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85 Years of Amazing Rockettes Costumes

This year the Radio City Rockettes are celebrating 85 years of holiday high-kicking. To properly commemorate the anniversary and pay tribute to the dancers and their rich history, costumes from different decades have been incorporated into this year's show. We got all the scoop on the costumes, how the Rockettes handle wardrobe malfunctions (lots of duct tape), and some incredible vintage pictures of the Rockettes through the decades.

This year the Radio City Rockettes are celebrating 85 years of holiday high-kicking. To properly commemorate the anniversary and pay tribute to the dancers and their rich history, costumes from different decades have been incorporated into this year's show.

The Rockettes' costumes, kitschy and a tiny bit titillating (there's lots of leg on display, after all), have often been a reflection of what's going on in the world and mirrored the style of the time--although with a lot more sequins. Some, like the toy soldier costumes, haven't changed very much aesthetically through the years, though fabrics and construction have improved.

Last week we caught up with four Rockettes, and after getting them to reveal all their beauty secrets, talk turned to the costumes, which they all spoke of with reverence. "A lot of the costumes are old and continually refurbished. It’s nice to wear the old costumes, though—there’s a legacy inside them," Theresa Pelicata, 30 (and a nine-year vet of the show), told us. "A woman who’s probably 65 now may have worn my costume and it’s been on stage every single Christmas."

Click through to take a look back at the Rockettes' costumes through the decades (including tons of amazing vintage photos), get a review of the show by the numbers (ex: 1,400 pairs of tights per season), and find out some of the common wardrobe malfunctions that the Rockettes have dealt with, all while maintaining their megawatt smiles.


The Rockettes were founded in 1925 in St.Louis Missouri by choreographer Russell Markert. They were originally called the Rockets, but became the Roxyettes when they came to NYC to perform at the Roxy Theatre. When they moved to their current home, Radio City Music Hall, they became the Rockettes.

While there are a few numbers that reappear every year, many costumes and numbers were changed every season to reflect the show's theme and current events. For example, the Rockettes wore a Carmen Miranda-inspired costume in the 1940's at the height of that actress' popularity, and donned astronaut costumes in the 1960s just as the US was entering the space age. The 1980s saw the Rockettes wearing big hair (just like everyone else) and Bob Mackie-designed costumes. (No grunge in the 90s, though! The Rockettes are all about glamour.)

The Current Show:

In addition to a high tech and throroughly modern 3D component in this year's show, the Rockettes are going back in time this season by wearing the most iconic costumes from each decade. (You can check out the originals and the revivals on the last page of this slideshow, or on a timeline here.)

If you're catching the show this year look for:

1930s: Bird costume 1940s: Sailor costume 1950s: Zebra costume, complete with tail 1960s: Astronaut costume 1970s/1980s: Bob Mackie—designed "Dancing in Diamonds" costume 1990s: "Pizzazz" costume.

The Toy Soldier Costume:

The Toy Soldier routine, in which the dancers get "shot" by a toy cannon and fall over seemingly in slow motion is one of the most beloved parts of the show. It's also one of the oldest, having debuted in 1933. The costume recently went through a modern make-over, though the audience probably can't tell the difference.

The high-waisted pants used to be starched to within an inch of their lives, providing that visually attractive stiff and straight look, but making them decidedly less comfortable for the dancers to wear and move around in. After some experimentation, the pants are now fabricated from a foam material that still has that stiff look, but is much softer and more flexible for dancing in.

The Rockettes we spoke to also deemed it the most fashionable of all their costumes. "Those are super cute pants, actually," Lindsay Howe, 28, said.

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Wardrobe Malfunctions:

Yep, they happen, but you the audience member will probably never realize it. Recently a Rockette was about to step on stage when her colleagues noticed that the sleeve to her jacket was literally hanging by a thread. A wardrobe person threw in a quick whipstitch and the show went on.

The Rockettes wear a lot of heavy clip-on earrings. According to this year's crew, there's often a little "graveyard of earrings" on stage after a show. Pelicata told us that her reindeer bells were falling off a lot this season for some reason.

And what about the shoes, which arguably take the biggest beating of all the costume elements? The wear-and-tear on them is impressive, and sometimes they don't survive a number. That's when duct tape comes in handy, and several of the Rockettes we spoke to had stories to tell about dancing in duct-taped heels.

But these small little malfunctions are all taken in stride. There are "quick change" booths located just off stage, and they are loaded with supplies like double-sided tape, extra earrings, extra tights, glue, and all sorts of gadgets for quick fixes. The dancers claim they couldn't function without the dressers, the women backstage who help with all the wardrobe changes and emergencies.

By the Numbers:

• 8: Number of costume changes per show

• 78 seconds: The shortest time period they have for one costume change.

• 36: Number of Rockettes that can fit on stage (there are 4 standbys/show).

• 3,000: Number of Swarovski crystals on one of the costumes.

• 300: Number of times the Rockettes kick each show.

• 1,200: Number of costumes worn each show.

• 1,400: The number of pairs of tights used in an eight-week run.

• 15,000: The number of red felt dots used for the rosy cheek look during the toy soldier number.

• 18: The number of wardrobe people who work every show.

• 250: The number of laundry baskets used each show to carry the staff's shoes and laudry.

• 350: The number of loads of laundry done per week.

• 16-20: The number of hours per day that it takes to do all those loads of laundry.