There are many reasons to remember the comedian Phyllis Diller (1917-2012). She was the first well-known female standup comic in America; she had a long career in television and film; and she was an enthusiastic advocate of plastic surgery—theme for another post—even winning an award from the Association of Plastic Surgeons. However, I remember her most for her whacky sense of style.
Diller didn’t begin a career in comedy until she was forty, already divorced with five children. Life in the home—cleaning, cooking, children, marriage—was the fodder for her humor. She also made constant jokes about her appearance. On stage she played up her role as an eccentric, using wild wigs, lots of makeup, and unusual clothes. In the photo above, a joke centerfold for a fishing magazine, we see many elements of her style, including boots, an exaggerated cigarette holder (she didn’t smoke), and outlandish costume jewelry. Before she died, she donated many of her outfits to the Smithsonian Institute. Take a look and be amazed.
From other photographs I have seen, Diller left off the sparkles in everyday life. She could dress up as a fairly conservative matron, but her at home look was all her own. In an interview in Redbook, she indicates that she developed a kind of uniform early on. “I’m chunky and short and I must dress very, very carefully. I finally gave up wearing skirts. I choose a flattering top and put on tight pants. Your see, if you let something that’s skinny stick out, you can fool a lot of people.” (Redbook, May 1967, p. 59) If the photo in the interview is any indication, she also added a few choice elements, including a fur coat. I would love to see what she had on her feet!