Mae West

Mae West’s (1893-1980) most famous attribute was her figure. Buxom, rounded and held in place by rigid corsets, West’s silhouette provoked a degree of outrage, while also serving as her best publicity. Her hourglass shape was immortalized in 1937 when the couturier Elsa Schiaparelli used West’s silhouette as the basis for her Shocking perfume bottle. Hired to design costumes for West’s 1937 film Every Day’s a Holiday, the Paris-based couturier would not travel to Hollywood and West could not travel to Paris. A solution was reached whereby a torso based on West’s measurements was sent to Schiaparelli’s Paris workshop. The resulting perfume bottle serves as an iconic representation of both Mae West and Elsa Schiaparelli.

Blog photos 2f2005860820acShocking by Schiaparelli
Gift of Annette Green

West was very savvy in regard to her physical self-presentation. After many years as a vaudevillian and stage performer, in 1928 West wrote and acted the starring role in Diamond Lil, a play about 1890s New York. West’s costumes in the play were in the style of the 1890s; form-fitting floor-length dresses with flaring skirts, worn over corsets which accentuated her hourglass figure. Realizing that this style of dress flattered her natural body-type, West adopted a similar style of dress for both public and private appearances throughout the rest of her life.

Extremely petite, West was only about 5 feet tall. To increase her stature, West usually wore shoes with extremely high-heels, both onscreen and off. Though the shoes were usually hidden by the long dresses she wore, West made sure her footwear was glamorous, as demonstrated by the platform heels below. Together, the heel and platform measure 9 1/2 inches!!

20079191ab-3 Mae West performance shoes
Gift of Kevin Thomas in Memory of Dolly Dempsey

Side view of 2007.919.1A

We have yet to pinpoint exactly when West wore these shoes, but they were perhaps worn in Las Vegas, where West performed throughout the 1950s. These shoes were received by the FIDM Museum as part of a large donation of footwear and Jule Park undergarments worn by Mae West. The donation even included the footprints below, used in creating Mae West’s striking platform shoes.

Blog photos 2200791919ab-2 Blog photos 2200791919ab         Mae West’s left and right footprint!

Mae West’s footprints
Gift of Kevin Thomas in Memory of Dolly Dempsey

Leider, Emily Wortis. Becoming Mae West. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. 1997.

2 responses to “Mae West

  1. Miriam Streeter, formerly Zisovic says:

    Hello. I am 71 years old. I went to Fairfax High School and graduated in 1964. During this time my father owned a shoe repair shop down the street from Canter’s Deli. He made shoes for a few celebrities such as Shelley Winters, Robert Taylor, Nick Adams, Pinkey Lee and Mae West. He also worked for Western Costume. His name was Max Zisovic. His store is now a pharmacy. Ms. West used to send a limo to pick up my dad and take him to her residence to do fittings. He used to draw the feet on paper bags and write measurements on the paper next to certain areas of the foot. Unfortunately I have no actual proof of this but I know this is true.

  2. FIDM Museum says:

    Hello Miriam, thank you for sharing! This is fascinating information, and so relevant to Los Angeles and Hollywood history.

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