glamorous Day!

alison

 

 

 

 

By | 2016-05-25T20:15:52-04:00 October 9th, 2013|Labels to Look For|Comments Off on Don Loper-From Ballroom Dancer To Fashion Designer

About the Author:

Theresa
Hi, I'm Theresa, owner and chief classy dame at the Blue Velvet Vintage online boutique. Lover of mid century fashion and home decor, classic films, Old Hollywood, pretty dresses, red lipstick, swing dancing and retro culture in general. Between my ecommere site and vintage style blog my mission is to revive the eras of classy dressing and inspire women to add more glamour to their lives! So don't be shy! I love to hear from others who share my appreciation of the styles of the past.