Ann-Margret performs in "Las Vegas."

Seven Decades of Vegas Style

A look back at the transformation of a city that plays dress-up

Virginia Hill

1940s

The Look: As Las Vegas acquired a bit of cosmopolitan flash, so did the attire of its denizens. However, many still wore the western look, whether as a genuine rancher or just playing cowgirl/cowboy long enough to gamble away a few bills or sit out the waiting period for a divorce.

Fashion icon: Mob moll and Bugsy Siegel squeeze Virginia Hill, who attended the Flamingo’s opening in a $3,500 flame-red silk gown by couturier-to-the-stars Howard Greer.

Where to shop: Fanny’s Dress Shop (see our story on Fanny’s here)

“The Far West motif runs wild in Las Vegas: Everybody wears cowboy clothes and hobbles around in high-heeled boots.” –Octavius Roy Cohen, A Bullet for My Love


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Lili St. Cyr on a publicity card from El Rancho Vegas.

1950s

The Look: When we imagine how people used to “dress” for Las Vegas, we picture the ’50s. Women wore cocktail dresses to dine, dance and dice—formfitting brocade sheaths or strapless New Look frocks over petticoat skirts worn with mink stoles and stiletto heels.

Fashion icon: The woman who made burlesque chic, Lili St. Cyr.

Where to shop: C.H. Baker shoes, purveyors of pearl-ornamented black velvet ankle straps and tooled leather sandals.

“My mother and I would hit the pool. She and her friend Dorothy would wear their stunning one-piece white Catalina suits and their cork wedgies, scarves covering their hair, their toenails flashing red. If they went swimming, they covered their heads with petal-covered swimming caps.” –Susan Berman, Lady Las Vegas


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Janet Hadland, Copa Girl Sands Hotel 1966.

1960s

The Look: While Vegas never went hippie, the ‘60s flair for fringe, beads and wild prints suited our city’s vibe just fine, as did the high-rise hemlines.

Fashion icon: From Life magazine to Sinatra’s arm, the Copa Girls were Vegas’ feminine ideal.

Where to shop: The decade’s extravagant hairstyles often required more hair than nature provided. The Wiggery or Miss Elizabeth’s Coiffures (“Excellent wig styling. Ten stylists to serve you.”) could provide that extra oomph.

“At the White Cross Rexall drugstore on the Strip, a pregnant brunette walks in off the street wearing black shorts with buttocks décolletage aft and illusion-of-cloth lingerie hanging fore, and not even the old mom’s pie pensioners up near the door are staring.” –Tom Wolfe, Esquire


1973’s new ski fashion.

1970s

The Look: In a word: Big. Big eyelashes, big jewelry, big platform heels, Streisand nails and Parton hair—think showgirl (barely) scaled down for offstage. Dresses ranged from flowing, bell-sleeved chiffon to slinky halter-necked jersey.

Fashion icon: Ann-Margret—Vegas headliner in her own dazzling right, as well as a leading lady to Elvis, Jack Nicholson and The Who.

Where to shop: The Las Vegas Plaza across from the Stardust and home to shops such as Women’s Lib (“Today’s Fashion at Liberated Prices”) and North Beach Leather.

“I saw a bride in an orange minidress with masses of flame-colored hair stumble from a Strip chapel on the arm of her bridegroom, who looked the part of the expendable nephew in movies like Miami Syndicate.” –Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem


1980s

The Look: The ’80s aesthetic may have been perfect for Miami, but it also suited Las Vegas to a tee. If you can’t wear red patent pumps, an iridescent peplum skirt or an asymmetrically hemmed, bugle-beaded dress here, where can you wear them?

Fashion icon: Whether sitting ringside at Caesars for the Leonard–Hagler match or saying “I do” at the Little White Wedding Chapel, Joan Collins did it in glitzy, shoulder-padded style.

Where to shop: Fashion Show mall, back when Diamond’s and Goldwater’s were the anchors.

“By 1989, the Strip was more famous than the town. On prom nights, casino floors bubbled with pimply kids in tuxedos and evening gowns. –Christina Binkley, Winner Takes All


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Sharon Stone as Ginger in “Casino.”

1990s

The Look: Las Vegas’ swipe at family-

friendliness seemed to lead to everyone dressing like damn children—much to the chagrin of all the would-be Rat Packers who saw Swingers and found themselves the only ones at the party in fedoras and leopard print.

Fashion icon: Despite the new casual, folks still wanted to look like Sharon Stone in Casino. Of course, 95 percent weren’t willing to put in any effort toward that goal, but some did—including your author, who first touched down at McCarran International Airport wearing a baby-blue pleather miniskirt suit.

Where to shop: At Bellagio, Vegas folks could finally walk into high-end boutiques such as Chanel, Gucci or Prada. Of course, not everyone walks out with something, but, hey, we can look. And dream.

“… this herd of beefy middle Americans, almost all dressed in short pants, T-shirts and baseball caps, and enough of them wearing those pastel-colored fanny packs around their waists that the city looked as though it was immersed in an ongoing convention of colostomy patients.” –The Village Voice


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Paris Hilton 2007.

2000s

The Look: Sparkly and short. Very short. Sadly, this was the decade when it became acceptable to remove your shoes and show the world your vagina while having a big night out on the town. In retrospect, maybe skinny jeans weren’t such a bad idea …

Fashion icon: Paris Hilton.

Who else?

Where to shop: Once the mark of the rebel and the outcast, tattoos became a must-have fashion accessory for schoolteachers and marketing executives everywhere. Appropriately, rock ’n’ roll reality-TV types such as Carey Hart and Vince Neil both opened Vegas tattoo shops.

“Board shorts are the norm for guys. Girls wear their teeniest bikinis, accessorized with high heels and lots of bling.” New York magazine

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