She may have been raised on country sunshine, but her style became pure Hollywood.
Dottie West began her music career in the 1950s, garnering commercial success in the early 1960s. Album covers and publicity photos from those years show a fresh-faced young woman in demure poses with bouffant red hair, sometimes sporting a long, curled ponytail. Usually attired in calico or gingham dresses, West’s clothes had plenty of ruffles and lace. Her more elegant dresses incorporated silk and satin, sometimes with full skirts over stiff crinoline.
On her 1965 “Country and West” album cover with her dark hair lightened to strawberry blond and cut into a conservative puff she is almost unrecognizable. She’s wearing a drab green business suit with a paisley neck scarf, looking earnestly at the camera with eyes made wider by false lashes. Two years later on the “With All My Heart and Soul” album cover she poses before a schoolroom blackboard dressed very “teacherly” in a teal suit, subdued makeup and a dark red flip hairdo.
As the ‘60s turned to ‘70s, West’s look reflects all the fashion trends – maxi dresses, knee boots, velvet suits, bleached blond hair, patchwork and denim. A 1973 Dottie West paper doll book provides Western-inspired pant ensembles, flowing calico frocks with matching large-brimmed hats and vibrant-colored, ruffled evening gowns, perfect for dressing the award-winning singer and songwriter whose current hit, “County Sunshine,” was topping pop and country charts and hawking Coca-Cola.
West’s legendary pairing with Kenny Rogers began with their 1978 hit “Every Time Two Fools Collide.” Publicity photos show West in turtle-necks, denim or corduroy suits and the feathered hairstyle made famous by Farrah Fawcett.
Enter Bob Mackie, the Hollywood stylist who designed for performers like Cher, Carol Burnett, Diana Ross, Ann-Margret and Tina Turner. The only country star to wear Mackie’s designs, the tall, thin West had the perfect body for the over-the-top costumes he created just for her. Cowgirl boots had high heels and fringe. Denim was replaced with shiny spandex. Capes shimmered with sequins. Plunging necklines teased with marabou. Evening gowns sparkled with rhinestones.
On West’s 1980 “Wild West” album she thanked the designer, stating, “To the man whose clothes make women look good, Bob Mackie.”
Apparently, her new look instilled confidence. At age 50 she was the subject of a 12-page pictorial and interview in Oui, a popular men’s magazine.
“They didn’t ask me to appear nude, but they asked me to reveal more than I wanted to,” she told reporter Gene Triplett in a 1982 interview about the release of the magazine.
In one shot she channels a wild-west dance hall girl with fluffy red hair and heavy stage makeup in a black and red satin, revealing slim thighs in gartered black stockings. Another photo reveals much more. West appears to be nude, saved from full exposure only by strategically placed synthetic snowflakes.
In contrast to early album covers with West standing in fields of daisies or swinging on a veranda, her “Full Circle” album released the same year has her propped on a calico covered brass bed wearing a multicolored ruffled peasant dress, sleeves precariously slipping off both arms.
In a television interview conducted at her Nashville apartment in January 1991, West, wearing a more demure outfit with a fox tail scarf, envisions herself as her future self.
“When I’m 87, I’ll still be walking on the Grand Ole Opry stage and singing ‘Here comes more tears to cry’,” she told her interviewer, assuring her fans that at 58, she had no intention of retiring.
Less than eight months later she was gone, killed in a car crash as a neighbor rushed her to a slated Opry performance, denying West and her fans the chance to see the evolution of her style as an octogenarian.
– story by Claudia Johnson, Country Reunion Music © 2022